With just 15 months before the 2019 Tripartite Elections, politicians are busy vending themselves to the highest bidder while political parties are also scouting for talent. This has thrown to the fore issues of habitual defectors who have widely been branded as recycled politicians.
Political commentators and other professionals have trashed the recycled politicians as having nothing new to offer.
Perhaps we need to interrogate the reasons behind this continued recycling of politicians. There are three main stakeholders in this circus: political parties and their leaders; the candidates and disinterested professionals.
This period is equivalent to a transfer window in football circles. Political parties, just like clubs, are beefing up their squads with the best they can get in each department. Some politicians are good at mobilising support at grassroots level, some are experts in creating a hype through opinion polls and posturing while others are errand boys to be sent on fundraising ventures.
Party leaders, being coaches in this premier league called tripartite elections, are also strategising on which formula to use in their games. Should they have more numbers in defence and mid-field and a few attackers (protecting their strongholds while subtly infiltrating the backyard of other parties)? Or should they go on offensive, swallowing up all other regional parties to establish some territorial hegemony?
Then we have the candidates as part of the major stakeholders. These players have been in politics for as long as the mind can remember. They know the seasons in politics. For them, this is the best time to join the roller-coaster. They can relaunch themselves or they can just operate as seasonal casual labourers while getting premiums.
It is important to note that not every politician who is outside the ruling elite has nothing to offer. Conversely, not every member of the ruling politburo is a star performer in politics: chance happens to them all.
Besides proper preparations for and execution of electoral plans, the ultimate value is in the announcement of the official results. In this contest, the race is not always to the swift. For meaning, kindly ask Malawi Congress Party’s Ulemu Msungama and Lawrence Sitolo or indeed Democratic Progressive Party’s Bentley Namasasu. Many others have either suffered in silence or continue to be dressed in borrowed robes.
The last bunch of stakeholders is the so called professionals. These are the people who have worked so hard to make their names. They cannot afford to soil their reputation for transient glory. They always weigh options before waddling in the waters. But they always end up at the what-if-level.
Politics in Malawi is a high-stakes game. A high-flying professional can get frustrated by an illiterate villager at a party branch level. It is not only about technical know-how; it is also about technical know-who. It sometimes demands blind loyalty which professionals cannot conform to.
The game is capital intensive, normally accumulated through corrupt means: serious professionals have no access to such windfall. This is why the corrupt former Zairean dictator Mobutu Seseseko said “in politics we need silver and ivory for the party women and the party”. The game operates on the basis of what-is-in-it-for-me.
It entrenches patriarchy and hegemony in all its forms. We hear of the Kennedys, the Clintons and the Bushs in the US; the Ghandhis in India; the Kenyattas in Kenya and indeed the Mutharikas in Malawi. Politics is also highly risky. One has to resign from their employment and literary test the depth of the river with both legs. It is not for those who place a premium on their reputation.
Of course professionals in other fields also “defect” only that they are then labelled as ambitious or marketable. It is only politicians who are condemned. But this can be understood as politicians have chosen to operate in a public sphere. A ruling party also uses public resources to participate in the auction of the recycled politicians.
And when the professionals change packaging, flavour or colour of their products, they call the exercise position, repositioning, branding or rebranding and not recycling.
The way forward would be to demystify the game of politics. Let laws of transparency illuminate the dark corners of politics. Let us know where the money that makes others to be “abwana” comes from. We need to find out why the same investors “recycle” themselves when a new ruling elite emerges.
Only then shall we make our politics predictable for the professionals to participate. As for now, we shall continue to debate whether the defectors have recycled or rebranded.
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