My Perspectives

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Politics and religion: The ‘paradoxicals’

A Voter casting his ballot in the recent General elections in Dar Es Salaam – Tanzania. PHOTO/Robert Okanda

“In Tanzania, as in the rest of Africa, God is ubiquitous in politics. Victory at elections is attributed to him. While there is nothing wrong about being religious, tying political outcomes to Providence is problematic as it deepens the passivity of citizens and absolves politicians of responsibility to their constituents”.

This article was originally published by Pambazuka News.  

The last two weeks have been politically eventful. I had the sheer opportunity to be in Canada at the time when a sweeping political transition occurred. While Justin Trudeau, branded “just not ready” by the conservatives, became the new Premier of Canada, Tanzania was facing a stiff competition between the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and the opposition coalition (UKAWA). Such competition has never been seen since Tanzania became an independent nation-state in 1961.

But that was not the only political event. In Europe, Latin America and Afrika there were political events worth noting. A former TV comedian became the president of Guatemala. In Ivory Coast, Alasane Ouattara defeated the opposition. In Poland, Beata Szydlo was set to become the country’s third female premier. Besides, there was a referendum in the Republic of Congo to keep Denis Sassou Nguesso in power possibly for life; in Ukraine political muscles were showing between Petro Poroshenko and the Oligarchs. In Agentina a second round of elections was called after a runoff between Mayor Mauricio Macri and Daniel Scioli.

Political Campaigns and Religion
As it is common among the majority in the religiously proselytised developing countries, everything begins and stops with God. Even at the time when political discourse should be given the priority, religion remains preeminent. This is completely different in the North America, and other countries in Europe – the so-called “developed countries”.

To elaborate what I am talking about, throughout the eleven weeks of general elections campaign in Canada, the political aspirants in all ranks peddled or criticised social, economic and environmental policies presented by other political parties. These are known in Tanzania as “sera za chama ya uchaguzi”. This does not mean that the campaigns were void of demeaning slurs.

To witness this period of great change, proved not only to be an insightful and learning period but also drew my attention to what we do not have in my country, Tanzania, and in most of Afrikan countries, namely: critical yet informative and progressive politicking. Implementation is a subject for further analysis and discussion.

In the just ended electoral process in Tanzania, my attention was drawn to publicity materials which I found bearing puzzling messages. One of such materials read, “Wao wana pesa, sisi tuna Mungu” (they have money, we have God). Belief in God is good and commendable yet problematic when it comes to how it relates to politics.

In the Bible, it is written, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21 KJV). Simply put, Jesus was telling the Pharisees and his followers that religion and political administration have distinct roles in the human society. And instituted political laws and protocols must be adhered to. This comes with responsibility and due diligence at individual and communal levels. In other words, no matter how ‘fanatic’ we may be about God, s/he will not be responsible for the outcome of our political lucky-dipping!

Political Victory and the People
Another outstanding attribute that I drew from Canadian politics is that the contribution and the power of voters are both valued and acknowledged. Justine Trudeau on his victory speech said the word “Thank You” so many times. But to Canadians who gave the landslide win to the Liberal party. To display that he really was thankful to Canadians for listening to his campaign message and arguments on how he would stabilise the Canadian social welfare, economy and improve national and international relations, he went out in the streets of Montreal to personally thank his voters. To many political critics, this may pass just as another political façade. But to the credit of Justin Trudeau, the positivity dosage was enough and it proved his critics and political and partisan opponents wrong. It gave him leverage among optimistic as well as pessimistic Canadian voters.

From hindsight, this act was not a political art. It was in my opinion a confirmation to the voters that their messages have been heard loud and clear by the premiership. It could also mean that the new premier was indicating that his government would benefit a lot from a dialogue or constructive ‘heckling’ from the citizenry.

In Tanzania, soon after balloting concluded and results started flowing in, victorious politicians started by thanking God! One of such is the message posted by the Member of Parliament-elect on CHADEMA ticket for the newly formed Kibamba Constituency – Dar Es Salaam, John Mnyika on his Facebook status: “MUNGU ni mwema. MUNGU ni Mkuu. Sifa na shukrani kwa MUNGU!” (GOD is good. GOD is Great. Praise and thanks to GOD). Besides victorious politicians, their supporters were abuzz with the same sentiments.

My first reaction to this posting was: where is the “Thank You” for the people? Then my analytical senses kicked-in. Invoking God, trusting and thanking in the supernatural deity for political victory takes away political responsibility and reciprocity. Looked at critically, such statements after a landslide win even at constituency level, set the precedent for the citizenry being left to hope for the ‘pie in the sky’ while their political representatives swim in milk and honey. Just like the missionaries. It is also like potentially saying, ‘God is the one who has enabled me to be here, I am not responsible to you’. This in many ways undercuts the ability of the citizenry to demand accountability from their political representatives.

In the Bible, this is supported. In Romans 13:1, Paul writes, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (KJV). This is where the fallacy lies. The results are clear. This can clearly be seen by looking at the economic trends in Tanzania and perhaps in many other countries in Afrika. Politicians and governing authorities always undermine the power delegated to them by the citizenry. Rather than being accountable, they would quote the canons to support their selfishness, corruption and apathetic rule.

The Paradoxes
Politics have own rules and guidelines. These must be followed. As in the colonial days, religiosity did undercut progressive response from Afrikan folks in attending to the most ‘expectant’ social, economic and political tasks. One of which is holding accountable their political representatives.

But because of the passive nature of the Tanzanian citizenry over the years: political chauvinism, resource pillaging, selfishness and apathy have been reared to maturity. Just like in the early days of missionaries in Tanzania and Afrika, the missionaries reaped the fruits of their labour. Birthing and rearing Colonialism to maturity. Such normalising and colonising concepts have not died. As we can clearly see, in the 21st century Tanzania, the citizenry is still taken into belief that God will intervene – politically!


This entry was posted on Nov 7, 2015 by in Eyes on the Parliament, Politics & Democracy, The Society.

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