NewsFrom: AHS President - Mutumwa Mawere
22 May 2012 12:57 am
Free people make voluntary decisions in their self interest. The decolonisation of Africa was meant to usher in a new era in which sovereignty was to be restored to the individual citizens and not to the state and its actors.
Choice consists of the mental process of judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one of them. It is my contention that the interaction of voters, politicians and bureaucrats in the social system is premised on self-interest rather than national interest as many political actors would like the general public to believe.
Voters in a constitutional democratic order have the prerogative of deciding on the book of faces that should preside over the state.
State actors are, therefore, a creation of voters and yet it is ironic that citizens expect more from the consequences of choices that are often made randomly without any thought on how such choices promote or undermine the interests of the majority in whose name the state is organised.
Often the outcomes of political decision-making processes conflict with the preferences of the general public in whose name and interests such decisions made. In between elections, a functioning democracy will necessarily have to allow citizens to exercise their choices in a manner that promotes their interests but the reality suggests otherwise.
The construction of the state and its performance is premised on ordinary citizens whose income is used to finance the state remaining vigilant.
However, the actual performance of the state creates its own dynamics.
When elected, state actors do not automatically assume a higher moral ground from which to operate and yet they behave as if they are the fountains of wisdom, knowledge and custodians of morality.
In truth and fact, political actors have no better claim on wisdom, morality and knowledge to be trusted to make choices that are in the interests of the majority of people they serve.
The disconnection between voters, politicians and bureaucrats is not only structural but is also located in the nature of the human spirit.
History of human civilization and development has shown that the voices of vocal and vigilant minorities with much to gain have more play in defining and shaping the character of the state than those of indifferent majorities with little to lose individually.
The foundation of the post-colonial dispensation was an inherited colonial state with its own limitations.
New actors found themselves occupying offices and chairs that were never meant for them and more significantly nothing in their background prepared them for the new positions that called for a responsible and responsive approach to governance.
The majority in Africa were not part of the program of governance and, therefore, it has been easy for the few who occupy the state to take the view that they alone know better.
Although we all know that the modern state in Africa did not originate from the choices made by the majority of the citizens, it is important that any meaningful conversation on the inability of the state to discharge its obligations in a positive and progressive manner start with an analysis of the origin of government.
If an opportunity was granted at independence to citizens to construct a government, what would have been the starting point?
The first step would be the drawing up of the constitution. Often we have seen the process of constitution making being dominated by intellectuals and political actors with little or no grass root involvement.
The people for whom the government is established must at the very least drive the process of forming it. They also should through their elected representatives be engaged in the challenges of hiring the agents required to carry out government functions.
The choices of voters largely have no bearing on how the government is then formed and operated. With an indifferent majority, state actors end up thinking and acting for the majority. The voters in Africa have no mechanism to transform their individual choices into coherent collective preferences without risking their lives.
To the extent that the government is a creature of citizens to serve their collective interests, its actors would necessarily have to take a service orientated approach but the reality is that the loose connection between decisions made by state actors and the wishes of the majority creates its own absurdities.
The legislative agenda is rarely controlled by the people rather the executive arms of the state dictate the pace and form of laws that come into existence.
Some of the laws that see the light of day do not serve any legitimate interest but the quest to remain in power for the few who manipulate the systemic and structural fault lines of the political and constitutional order for private benefit.
So much is expected from elected Chief Executives of nation states and yet the incumbents end up training themselves on the job. In few countries where the CEO has remained in power for too long, it is difficult if not impossible for new ideas to find expression.
The voice of the CEO often dominates the political space in a manner that undermines the very reasons why the state is necessary. In many African states, the difference between the state and the private affairs of the ruling elite is the same.
In post-colonial Africa, both state and self-interested market participants seek special market privileges in order to partake in lucrative monopoly rents. The limited revenue base that the state has to work within imposes its own incentives for crafty actors to use the platform for private gain.
Political action in the name of economic nationalism has tended to be a source of distortion in the economy. The role of the state or political action in undermining economic efficiency is a subject that requires its own critical examination. The absence of collection decision-making processes based on mutually agreed and understood rules and institutions in many African states often opens the door for dictatorship.
History has shown that failed entrepreneurs and academics facing personal career challenges have found in the state a vehicle to climb the opportunity ladder.
Political actors and bureaucrats are after all human and do behave as economic agents no different from private actors. Wealth can be accumulated using the state just as the private sector allows economic agents to maximize profits.
It then becomes difficult to trust state actors when evidence exists that it is possible to transform poor political market participants into economically powerful agents using the intermediation of the state.
The rational decision of many African citizens is to be generally ignorant of politics and refuse to actively participate in electoral politics with the effect that the few who participate; end up using the political process to satisfy their own personal needs.
Good governments are a rarity in Africa because the public is rarely able to evaluate public policy proposals effectively and, therefore, it often becomes infeasible to engage in collective action in order to defend fragmented interests.
Lobbying has its own costs and the beneficiaries of the process usually are a minority class of self serving agents.
Citizens often find themselves on the wrong side of the law if they choose to express their interests.
The space for excessive or improper influence on public choices is dominated by those who invest most to influence them and not the people who create political and state actors through voluntary mechanisms.
We often blame political and state actor for the pervasive poverty, inequality and unemployment in Africa yet the blame could lie elsewhere. The post-colonial experience has failed to deliver the promise of a better, prosperous and inclusive dispensation.
Human civilization has failed to produce a reliable system to make political actors accountable for their action. The connection between the state and politics is so strong that whoever controls the apparatus of the state underpinned by a diffused citizenry will invariably use the state to maximise private gain.
It is only when minds come together through conversations that seek to locate the state and its players in the realm of economic theory and behaviour that it will become possible to reduce the propensity to use the state for private benefit.