The ghost of Biaka-Boda
Victor Biaka-Boda, a witch doctor from Ivory Coast, was elected to the French Senate in 1948. After spending two years in Paris he returned home and toured his nation's hinterlands. He wanted to touch base with his electorate who were long complaining about food shortage. Biaka-Boda never returned from the tour because the hungry constituents ate the man. Truth is always stranger than fiction.
Lucky for our politicians, the constituents don't have that kind of an appetite for their elected men or women. These politicians are safe to return from their constituencies, and they are also safe to return to them for re-election. But who knows, the patience of these constituents may be wearing thin. It's not unlikely that the thought might cross their minds every now and then.
Nobody knows what our politicians are thinking, and where exactly they intend to take this country. But I can tell that people are not convinced. In the past few weeks I have heard more people than ever before express their resentments. It's no longer about partisanship. It's no longer about loyalty. The people still love their leaders, but they are also worried about the country.
Can the politicians guess that their constituents are fatigued? First, it was between two rival political parties, and then it was between two families, afterwards between two political leaders and now it appears to be between two personalities. House against house, harassment against harassment, hubris against hubris, politics has been reduced from an art of public governance to a science of private vengeance.
Last May Columbia University professor Alan Brinkly appeared on the Real Time with Bill Maher show in the United States, and he said: "The capacity for compromise has disappeared in politics." He was talking about his own country but it sounded like an epigram on ours.
The irony of our politics is that the word "compromise" has been thrown out of the window. Here politicians form alliances so that they can become more divided. This is a bizarre twist in the game. Like-minded politicians compromise with each other to grind the axe with their opponents.
So, it cannot be said that our politicians have entirely lost their capacity to compromise. It's only that their compromise has the capacity to harbour contention. They join hands. They forgive and forget. They make alliances.
But they do everything so that they can hate their common enemies. Birds of the same feather stick together. Politics makes strange bedfellows. All of these work fine, except for one thing. Our politicians are always busy settling scores, but they can almost never get even.
Because vengeance, like money, begets vengeance. And that has undermined our politics. Gone are the days when the political air rang with sublime utterances such as democracy, poverty alleviation, nationalism, gender equality, rights of people, so on and so forth.
Compare those days to these days. We are hearing about houses, pornographic magazines, wine bottles, threats and counter threats. We hear about eviction. We hear about conviction. National politics looks like neighbourhood brawls, lowdown showdown of basic instincts.
One can always argue which came first between contentious politicians and confrontational politics. One can always argue whether the politicians have dragged down politics or politics has dragged down the politicians. Whatever it may be, one thing is clear that ideological politics has become exhausted. We may not expect anything better from either of the two main political parties.
It could be a blessing in disguise. May be this is the turning point for our politics. May be people will be constrained to look for alternatives. It is said that cow manure is always good when rotted. May be our politics has rotted beyond which it can only get better for us.
Where can politics go from here? Either the ruling party will get re-elected or the opposition will return to power. What does it mean for us? Under the first scenario, tyranny is a forgone conclusion. Under the second, politics of vengeance will go one notch up.
So, the future looks bleak, caught between a rock and a hard place. And, the decisive hour has come for the constituents. It is said that people always get the leaders they deserve. Time has come for people to decide what they want. Do they want more of the same? Or, do they want change?
Sixty years later Victor Biaka-Boda's ghost is here and it's screaming. It's asking our politicians not to take their constituents for granted. If they can hear, the constituents are getting fed up with them. They are getting weary of political leaders using the government as a weapon of mutual destruction and of national politics being dragged in the mud for individual, not collective, interests.
People are angry. Politicians, please pay attention, before they pay attention to you.