29 August, 2014

Deception or Disclosure? Political Developments in Zambia

by Maximilian Mainza

Deception is the livelihood of the political system. A system which claims to work for the best interests of the people, while in fact largely working for corporate special interests, is riddled with deception strategies. The deception strategies of false promises, false enemies, pushing the fear button, hidden agendas and general secrecy are a common age old, worldwide problem. The political system, with great help from mainstream media, is designed, it would seem, to foster mass deception rather than expose it. Its success has led to more corruption, war, economic catastrophe and oppression than any other single cause. Deception depends on the notion that because while you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, you can fool most of the people most of the time, with the right political 'skills'.

Many politicians are guided by Niccolo Machiavelli’s famous work, the Prince, in which he wrote a concise guideline for how to attain power and how to keep it using deception. A good example is Vladimir Lenin’s rise to power and consolidation of his and the communist party’s iron grip over the Soviet Union after the Bolshevik Revolution, to a degree using force, but also in large part using the fog of deception. It was he who gave the world this quote: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth”.

However, for a healthy democracy, disclosure of issues that have an impact on the people is important because with access to the truth, they lack the tools with which to make their decisions. They can be easily controlled by politicians who effectively use deception to hoodwink the masses into supporting him and his positions. But how far does this need for the truth apply? The degree to which the disclosure to the public of the health status of a president of a country, for example, has been the subject of intense debate. Over the past century, the health of presidents had become a political as well as a medical issue. The perceived political consequences of disclosing a president's medical problems have sometimes conflicted with the public's concern for accountability and openness. Some presidents choose to keep their incurable diseases secret, while other presidents have advocated full disclosure.

In Zambia recently, there has been a public outcry about the health of his Excellency President Michael Chilufya Sata. On 22 June, 2014, the Zambian government announced that President Sata was in Tel Aviv Israel on a working holiday. According to the government, the president was in Israel at the invitation of out-going Israeli President His Excellency Mr. Shimon Peres. However, at that time President Shimon Peres was reportedly on his way to the United States of America. The Israeli media reported that President Sata was admitted for treatment at Sheba Medical Centre. The Zambian Government, however, insisted that the President was on working holiday in Israel. President Michael Sata returned from Israel on the 5th July and is said to have celebrated his 77th birthday with friends and family on 6 July.

President Sata: Healthier days

On 14 July, 2014, State House released images of President Sata chairing a cabinet meeting after an absence from the public eye for over 20 days. However, some sections of society are not convinced with the still picture which was released. The United Party for National Development (UPND) has cast doubt on the authenticity of the still pictures of President Michael Sata chairing a Cabinet meeting. UPND Vice President Dr. Banda said that State House should have released motion pictures or invited different media organizations for a press conference for the country to be sure that President Sata was well. Some opposition parties and political and human rights activists have been questioning whether the President is fit enough to continue leading the country. They contest that the Zambian government is being selective in its disclosure about the real state of the health of the President. The view by these activists that deception is being used as a tool to keep power by the Patriotic Front (PF) government is evident by the action of a Civil Rights activist Brebner Changala, who petitioned the High Court to constitute a medical board to examine the health of President Sata, a motion which was rejected by the court as frivolous and vexatious.

But most people are still not convinced by the PF Government’s information generated to prove that the President is capable of running the country. They feel that Government is taking advantage of the principle of the confidentiality of health information, to the detriment of the health of the state and its leadership. More recently, President Sata failed to appear to campaign for the PF candidate in parliamentary by-elections held 19 August, and no word has been heard from the President regarding a long-overdue new constitution.

It would be highly desirable that there exist a clear mutual understanding of what health information is expected to be made public and what information, if any, should remain private, for a sitting president, or one who chooses to become a candidate for the presidency. We must consider the fact that anyone can suffer from any diseases, illnesses, and maladies prevalent in our society, but also that leaders may choose to hide or minimize the presence of a disease during their terms, and that some may take advantage of post-term “illness” to go abroad and evade corruption charges. It is clear that the health status of presidents and presidential candidates will continue to attract the strong interest of the media and the public. If anything, the stress associated with the position is likely to increase for the foreseeable future.

The key political question is whether or not the deception strategies used by the PF Government is going to cost them votes in the next general elections in 2016? Because the notion that “while you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, you can fool most of the people most of the time, with the right political deception”, can be invalid if the majority of the people could see the truth and would rise up on election day, peacefully removing the ruling party from power.

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