CONVERSATIONS WITH MAWERE
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- Mutumwa Mawere -
Africa 2012 – When minds meet – statesman versus politician
Posted on March 28th 2012
The role of citizens commonly described as politicians in delivering the promise of a better and secure life is never understood in its proper legal and constitutional context but what is ironic is that so much is expected from this class of citizens than what is humanly possible to deliver.
The head of party that presides over the state is person who is normally a leader in party, national or international affairs. The post-colonial African narrative has produced its own diverse characters that have climbed the power ladder to assume the position of first citizen.
As we look back on the journey travelled, we are compelled to invoke in our conversations a discussion on the difference, if any, between a politician and statesman.
In our daily conversations, the term "politician" features prominently often times for the wrong reasons.
It is natural that human beings expect their circumstances to change for the better from the actions of politicians because in transforming an ordinary individual into an office bearer either in the party or state, a rational expectation is inherent in the process that such an individual will be capable of rising above personal interests.
A politician is after all human and is capable of using political office to extract personal benefits. What we do know is that any rational politician is most likely interested in pulling a wagon full of loyal party members rather than political adversaries.
Although the term politician dominates most of our conversations, little or no investment is made in better understanding what the terms means. It is true that a person who is active in party politics becomes labelled as a politician.
Such a person is concerned about winning favour or retaining power at all costs even it means shading the truth or even dipping into the party or state coffers to buy support.
If one is looking at saints then surely the nature and character of the political process would suggest that it is impossible to produce extraordinary citizens who can legitimately claim that their choices and actions are solely motivated by what is right for the nation.
Volumes have been written primarily by journalists and intellectuals about the lack of good and inspiring leadership in Africa and more significantly about the privatization of the state by citizens who climb the political supply chain ladder for personal aggrandisement in the name of service to the people.
On Sunday, 26 March 2012, the people of Senegal spoke and the outcome goes a long towards confirming the fact that citizens can take back their power and that the outgoing President is not alone in losing touch with the real claimants of sovereignty in whose name many bad politicians cling to power in the self serving belief that they alone are the rightful custodians of the national spirit and trust.
What is remarkable is that it is possible to transform through elections or otherwise an individual citizen into a monster or tyrant.
I have no doubt that the Wade of yesteryears was a normal human being but each day he stayed in power he came to believe that Senegal was better principally because of his enlightened and smart mind.
He proceeded to manipulate the constitution to allow him to offer his face for a third term. He succeeded but did not fully appreciate what was to come. He did not get the required majority in the first round and as required by law had to go for the runoff elections and the rest is now history.
By choosing to go for a third term, he fell into the trap that many of Africa's first citizens have fallen but by choosing to allow the will of the people to be expressed without investing in violence, he managed to salvage some residual democratic credentials that would have been completely lost if he were to borrow state resources to leverage a weak position.
History will have to correctly place President Wade as a man who succumbed to the African leadership disease of living in a make believe world where the circle of the President substitutes the voices of the majority.
He lost the elections like many before him and his record has been blemished for it. Had he decided not to push his way, he will no doubt have joined the ranks of statesman who knew when to pass the button and what time it is.
It is rare that an electoral process that is not underpinned by the vigilance of citizens can produce skilled and expert persons in government that are responsive and responsible to the needs of the masses.
Notwithstanding, it is natural for beneficiaries of the ignorance of citizens about the state and its true role to assume the positions of "great" leaders without any evidence showing on followers in terms of the quality of life to support the claimed greatness.
To the extent that post-colonial Africa has confronted a myriad of challenges including failure to materially reduce the frontiers of poverty, the contestation for political office in Africa must necessarily be informed by other variables than the purported protection of the majority from the machinations of the West or any other forces.
Surely it must be self evident that a leader who presides over a decaying economy does not need to expose himself or herself to the very people who bear the brunt of his failure to create an environment that allows citizens to prosper without the need of patronage.
What then are the differences between a statesman and a politician? Politicians run to win whereas statesmen run to serve. Statesman connotes ability, skill, and unselfish devotion to national duty and interest.
Politicians normally think they know it all and leave no room for others to be right whereas statesmen are open-minded for they know that it is impossible for a mortal human being to have all the answers to the challenges of the day.
To politicians the country is theirs and some even entertain the thought that it is God who has divined that they become leaders whereas to statesmen, the country comes first and the individual is just an actor in a theatre where there are many actors.
Politicians are solely motivated by self preservation and winning the next election rather than on the future of the people.
Politicians monopolize the conversation space pushing a warped and distorted worldview whereas statesmen strive to walk the talk.
A statesman's actions will always be guided by what is good for the people even if it means stepping down so that new faces can be associated with what is good and right for the people.
Propaganda has been used as a substitute for responsible and honest government.
Politicians are worried about the independent media and citizens who gather to evaluate options for renewing the promise of good leadership.
Politicians are afraid of the implications of the Arab spring to the extent that they would resort to criminalising any citizens who attempts to draw valuable lessons from the experiences of other African states on what should happen when people are fed up of being treated like political infants.
When you hear a political leader blaming anyone and anything for the failure to deliver on the promise then you must know that such a person is and will never be a statesman.
To a politician, a scapegoat is a better friend than the truth. A politician believes that state actors are better angels and, therefore, everything about progress must be attributed to such angels.
Finally, Africa needs real actors who are capable of subordinating their egos to allow more to shine.