Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Before You Can Say Cat lick Yuh Ears: Urgently Fixing Our Democracy!

A witty parody amidst Egypt’s early rumblings portrays the myopic recalcitrance of dysfunctional systems.  In the satire, President Obama hints President Mubarak should think of leaving. Said Obama “Hosni, it’s time for you to say goodbye.” Mubarak responded: “really, where are the people going?!”  
Yet, almost unbelievably, a dictatorship of 30 years was unlatched and blown away in a mere 18 days; fueled by people armed only with determination. The question that immediately jumps out is: How long will it take to fix diffident socio-political conditions so prevalent in our Islands state? The good news from Egypt to A&B is that we can undo and supplant well entrenched systemic contagions in the twinkling of an eye; yea even before you can say cat lick yuh ears!
I raise this question because of sensed despair.  Keen individuals often feel putrefied Island politics with shabby patterns and immature practices are immutable conditions from which we can never extricate ourselves.  Although these patterns/practices undermine and stymie progress, many resign to accept nihilism and decadence in preference to vision and possibility of brighter better society. Well, whirlwind events in Egypt, of all places, the cradle of tradition, have certainly put a lie to such hopelessness. 
The stark reality is it will not take generations; forever, to dethrone malpractices stifling our democratic flourishing. Will and resolve can bring rapid change. May Egypt’s story inspire us to redress our own democratic dysfunctions with an urgency matching our indigenous folkloric expression- before you can say cat lick yuh ears!
 Of course both situations aren’t the same; any such parallelism immediately yields a tricky question:  Which is easier, transitioning from dictatorship to democracy; or fixing a diseased democracy? 
On one hand, in fixing a democracy the foundation is there; so it’s a matter of appetite for betterment, realigning values, relaying patterns, and altering bad practices. On the other hand, renovations can take longer and cost more than new construction; meaning it’s extremely difficult to unshackle deeply engrained decrepit practices. Still, the lesson out of Egypt is that quickly overcoming severe odds to socio-political improvement is doable once people’s will for betterment is sterling and determined.
In thinking about local democratic institutions and practices, some that are over ripe and crying out for immediate revolutionary attention are:
The Electoral Commission: Even sporting bodies now boast and safeguard respect by ensuring neutral referees officiate. Should any less integrity and sanctity apply to the institution that presides over how we elect those who rule over us? A better way to appoint electoral commissioners must be urgently found. We cannot continue to allow the mice to decide who guards the cheese. 
Political principals will always want trusted lieutenants on the ‘inside’, or even heading the commission; but such arrangements do not belong in a healthy respectable democracy. Satisfying public confidence is more important than appeasing politicians’ fancies. Further, if and when election systems fail, lines must never be blurred (in the public’s mind) between genuine bureaucratic malfunctions and deliberate facilitating of strategic political designs.  
The elections commission must be honestly nonaligned, fiercely unbiased; and sanitized of all and any party activists/loyalists from either side of the divide. Urgent public displeasure should never rest until this critical aspect of democracy is treated with the reverential regard that our democracy deserves. 
The Media & Commentariat:  The role of the media in a credible democracy is public education. The media is not simply to relay messages from politicians; but also to investigate and reveal truth content of those messages. To what extent have media houses in A&B been faithful to their democratic function of educating public insight? Are they sufficiently analytical and exculpatory; or are they victims of the politics? Have they exchanged their role of public educator and become part of propaganda armada on either side? How and from where will objective public insight emerge in order to advance democracy?
And where is the punditocracy, the objective commentariat that fosters evaluation of contending ideas? Where is the forum that says here are the UPP and ALP positions; but as citizens here is how to think about it from an A&B perspective? Where is that voice that walks down the middle; that stands in the gap and speaks for A&B’s interests- without an aligned agenda? 
The intelligentsia appears to be open or shrouded mouthpieces for either side. Perhaps the promised university of A&B will provide more objectively evaluated public policy insight. In the meantime there is urgent need for a strong, objective, compelling revolutionary down the middle forum that forces both sides to improve their acts for the benefit of country.
The Church:  In most democratic jurisdictions churches remain above the political fray; and instead serve as society’s moral conscience.  This allows an efficient spiritual suasion that forces political players to be mindful of moral, ethical and valuative aspects of their conducts and policies. Churches must not and cannot take this function lightly. It is a critical and sacred democratic staple. If however, public concerns appear to attract advocacy or silence from churches based on political color, efficacy of the ecclesiastical voice is severely compromised. 
Have churches in A&B bartered unique spiritual suasion for the allure of political platform s and/or handout of state privileges? Are churches openly or tacitly signaling political alignment? To the extent churches violate their unique role; to that extend they also lose respect in the minds of political players over whom they are supposed to exert spiritual suasion for societal good- And it is to that extent they also abscond as an agency charged with advancing democratic ideals.  Churches can help revolutionize our democratic culture by ungluing themselves from the stigma of political color. They can regain the moral high ground; and recapture the effect of spiritual suasion.
Voter Bribery: In this regard the people’s goodness is their own downfall. One thing unique about the practice of voter bribery in A&B is that people honor their take- and politicians know it. Truth is endemic practices of cold hard cash for votes on one hand or institutionalized voter buyouts on the other hand come with a price.  Responsible obligations politicians have toward constituencies are replaced either by wanton neglect or attitudes of arrogant beneficence- often resulting in complete disregard for critical infrastructural and social development. It’s a simple equation really; people already paid are owed nothing more. 
Voter bribery hurts democracy not only in terms of injustice felt by those not on the take; but also in the way they are made to feel unsold votes don’t count.  Raw unabashed bribing of voters deals a crippling effect to democratic ideals and is another area that needs urgent revolutionary attention if democracy will better flourish in A&B.
In wrapping our minds around unseen dynamics that colluded to accomplish rapid consequential change in Tahrir Square, it helps to identify the ingredients of urgent socio-political transformation: 
  • Creative Discontent: Discontent is of course the impetus for change.  However, in his epic Man and Superman George Bernard Shaw tersely observes “rational people see things as they are and accept them; irrational people do not. Therefore all progress is dependent upon irrational people.” An indictment against rational thought if you ask me. The Egypt revolution was driven by rational creative discontent; the stuff required for creating sustainable change. Notice how new modalities of social media were used to spread and glue interests; and then drive the force of traditional human presence.
  • Pointed Focus: A key hallmark of the social revolution in Egypt was pointed focus of the people. They doggedly refused to be put off by gimmicks or overtures of pretense from officialdom.  In their determined calculus nothing less than desired change was acceptable.  A quest for betterment does not get bogged down with histrionics and debates related to how and why things got to be the way they are. Such inertia is nothing but emotional manipulation meant to preserve the status quo. Energies should be concentrated on forging a better tomorrow. Haggling over the origin of a problem does precious little for improving the future.
  • Sacrifice:  Because we can’t change all things doesn’t mean we can’t change some things at once. And yes, there is always a personal cost in aiding urgent socio-political change. Be it time, reputation, comfort, resources etc. As we saw in Egypt it will cost something! But the price for doing something is always monumentally less than doing nothing.

Let’s do it people. We have power within us to demand key aspect of our social order be conducted with aplomb. Let’s add determined focus and sacrifice to our discontent and turn A&B around.  How long will it take? The lesson out of Egypt is that it can be done before you can say cat lick yuh ears!

Dr. Raymond S. Edwards President/CEO, MOHDC Raymond Edwards, Ph.D. Organizational Psychologist & Minister of Religion: is an international development consultant and executive Leadership behavior specialist.

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