Renown political analyst and social activist Prince M. Bagenda has used harsh words to castigate some opposition political parties (Daily News, August 27, 2010) in an article titled: “Of pretenders and ideological bedfellows”. The complaint is that the parties in question—CUF and CHADEMA—were not making their ideological identities clear, and were immersed in “confused thinking”.
But the author was certainly biased as he failed to see the other side of the coin and censure the ruling party, CCM as well for obviously sponsoring two ideological “minds” simultaneously. I will try to illustrate.
We may first take stock of the opposition. It is true that it is sometimes difficult for a person to distinguish between the policies of CUF, CHADEMA, NCCR-MAGEUZI or UPDP because they always seem to oscillate to the left or the right of the centre, depending on the issue that they are trying to address.
When talking about the issue of free education, for example, CHADEMA may seem to be a party of the left, or socialist-oriented for that matter. But when it talks about narrowing down the government, it is among the policies of the parties of the right, so it is not clear how they would reconcile a hefty public spending structure that warrants things like free education and other social services, and at the same time trim down government bureaucracy. The line between these seemingly contradictory ideologies is blurred.
They may also appear to be “populist” in that they try to cash in on the frustrations and disillusionment of the underprivileged masses and would like to be seen as redeemers in the waiting. Our system has so far miserably failed to stamp out vices like corruption, disease and poverty, among others, and as days go on many people are losing hope, even in places where there once was hope. Poverty is deepening and there is a lot of statistics to support that view.
But “populism” is not an ideology per-se. It is rather “a strain of political discussion that pits ‘the people’ against ‘the elites.’ It is a discourse which supports the needs of ordinary folks.”
During his heydays, Augustine Lyatonga Mrema was a maverick populist. He blew his own horn loud about the way he managed to impound gold destined for smuggling at the Julius Nyerere International Airport, how he gave bandits an ultimatum to surrender guns voluntarily within 30 days-- and they obeyed and, even how he ordered wayward husbands to return back to their wives and leave their concubines immediately! What else do you need for a populist?
It is true: populists portray themselves as the “redeemers” of the masses. They play with the sentiments and frustrations of the people to gain political popularity. But they are rarely ideological fanatics.
I also agree that opposition parties have also tended to be naïve. They have dedicated too much time on “anti-incumbency agitation” – to borrow from Bagenda. The people need to hear more about their policies; and weigh out if those policies make viable alternatives to CCM’s.
True, they are attacking evils like corruption and abuse or overindulgence of power by a few elites; but corruption and blatant theft are just a few among our “curses.” They are not our only banes. They have also joined the bandwagon of unleashing one extravagant promise after another, without explaining clearly how they are going to achieve their objectives. They don’t give us the time-frame during which they are going to meet their intended targets; or how they are going to make the national till warrant anticipated huge expenditures that their promises entail.
The opposition are also shouting and wrangling; ridiculing and mocking the present and past governments. Some of them ignore to mention or underestimate some true past and present achievements, such as national integration, peace (absence of violent conflicts) and a certain level of human development. They need to stop cynicism and try to look at things more soberly and objectively, as well as putting the issues in their proper perspectives.
But on the issue of ideology, it is not the opposition parties that are not making themselves clear; it is the ruling party, CCM as well.
Ideology “is basically the way someone thinks and believes which drives their goal and actions and even their expectations of life and of others.” For a political party, its ideology is basically the way that party “thinks and believes”. It is what that party stands for. Therefore, there are political parties that espouse socialism; communism, liberalism, neo-liberalism, conservatism and even progressivism among may other known brands—at present and in the past.
UK’s Labour Party, for example says that it “believes in tackling the conditions which generate the systematic and deeply rooted inequality which people experience. The achievement of equality requires that society be reorganized with the specific objective of a more equal distribution of wealth and power.” Now if they are liberal or neo-liberal or social democrats is what you consider their ideas to champion. That is their ideology.
Back home, the ruling CCM’s constitution expressly states that among the party’s core objectives include building a society of equality and unity as well as promoting the policy of socialism and self reliance. But Bagenda tells us—and we all know—that CCM has changed it ideology to neo-liberalism, but nonetheless the writer takes no effort to raise the contradiction between the party’s de-jure and de-facto ideologies.
Socialism and neo-liberalism are two distinct ideologies. “The belief in the free market is the fundamental assumption of neo-liberalism,” emphasized one writer. In the developing world, Latin America is a classic case of the application of neo-liberalism concepts. It was once hailed as an unparalleled success worth emulating. But think of drug lords in Colombia a few decades ago; or think twice about the policies of Hugo Morales in Ecuador and the on-goings in neighbouring Bolivia. Consider the favelas or shanty towns in Brazil where the police cannot venture into; and now the US government is worried that drug gangs are behaving like an insurgency in Mexico; while “revolutionaries” like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela are trying to nationalize oil multinationals. All these countries are now independent for almost 200 years, and some of them have been practicing neo-liberalism principles for many decades.
Socialism, on the other hand, is an ideology that espouses the notion of the state is participating or having control of “the key resource producing industries to ensure equality socially and economically.” Now, Bagenda may tell us, if socialism is still enshrined in the CCM constitution, in effect are they practicing it?
Let’s consider the issue of political parties’ election manifestoes. There is this definition: “A manifesto is a public declaration of principles of intentions, often political in nature.” I may add that a manifesto is a synthesis of a party’s objectives and aspirations; taking in account the principles enshrines in its constitution. It is a way of a party declaring how it intends to achieve its ideology.
What, if a party’s manifesto no longer takes into account or reflect its true ideology in line with its constitution? What if a party in theory claims to be socialist-oriented but in practice practices bourgeoisie ideology? Did Bagenda notice any contradiction? As a political analyst wouldn’t it be a matter of honesty and integrity for him to suggest changes in the respective party’s constitution in order to reflect present-day reality?
When the author asserts: “they are hiding their true ideological identity” in reference to opposition parties, in fact he is talking about all the parties.
Another confusion in his articles is the issue of “world outlook” and its bearing on our internal politics. For example, Rwanda, has managed to a great extent to reduce corruption. Are they located in Mars planet or on this very earth that we share with them, and we also share with them the “global outlook?”
Not all of our social, political or economic problems can be blamed on “global outlook.” Endemic corruption, political patronage, blatant income disparity, usurpation of land from local communities under the guise of appeasing foreign investors, ineffective control of local resources and many more other things have little to do with “global outlook.”
I also took exception with Bagenda’s article when he attacked civil society organizations like TAMWA and TGNP for allegedly not “attacking” opposition parties for their neo-liberal policies as they did attack CCM, purportedly with mentoring from the late Prof. Seithy Chachage.
One thing is clear-- our country still lacks strong, viable civil society organizations. The few organizations we have are doing a great job, despite resource constraints. They are helping with voters’ awareness and education. Contrary to what Bagenda thinks, it is the civil societies like TAMWA, TGNP and HAKI ELIMU among a few others who are trying to speak for the “dispossessed people”. Be it the question of falling quality of education, oppression of women and children, HIV/AIDS awareness, campaign against murders of albinos and elderly women, usurpation of land from marginalized communities; you name it, they are on the battle forefront.
Biased and unfair criticism to not help an informed public opinion.