Is development political?

Today I had two persons in a group I belong raising concerns and making inquiries, on separate threads, about what should be our attitudes to partisan politics. The first question addressed the worry that this group, and the members thereof, can become an instrument for the self-interest of aspirants or holders of poltiical office. The second point, conversely, concerns the efforts and strategies we can employ to engage members and leaders of political parties to achieve much desired development objectives.

Both perspectives represent two sides of a conversation about pitfalls and opportunities, and they have generated much attention and interest, not just on these threads, but nationally, and indeed internationally.  First there is the learned cynicism arising from years of unpleasant experiences of failed promises from self-seeking politicians who perenially promise the high heavens but deliver hell and misery year and after year. We have seen, in our Nigerian experience, the reckless looting that is going on at the hghest echelons of power whilst ordinary citizens wallow in unmitigated misery and uncertainty about the security of their lives and property.

On the other hand we have also seen, amidst the rubbles and tumult of our decadent politics, opportunities for positive engagement. We have seen that, given an opportunity for citizens’ electoral choices to count, they can actually make a difference in choosing those they conside best equipped, in terms of expertise and moral standing, to conduct their affairs at all levels of governance. We have also seen that citizens can in fact exercise the same rights to undo bad choices and continually impose their will in the process of governance. These opportunities, it is true, are still in the infancy of development, and there is much that needs to be done to ensure that the electoral process is transparent and credible, and not just at the ballot box but also in the process leading to selection of candidates for office.

Let us now return to the original concerns that brought about this missive: are development and politics mutually exclusive? Is poltical participation necessarily partisan? And is partisan politics inherently evil or dishonest engagement? To answer the first question just think of any aspect of development that is dear to you. I’m thinking immediately of Education. Who is responsible for building our schools Who pays the teachers and workers in schools? Even for private schhols, who license and regulate them? The government! And who is the government? Those we elect to conduct the affairs of the community at different levels, assisted by civil servants who simply execute the agenda and project set by government officials.

So how do we ensure these elected leaders meet the needs and aspiration of the people with regard to Education, Employment, Infrastructure and other aspects of development? There are lots of ways, actually. One, and very important, is to ensure that we make our voices count in choosing the best in the community. In pursuance of this, it is very helpful, and important that we seek and share information that will help us make the best choices. Two, we must ensure that, beyond the time of choosing leaders, we must continually engage with them, scrutinise and support as occassions arise, and demand acoountability with regard to our aspirations and obligations. Both of these levels of engagement constitute the fundamental essence of political participation. Thus, it is the duty of well-informed citizens to ensure that the political process serve its fundamental purpose of fulfilling the desires and hopes of the citizens, rather than an instrument by which politicians lie and use citizens to achieve their selfish ends.

It behoves us then to ask: if it’s our duty to ensure that the best persons are chosen to conduct the affairs of the community, is there anything inherently wrong for anyone to put himself forward as a representative of the community? It cant be wrong; we can not at the same time seek to choose the best persons and still believe the best persons can not infact volunteer or put themselves forward. Even so, are there no pitfalls or dangers associated with involvement in partisan politics? Of course there are. First, as we have learned in Nigeria, there is always the possibility, nay preponderance, of deception, by means of which political apsirants make all the promises we want to hear in order to gain advantage and attain office, then unleash hell and terror once they attain power. However, to combat this the duty of citizens is to seek more infromation and commitment before making their choices, by scrutinising the antecedents of aspirants who make promises to check how they have done in the past with regard to promises and development efforts before they held any offices, or in the previous offices they held. In this respect it is much easier to filter out liars and opportunists who seek political office for selfish gains.

The second problem associated with partisan politics is the possibility of rancour, by means of which close family members, and otherwise good friends are driven apart to hostility on account of conflicts of interest in position seeking, and conflicts arising from participation on different sides of partisan poltiical divide. In this regard we say differences and debates are constant aspects of human experience, with or without partisan politics, and to grow as humans is to accommodate and learn to deal with, rather than evade, these differences. Only one rule of thumb must here apply: anyone who will take the slightest route of violence and terror is decidely unfit to represent the interest of the community at any level of governance, and citizens must exercise their rights to reject or remove such dangerous impostors from the corridors of political power.

I’ll end this piece with a quote from the ancient philosopher Plato. In The Republic, he quoted Socrates as saying: “He who refuses to rule is liable to be ruled by one who is worse than himself. And the fear of this, as I conceive, induces the good to take office…” (pg 21). And then again, in pg 141, he says : “Until philosophers are kings, or kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those of commoner natures who pursues either to the exclusiion of the other aside, cities will never have rest from evils- and no, nor the human race, as I believe- and only then will this our state have a possibillity of life and behold the light of day.”


By Seun Kolade,

August 2011.

Seun Kolade

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