Listening to Stephen Kampyongo speaking is nauseating. His threats, pomposity and arrogance clearly reveal his emptiness and political immaturity.
But Kampyongo’s political amateurism is not something we should ignore or play down. It is something very serious and dangerous and it presents a threat to our multiparty democracy.
Multiparty Democracy is hard. It’s not as simple as picking an election date and site and counting up the votes. It also requires thinking about how different perspectives and stakeholders will be integrated into a system, what to do with the losers of a particular process, and how to balance individual freedom with community concerns. The practice of democracy requires dealing with the reality that disagreement is bound to crop up anytime you get more than one human being in a discussion.
It is true that most people want broadly similar things: peace, safety, prosperity. But there’s a lot of disagreement about how to achieve those things. Productive approaches to politics acknowledge this – denying it won’t make it go away.
We have a challenge of embracing democratic values. It’s very clear that Kampyongo seriously lacks understanding of the free speech and assembly, favouring outlawing political parties and interest groups, and has a generally low level of appreciation for his fellow citizens’ values and lifestyles.
Those who know more about politics are more likely to embrace democratic values like political tolerance.
What we’ve seen so far from a government that lacks political experience is an accompanying lack of regard for democratic values, especially ones about legitimate opposition and criticism of the government.
It’s when politicians are weaker – less skilled – that they go the threats route.
Again, the Edgar Lungu presidency bears this out.
Working with other political players and stakeholders is difficult. Knowledge of policy, legislative procedure, and the political incentives of other politicians – who their constituents are, who their opponents are likely to be – helps build a coalition. Absent of this knowledge, it’s easier to just govern through threats and intimidation.
It’s clear that Zambian politics has some issues. Confidence in institutions is low. Economic inequality threatens the basis of our political stability. Our law enforcement system has problems.
Lots of people feel they don’t have much of a political voice.
But the impulse to concentrate a lot of power in the hands of people who don’t know what they’re doing isn’t going to improve Zambian democracy. These problems require expertise, appreciation for political nuance, and understanding of the tensions inherent in democratic governance.
These alone probably aren’t enough to fix our system. But there’s no substitute for the foundation they provide.
Political amateurism presents a threat to our multiparty democracy.