it's always the same
Havin' a nervous breakdown,
a-drive me insane
So goes the chorus of Led Zeppelin’s 1969 hit single Communication Breakdown. Something of a mantra for my ex-lovers, who have all at some point or another complained about a communication breakdown, I have taken this phrase to heart and applied it to the man of our hearts: Hakainde Hichilema; or as you liked to be called, Bally. My snarling love, the apple of my stye, my one and many, lover toy, the fight of my life: why the communication breakdown? Where you once you extended your hands t’wards us in a loving gesture, promising an ear to our troubles – if not to allay them altogether – we are now left with a sense of unease. You seem introspective, consumed… by your inadequacies, or else your adequacies? Perhaps you fear that you will never be understood, the prophet who came to an undeserving people. But even though you may resemble a prophet, implicitly He speaks to us too: indeed, your god-given right to rule is predicated on the landslide victory the Zambian people afforded you. And so, I wish to exercise my divine right to speak without hesitation.
My previous column provoked raised eyebrows, words of consternation, and a fairly decent sexual encounter; all in all, a mixed bag of reviews. I was accused of lacking substance (in both my writing and sexual prowess), instead engaging politics as a dilettante, a stylistic provocation aimed at the established order without any ‘real’ insights. Of course, such a position requires a certain misappreciation of politics, one that imagines aesthetics as distinct from the realm of the real – something I vehemently oppose. And my choice of genre reflects this choice: satire is stylistic, it is dilettante. Which I know is something difficult to appreciate by empty men in empty suits, whose notion of 'culture’ oscillates between aseptic malls and septic pastors. So, I thought I’d take the time and my sense of satire and what I hope to gain from it all. Not only to you Bally, but to the owners of raised eyebrows and stern words too. I don’t usually feel the need to explain myself, preferring instead to abdicate meaning to some obscure – and most times, off-beat – humour. Perhaps that’s the problem; perhaps that’s where our communication breakdown starts: an inability to speak past the obscure.
Of late, the Zambian government has been mired in such obscurity: a series of PR stunts that have been at once wrong and baffling. Most pressing is the election promise that there would be no more power cuts across Zambia, the reversal of which we rudely treated to this past Christmas. Another – older issue, but greatly important – is the manner in which the agricultural supplies dilemma was handled late last year, with a range of voices across the political establishment providing different answers as to what exactly was happening (still, no one seems to know). Even the promise that police blocks would permanently end came undone after a glorious couple of months of stress-free driving. And now inflation (driven by a strengthening dollar) threatens to plunge the seething masses into further poverty, although there was much hype about the Kwacha’s performance against the Dollar right around the time the World Bank deal was being wrapped up (dear reader, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether temporary monetary instruments were implemented by the Bank of Zambia to strengthen Zambia’s bargaining powers at the time). The point here is that this government, like the last, works on a certain level of obscurity, which allows it to at times calculate what access to information the public should have, and at other times let incompetency reign. That is the power of obscurity.
That this tactic has runout of steam seems obvious to everybody but politicians. So where does satire end up in all this? Apart from being a vague product of my anger, satire is meant to cut through the obscurity, mostly by being outrageous. This is different to the feigned outrage of the weekly rants by opposition politicians, who have grown dull in their mud-slinging matches: I wonder how many more times M’membe will decry capitalism and the government before he dies an obscure socialist millionaire; or whether the PF’s level-headed politicking across the country will convince a suspicious public of their credentials to rule a country. No, my outrage is more figurative – a targeted attack against the symbols of power, which have been continually abused a have the real levers of power. Which bring me back to you, Bally, and the obscurity of your personal politics: you still haven’t disclosed your assets, and your friends are suspicious; which means that, taken along with the fact that you are symbolic leader of the nation, you are a target of satire.
My point is this: don’t take it personally. You are a target because of the symbolic power of your office, and the very real power it holds. As such, do not take it for granted, which you have till now. If you continue this way, I may have to go the same way of another Led Zeppelin favourite, Babe I'm Gonna Leave You:
Babe, baby, baby, I'm gonna leave you
I said baby, you know I'm gonna leave you
I'll leave you when the summertime
Leave you when the summer comes a-rollin'
Leave you when the summer comes along.