From the long list of negative behaviours and utterances discerning citizens have identified in this election season so far there is one I would like to select for special attention, and it concerns the issue of representation.
All over this country there are communities that lack basic necessities like drains, water, roads, health services etc. There is clear evidence of long years of neglect in some of these areas. And these situations beg intervention.
A lot of people in these communities are complaining that they do not see their elected councillors or MPs. On TV, we see people living in these communities complaining that nobody is doing anything for them. While there is obvious evidence of neglect the display of helplessness by citizens is worrisome.
There is now heightened awareness of the need for better representation and quite a number of electoral candidates are promising good representation. But what this means is that candidates are promising to fix all the ills of these various communities etc.
One leader of a new political party has made his name by responding to these community and personal needs by even using his personal funds. One new candidate at a meeting in St Joseph told the community to send in their requests and he will see to it that they are attended to.
This approach to the concept of representation is not a healthy one. The helpless posture of citizens is dangerous from two standpoints.
Helplessness is a precondition for disorder since when people do not get what they feel entitled to they will be susceptible to demagoguery and use of violence. Such helplessness will feed gangsterism, patriarchy and perpetuate the reign of the so-called “community leaders”.
This “godfather” approach to representation is the “eat ah food” culture in reverse and places the aspiring candidates for office in a dangerous position.
Representatives who are victorious with these strategies will not be able to revisit these communities since they cannot access sufficient resources to fulfil these promises.
The political process as it works therefore institutionalises dishonesty in the relationship between those who seek office and the electorate.
If we are talking about local government reform we must recognise this concept of representation is not about responsible citizenship.
No political candidate should have to give people the false impression that he or she could fulfil all their needs.
Responsible representatives and responsible citizens are two sides of the same coin.
Representation has to exist in the context of a relationship of shared decision-making between citizens and candidates. Legitimate candidates for office should be already immersed in the affairs of their community so they can continue to lead in deliberations about the needs of the community and with the involvement of the community.
Citizens must also become educated as to how to access the levers of power and influence so as to continuously mobilise and influence decision-making. This active citizenship is more likely to lead to the satisfaction of the needs of the community but may also ensure that there is shared understanding as to why the fulfilment of certain needs may sometimes have to be postponed for very just reasons.
Strangers making false promises to helpless and poor people is a recipe for social upheaval.