Liars for political leaders

Michael Kaingu says Zambians are to blame for not using their ears and eyes to judge politicians from what they tell them.

“Zambians are to blame for not using their ears and eyes to judge politicians from what they tell them,” says Kaingu.

Amilcar Cabral wrote, “Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories…”

It’s a truism that Zambian politicians lie and get away with it.  Even politicians themselves half-acknowledge this fact: they are, in their own words, ‘terminologically inexact’ or ‘economical with the truth.’

As a result, there’s a deep-seated and growing sense of apathy when it comes to politics. This fatalism is understandable but dangerously self-defeating. It convinces us that our elected representatives will always spout falsehoods whether we like it or not. It encourages us not to act, which is a curious attitude given that all of us would like our politicians to be more truthful. So what do we do?

This is mainly due to the desire for our politicians to create perception of high performance even though it may not be realistic for various reasons; they have their eye on winning elections through populism; and due to lower moral character of our politicians in general. The reasons our politicians often lie is because the public doesn’t want to hear the truth. People want to hear what they want to hear. To succeed in elections, most politicians realise that people want to hear what they want to hear.

Why do they get away with lying? Why do we let them lie to get elected?

Our politicians are pretty much free to bend the truth as they please.

Simply lying is the key to staying in their political positions, and we think the sole purpose of working in politics is to achieve personal interests by way of power influence.

In an increasingly post-truth society lying is a means to get to power.

They lie for their wealth and place their buddies in the important roles.

They lie for their selfish thoughts and to attract followers.

Like our politicians, we visualise only direct and short-term benefits.

Our politicians lie to try and achieve the people love, but they really don’t want to do as their talks.

They are able to get away with lies because most of us don’t like truth.

They lie to achieve their goals.

Most of them are lying for their selfish objectives.

At one time, we could count on our government officials and political candidates to either tell the truth or say nothing.

No less serious is the failure of our politicians to tell us the truth about the promises that they have made that cannot be honoured.

Lying by political leaders is what we expect from corrupt and tyrannical politicians. More democratic and accountable politicians require truth and honesty.

But how do politicians — or anyone who lies regularly — end up lying so much in the first place?  The more we lie, the easier it becomes to lie in the future. Lying is a skill we get better at. It’s clear that some politicians are more prone to dishonesty than others — and are unlikely to change. Some politicians have a stronger physiological response to moral dilemmas than others. And extreme forms of lying, like compulsive lying, may be indicative of an underlying personality disorder.

But let’s assume our politicians aren’t abnormal in this way, and that they are just normal people who are in an environment that rewards lying. Is there any way to keep them honest?

Perhaps we can nudge them away from dishonesty by calling them on their lies even if they are small, and try to reproduce an emotional reaction. In other words, reminding them they’re lying could help revive the negative feeling that may have been lost. Though this could backfire: they can become defensive when being called liars.

When cooperation and truth telling are established upfront as the norm, politicians are more likely to play fair in the future.

They may listen to nudges to keep the fibbing to a minimum.

If someone has been repeatedly engaging in dishonest behaviour, it is likely that that person has emotionally adapted to their own lying.

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