Power that cannot be trusted

"Losing candidates and parties in a free and fair election do not find it difficult to accept defeat."

This observation from a new pastoral letter of the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference “Elections 2008: Only When Power Stands Under God’s Blessing Can It Be Trusted” (16 December 2007) puts the finger on the critical point. Kenya shows it again: the people of Africa just do not trust the election process and assume almost as a matter of course that elections are being rigged by those in power so that they stay in power. So the opposition, having victory snatched out of its hands, does not accept “defeat” and protests violently against shameless fraud.

Why can’t Africa accept defeat?  

Let us attempt an explanation. Politics in Africa does not seem to be about different political programmes and social visions. People do not argue about different concepts through which to realize the common good. They fight for control and influence. Politics is about laying your hands on national wealth. You support a Big Man hoping to be rewarded for your loyal support like a vassal by his feudal lord with positions, jobs, property and monetary favours. Your very life depends on your man winning, and therefore you fight for him until death. Your political adversary is not just a political alternative, but your deadly enemy who must be crushed, by fair means or by foul. Therefore election rigging is part of the battle, and “accepting defeat in good grace” is just ‘not our culture’.  

People can only follow the democratic rules and “accept defeat in good grace” if their livelihood does not depend on who is in power. They must be economically secure before they can play the democratic game.  But how can you make people economically secure while this type of feudal regime is in power whose corruption is  eating up national wealth and not spreading it far and wide to everybody?  

The Bishops do not trust political ‘power not under God’s blessing’.  They do not trust absolute, power for its own sake, power that becomes a substitute for God.  Only under God are people free to have or not to have wealth, to have or not to have power. Only children of God feel so secure that they ‘can take it or leave it’  – wealth, position, fame, power – because it is not the ultimate and absolute value in their lives. Only if people have this inner freedom can there be “free and fair elections”,  can Africa enjoy the outer freedom it has been seeking for so long. – Fr Oskar Wermter SJ, Jesuit Communications

Post published in: Opinions

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