For the apolitical, the unusual drama in the Senate – the bravado over funds and the ominous arrests – has been baffling, if not altogether annoying. Yet from a broader perspective, it raises pertinent questions.
Why does politics capture and captivate our every sense of being? Why is it that when it comes to politics, people seem to go berserk and even in the most developed nations, caution is thrown to the wind in a do or die contest? Possibly because, Politika, as the Greeks first called it, is associated with power and with making decisions for the wellbeing of individuals and communities.
Politics therefore becomes especially critical when it comes to power relations between individuals, and particularly when it has to do with the distribution of resources. Thus, the two powder kegs in politics are power and resources.
It is no wonder then that in spite of the very difficult season that the world finds itself in, with the Covid-19 pandemic, several politicians across the globe have spared but minimal energy for fighting the deadly virus. Instead, they have exerted their greatest vigour in playing the political game.
Whether it is President Trump in the US, Putin in Russia, or Lukashenko of Belarus, corona has not deflected their focus from the political ball.
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In Africa, Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe has unleashed the fiercest of his arsenal towards scoring his political goal, albeit against a very tough defence team.
It is no wonder that many people consider politics to be a dirty game. Indeed, politics is in every sense a game – a game of wits and tact. But it is also true that politics can be dirty – at times very dirty.
Trump opponents are accusing him of sacrificing the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans at the altar of political expediency.
Putin is hard-pressed to explain the alleged poisoning of the opposition leader who went into a comma after a cup of tea.
In Belarus, opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya had to flee to Lithuania shortly after the elections, as protesters on the streets were beaten by riot police and arrested by the thousands.
In Zimbabwe, Mnanagwa has labelled the main opposition party as “terrorist” and vowed to crash them. It is the dark side of politics. However, as a game, politics does not have to be dirty. In leadership studies, political skill is considered an invaluable asset for any leader who hopes to be successful. When played well, politics can be quite enjoyable for the player and very interesting for the spectator.
In the Bible, the Book of Esther is perhaps one of the most captivating reads. It is a story of raw politika – a contest of wits pitting two State House operatives against each other, with the queen caught up in the mix.
The unfolding drama, and the political skills of Queen Esther, make for a great political science study. Through sheer wit and tact, Queen Esther not only saved her Jewish people from extinction, but also got Haman to be hanged on his own gallows – which he had ostensibly erected for the execution of his arch-rival, Mordecai, Esther’s cousin.
In our neighbourhood, with his eyes trained on the upcoming elections this October, Tanzania President John Magufuli is playing his game well.
Tundu Lissu, the opposition leader who fled the country in 2017 after being shot 16 times by unknown gunmen, has just returned home from Belgium to take on Magufuli.
He, however, has a herculean task, given the game the incumbent has played with the corona pandemic. Magufuli is perhaps one of the few leading politicians in the world who seem to have successfully converted the corona pandemic into a powerful political weapon in their favour. The religious vote appears to be deep within his basket – a vote that is certainly in the majority – if the results of the recent party primaries are anything to go by.
In the US, the selection of Kamala Harris by Joe Biden as his running mate for the November election was greatly tactful, aimed directly at key yawning gaps. Yet, considering Kamala’s extreme left stance, especially on critical family issues such as abortion and homosexuality, Biden may have just thrown President Trump a lifeline. The president can easily make a long shot score if he plays his game well, especially among the conservatives.
Truth be told, the days of dirty politics are fast running out – if not completely over. It is now a battle of the wits. Politicians should embrace this reality and give us some wholesome entertainment, instead of the tired drama of yesteryears. Tumechoka!