- Government for many is a high up organ that one has to plead with in times of need to get its attention.
- Definition of government being of the people, by the people, for the people just doesn’t hold.
“Ningependa kuomba serikali itusaidie maana janga hili limetuzidi (I would like to request the government to help us since this disaster has overwhelmed us),” pleads a woman displaced by floods. It is a cry for help in a difficult time, a voice echoing the pleas of a large number of helpless people displaced by floods.
A few minutes later the area’s MP arrives, with a crowd in tow. He has brought a few essential supplies in a truck: cooking oil, bags of maize and a few other items. Not to mention a few heavy duty mattresses that the afflicted people scramble for, sustaining injuries in the process. The donations bear large images of the politician, never mind that the supplies have been bought with government funds.
The MP starts handing out supplies to select families, posing for the cameras with his best smile. “Ningeomba serikali isaidie watu hawa maanake (I urge the government to help these people because)...,” he begins, cheered on by the people. He rants that government has forgotten its people who are wallowing in poverty and they need more supplies to alleviate their suffering. His constituents cheer him on in a mad cacophony.
What they all fail to understand is that he is part of the government, the legislative arm. He has the option of making policies to help his people when hit by disasters, but he chooses to rant. He can demand answers in Parliament from government agencies involved in disaster response but he prefers to rant at TV cameras. The MP’s main concern is to be seen to be ‘vociferously articulating’ his people’s concerns, if not to be seen in a fabulous three-piece suit.
It’s a blurred line though when it comes to determining where government starts. We definitely know where the government ends—uniformed police officers committing atrocities against citizens they swore to protect; obese men in designer suits hobbling into the latest models of high-end cars; parastatal chiefs jumping from one corruption allegation into another.
Maybe the projects he was elected to launch are cowsheds, a block of toilets—all bearing his name and image. Plus a few handouts to foster his image.
That’s government for many: a high up organ that one has to plead with in times of need to get its attention. Gettysburg’s definition of government as being of the people, by the people, for the people doesn’t hold.
The afflicted people are helpless, not realising that their MP is the government. That in a way they can form an able government by electing competent leaders, that the so-called government is answerable to them. They fail to see, or are powerless to see, or have been under illusion for far too long to see that they can advise their MP to lobby for dykes to be built along the area river to stop the perennial flooding.
Or maybe that’s a job they see as a reserve for the World Bank and other international donors – big projects requiring huge funds. The politician in this scenario reduced to a mere spectator cheering on representatives of these big companies as they launch meaningful projects in his constituency.
Maybe that is what the constituents envisioned when electing him to Parliament. Maybe the projects he was elected to launch are cowsheds, a block of toilets—all bearing his name and image. Plus a few handouts to foster his image.
Having accomplished his task, the honourable MP leaves. The disaster that has befallen on his people has slightly elevated his reputation. He sure has not forgotten his people in their time of need. He is cheered on by his constituents as he leaves. ‘Serikali inafaa kutusaidia vile mheshimiwa ametusaidia (The government should help us in the same way the honourable MP has helped us)’.
They go back to their tents a happy lot—superficial happiness. In a few months they will face biting hunger and the MP will re-emerge with his favourite supplies. Then the usual cry will ensue: Serikali saidia.
Maybe it’s the unofficial anthem that speaks more to the inner feelings of the citizens than the official one. It’s an anthem that speaks of the failure of the government in its duties.