“With the rise of the Party machine, the Party replaces the people”….Edward Wamala, the African Philosopher
We are living in democratic times, so goes the saying. Democratic melodies are heard everywhere, making some of us reiterate the Nietzschean declaration that ‘God’, in the religious connotation of the term, ‘is dead’. Democracy, precisely Western Democracy, has become the center and object of worship. Everywhere groups are emerging with the sole aim of fighting for democratic rights of particular groups: homosexuals, women, the girl child, albinos, you name it. No doubt, Democratic values have become the new and seductive commodities on the political market. This is what I have termed, for want of a better term, objectification of the otherwise abstract political values.
Objectification is a positive, existential phenomenon. To objectify something is to affirm its concrete existence, to add it to an ensemble of graspable and discernible objects in the world. It is, on the whole, to put it on a line of objects of desire. Desire here presupposes a desiring subject. For the subject to desire an object, there should be seduction, allurement, a certain power on the part of the object, a power to attract, and dumbfound. Seduction is an act of energy usurpation. The seducing object demands from the desiring subject an expenditure of energy, a maneuver of winning over. This point has a great implication on the absurd struggle for democratic values.
Realizing this existential phenomenon, democratic values, which are abstract in nature, and teleological, have been made to exhibit the qualities of real objects, that is, the power to seduce, to usurp energy from the desiring subjects, and to initiate a game of winning over. On top of that, those fabricating these values have made it possible that they (democratic values) should rank first among the objects of desire, so that, on the whole, a lot of desiring subjects should enter into struggle fighting for these values, as ends in themselves. And here free Market place of ideas is born, where subjects compete for freedom of choice and of opinion. ‘Choice’ and ‘opinion’ have been objectified, have been made ends in themselves. As long as that Market place exists, nothing else, even the consequence, matters. Thanks to Robert Nozick and his suicidal book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, that scandalous work I don’t even wish to waste the reader’s time explicating in this introductory section.
As already hinted on in my ironical comment on Nozick, the objectification of these democratic values has not happened here, it has taken place elsewhere, and imported here fully packaged. Democratic values came to Malawi (and to the ‘dark continent’) already objectified, and pre-established, as the objects of political pursuit. The transport from The West to the ‘dark’ continent was very easy: African Elites, beneficiaries of Western Scholarships. Here I have to sound like Jean-Paul Sartre in prefacing Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. After a short stay, or long still, in Paris, in New York, in London, these brandished Africans started to echo from the Libraries: Viva Democracy! Viva freedom of Expression! Viva the Free Market! And they came home, from the Monarchy of Britain, with these words still stuck to their Tongue. They did not know they were hauling the idealistic and abstract democratic values wholesale, without any shred of changing some parts.
The rest of the Malawians, well, they were not so much interested in Multiparty Democracy than they were in ending the reign of terror under Kamuzu Banda. They were not voting for Multiparty, Capitalistic Democracy during the referendum, but they were just voting for a System that promised to knock the Lord of Terror off the throne. In essence, they were simply voting the Lord of Terror out. If one sees these two as the same thing then we have a big Lecturing to do, a Lecturing that did not take place during that hasty transition. Multiparty, Free Market Democracy was all that showed up and offered a shoulder to lean on at that hour of tragedy. And we really hastily leaned on with comfort, without a better understanding of the sinister shoulder. Here that shoulder is no longer comfortable, it has grown thorns that prick.
The idea of offering shoulders at the hour of tragedy can be interesting sometimes. I have, from my own observations of human relationships, come to a better understanding of shoulders at the hour of tragedy. Here a young woman is broken by her love boy. If you are a man, show yourself at that hour of tragedy, offer a shoulder to lean on, and you have bought your place; the beginning of another tragedy. There a man is broken, his woman has run away with another man. If you are a beautiful and handy lady, show yourself at that hour of tragedy, offer your breasts to lean on, and you have bought your place; another tragedy. Of course the second case is rare in men. This does not mean that we acted like women during the referendum (although it can be true). And this is the poison in my treatise, the poison that will be used to dismiss this thoughtful work. Well, Feminism, thou art Lord of women, unto thy hands I commend the spirit of this treatise! Let me sail on.
I have argued in Illusions of democracy that such enthusiasm of African intellectuals in establishing western Political values in Malawi was an ignorant and useless endeavor. There is no Paris in Malawi, no New York, and no London on which to plant these objectified values so that they should really come to concrete life. What has the importation of objectified democratic values brought on the table of the Malawian man? What dish have these objectified values served us? Is it a palatable dish, a dish that causes ones mouth to start watering before testing the food?
Such objectification of abstract democratic values has had adverse effects both in the Malawian political arena and on the poor and powerless Malawians for whose welfare the democratic system was apparently designed. Indeed, it seems that both the Civil Society and the Government regard Democratic values as ends in themselves, as objects that should be sought and possessed without regard to whether they advance or hinder people’s social welfare. I have argued elsewhere on the same topic that any government, or any political system, is designed not just to furnish its own life blood, but, more importantly, to serve as a better machinery for people’s welfare, a machinery each individual in a state of nature could not have managed to devise. When this machinery has ceased to serve people a delicious and rich dish, it has outlived its time, and should be abolished.
What we have witnessed in Malawi since the inception of Democracy is struggle among Party demagogues to bring their party to power through appealing to Democratic values. Already appearing in objectified and concrete form, every party machinery poses itself as well equipped in realizing these objectified values. Even the media, the fourth estate, hardly the fourth estate, is also deeply immersed in this blind pursuit for abstract values. If one peruses through the media texts, especially those texts concerned with current affairs, what can be observed is that journalists are immersed in reporting party conflicts, abstract party values that do not have any bearing on the welfare of Malawians.
Where do we go from here? That’s the question. For me, I would re-echo the words of one of the greatest negative thinkers of all times: Only he who has the carriage to be absolutely negative about the age in which others sleep comfortably has the courage to create something new.