Our country is being destroyed while many of us watch along the sidelines feeling helpless, voiceless and afraid. The institutions of government mandated to serve us – the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary – are lamentably failing to meet our expectations.
Our ‘democratic’ institutions are falling far short of upholding the tenets of democracy and the rule of law.
Our youth have no jobs, our health facilities are poorly staffed and poorly stocked, our children’s standard of education is falling, our freedoms are being abused and infringed upon.
We now live under a cloud of fear that prevents us from expressing what we feel – our frustration, anger, fear.
Politically, we are exerting very little effort in mobilising ourselves to put pressure on our leaders to do the right things.
But democracy is not a spectator sport, though our politicians make a spectacle of themselves! Our democracy becomes participative democracy only when we, as citizens, take an active role.
Elias Chipimo has a point when he says, “We can blame the leadership all we like but unless we wake up to the reality that we have all let down our country, we will never move forward in addressing the problems we face. Our tolerance for and active participation in the mediocrity, corruption, greed and neglect that we see lavishly displayed in the majority of our leaders in all spheres of our society…We have tolerated this mediocrity, this corruption, this neglect.”
Keeping quiet amounts to supporting what is going on, what is being done. With silence comes the power of tyranny in this country. And without it, the tyrants are nothing. Complicity is not only about openly supporting what is going on, but requires ordinary Zambians to acquiesce and agree, through silence, to give power to those who use it against us.
We shouldn’t forget that it’s said that democracy consists of choosing your dictators, after they’ve told you what you think it is you want to hear. It’s either we are all free, or we fail; democracy must belong to all of us.
People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. It’s the governments that should be afraid of its people.
The essence of democratic action is the active, freely chosen participation of its citizens in the public life of their community and nation. Without this broad, sustaining participation, democracy will begin to wither and become the preserve of a small, select number of groups and organisations. But with the active engagement of individuals across the spectrum of society, democracy can weather the inevitable economic and political storms that sweep over every society, without sacrificing the freedoms and rights that they are sworn to uphold.
Democracy is a process, a way of living and working together. It is evolutionary, not static. It requires cooperation, compromise and tolerance among all citizens. Making it work is hard, not easy. Freedom means responsibility, not freedom from responsibility.
Clearly, democracy itself guarantees nothing. It offers instead the opportunity to succeed as well as the risk of failure. In Thomas Jefferson’s ringing but shrewd phrase, the promise of democracy is “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.
Democracy is then a promise and a challenge. It is a promise that free human beings, working together, can govern themselves in a manner that will serve their aspirations for personal freedom, economic opportunity and social justice. It is a challenge because the success of the democratic enterprise rests upon the shoulders of its citizens and no one else. Government of and by the people means that the citizens of a democratic society share in its benefits and in its burdens. By accepting the task of self government, one generation seeks to preserve the hard-won legacy of individual freedom, human rights, and the rule of law for the next. In each society and each generation, the people must perform the work of democracy anew – taking the principles of the past and applying them to the practices of a new age and a changing society.
The late Josef Brodsky, Russian-born poet and Nobel Prize winner, once wrote, “A free man, when he fails, blames nobody.”
It is true as well for citizens of a democracy who, finally, must take responsibility for the fate of the society in which they themselves have chosen to live.