By SYCORAX NDHLOVU-
THE recent observation by University of Zambia’s Development Studies lecturer, Francis Chigunta that many citizens failed to recognise their role in shaping society, and that they concentrated on personalities of those in power confirms the low political education levels in Zambia.
Low political education works against democracy. No democracy exists with low political education in a society.
High political education provides fertile ground for democratic governance.
This is because it facilitates high and active citizens’ participation in the democratic dispensation and local community development processes.
The current high voter apathy in elections where most of the elected leaders are voted into office with minority votes attests to low political education in the country.
Moreover, the way many political candidates campaign during elections proves that low political education is not only among ordinary citizens but also the candidates political parties adopt.
Even having more than 30 political parties in a country with only about 13 million people is a sign of low political education among our political leaders who form such political parties.
Because of low political education, most of these parties are now ‘dead’. They are not even heard during by-elections.
But the now quiet opposition political parties may resurface and will be vocal briefly before presidential and general elections.
One can also argue that the current high levels of unemployment and poverty are a result of low political education in our country.
A society with people with high political education know how to mobilise themselves and their resources to combat high unemployment and high poverty levels.
Moreover, political violence that characterises most elections is a sign of low political education in a country.
Thanks to Mansa Central by-election for being so peaceful. Mansa Central by-election proved the true personality of a peaceful Zambia.
Political education can be interchangeable with civic education.
This is education that creates awareness and education to citizens on their roles and responsibilities and how good governance works.
It makes citizens be knowledgeable of issues that affect their lives at every stage. Civic education equips citizens to know their rights, understand basic laws and know how to participate in issues that affect their lives.
Therefore, political education prepares citizens to actively participate in governance and development-related issues in any given situation.
Political education equips citizens with knowledge on the role and functions of a citizen, elected political leaders and that of the Government.
It also educates citizens on the functions of and relationships among the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary.
It enables citizens to provide effective checks and balances to elected leaders and all those in power. Political education makes Government leaders accountable to the electorate.
Therefore, it is to a tool for promoting good governance in the country.
Issues to do with the Constitution, rule of law, making elected political leaders accountable, providing checks and balances in governance, importance of citizens’ participating in regular, free and fair elections, etc are critical in governance which citizens are supposed to know through political education.
In the process political education shows citizens and governance-related institutions how citizens relate with civic or political leaders, and how the electorate and their elected representatives or Government can work together to bring the much-desired socio-cultural, economic, political and legal development processes for the benefit of all citizens in a given country.
But the big question that has been lingering in people’s minds for some time now is who is supposed to provide this high political education to the citizens?
The obvious answer is he who wants good governance should provide high political education to the people.
This means that every citizen and all governance-related institutions and organisations should regularly provide regular and effective political education.
Political education is a continuous process. For citizens, it is a life-long learning process. Governance-related issues change with time.
Therefore, political education should be continuous and start at lower secondary school level.
It should continue in colleges and universities if democracy is to be sustained and benefit the people.
It is, therefore, important for the Government, political parties, civil society organisations (CSOs), including faith-based organisations and many other governance-related stakeholders to be involved in civic education.
Such an approach will increase citizens’ active participation in governance issues and, in the process reduce voter apathy.
Such education makes one understand why he or she should contribute morally, materially or financially to specific local community development project (s).
As at now, for every local community development project that is supposed to be done, most local community members expect a councillor or an area member of Parliament (MP) through Constituency Development Fund (CDF) to fund that project.
But how many projects are supposed to be done in one area? Many? The CDF is not enough.
So where does the money to finance other projects come from if that local community is to develop?
It is from such a situation that one needs more political education, to know that community members have a responsibility to contribute to their own community development projects.
Political education also educates citizens that the role of an elected political representative is that of a facilitator, and not a financier or a donor to the community.
In a country where there is high political education, mobilisation of local community resources and sustainable development processes are easy.
Such a situation leads to high job creation and reduced poverty levels among citizens.
Former Forum for Democracy and Development MP, Mathews Mwale revealed that when he was an MP for Chipata Central and saw how debates in the National Assembly were handled to decide allocation of national resources, that is when he understood the real role of an MP in Parliament.
Mr Mwale said most candidates made false promises because they did not know that a councillor or MP had no direct control of resources in the council or in Parliament.
It is from this background that most councillors and MPs don’t want to go back to their wards and constituencies after being elected because they realise that they made false promises which cannot easily be fulfilled according to the procedures of accessing CDF or any Government treasury fund.
But such behaviour also shows low political education in some of our elected leaders because time will come when the same electorate they are avoiding now will decide whether to vote for them or not depending on how such leaders relate with voters when they are in office.
So there is need for more political education to ensure that citizens and candidates understand their roles and responsibilities and how they relate with each other in democracy and development processes in making this country a better place to live in.
To ensure that there is high political education in the country, the Government, political parties and all governance-related stakeholders should take advantage of the current high levels of community media the Government has facilitated in almost in all provinces.
Community radio and television stations can help to enhance high political education and, in the process, promote high citizens’ participation in governance and development-related matters.
In Zambia, for many decades now, CSOs including churches have done a tremendous job in contributing to some levels of political education just before elections.
The Government should also put in place certain measures and set aside resources to ensure that there is political education all the time.
Opposition political parties too play a critical role in providing political education to citizens.
This is because these are the ones that market themselves as they vie for the high office.
Therefore, the role of opposition political parties is not just to provide checks and balances to the ruling party but to demonstrate to the citizens the role and responsibility of a citizen, using the main principles of good governance, how their political party will govern the country when they form government, and show how the current Government is helping or failing to achieve good governance and development processes for all citizens, and how best they would do it themselves.
(The author is a national trainer and consultant in governance. For comment and ideas, contact: Cell: 0967/0977 450151; E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org)