Monday, 7 July 2014

The Incident of the MPs Stranded in China: Shopping Without the People.


By Takura Zhangazha*

The majority of our 27 Members of Parliament (MPs)that got stranded in China are safely back home.  With the benefit of hindsight, the incident can only be referred to with good natured humour.  In fact it reminded me of my high school days where, in trying to understand the functions of a member of parliament, I came across the play, Honourable MP, by HG Musengezi, in the school library.  The title suggested that this was a technical assessment of the roles and duties of a legislator until one looked closely at the cover picture/cartoon. It turns out the play was a satirical one about one MP Pfende and his disdain for those who elected him.

One of my favourite lines from the play is when the character Teacher is giving MP Pfende an update from the constituency, which I must quote as is;

Teacher: There is a shortage of textbooks in our rural day secondary schools and a shortage of medicines in the clinics and the most serious is the drought which has already caused a lot of suffering. Also a leadership drought.
MP: (Does not quite get the last part) It's nice you have informed me about this. But did the people say anything about me? Aren't they looking for me? Don't they want me to address them?

I am quite sure our 27 MPs do not want any further query as to what exactly happened for them to be stranded in China. Or any specific questions as to what exactly their mission to the same country was.

What the incident however demonstrates is that our MPs are not only keen on foreign trips but particularly those that provide them opportunities to visit the most developed countries on the planet.  And also that a key priority of such trips for our legislators is accumulation of not only the latest but possibly cheapest goods that are not available back home. 

Now if the MPs were cross border traders or if they had gone in unofficial capacities there would be nothing apprehensible about not only their shopping but also the en masse missing of their flight.  Especially if it was caused by circumstances beyond their control.

What we now know is that some of our MPs (and sometimes government ministers) tend to throw caution to the wind when they visit other countries.  And they do not necessarily go to those same said countries with a clear understanding of expected conduct, let alone the limits of the hospitality on offer by the host countries. One can also hazard to argue that perhaps one of the major reasons why they would agree to such trips is not necessarily the policy issues to be shared or discussed with the host state, but perhaps more the travel and shopping experience it entails. 

The key lessons to be drawn for the legislators and also those that aspire to leadership in whatever form is that we must learn to believe in our own country. Not by way of sloganeering but by way of behaving with the modest dignity that leadership positions require.  It is in not in any way preferable that persons in leadership positions, especially at national level, fall victim to consumerism in such a clumsy and expensive fashion.

While it is generally agreed that the national economic crisis has not only led to the dilapidation of our manufacturing industries and that a majority of Zimbabweans are reliant on foreign made products in our daily lives, we expect better from our MPs.

Not only because they are directly elected representatives of the people but also because they should know better. 

Campaigning to be an MP may have been a hard and comparatively expensive exercise but it would be most unfortunate if the incident in China was part of a ‘recover what we lost exercise’.  Or alternatively, it were part of a tendency by MPs to pursue only those trips that are deemed ‘lucrative’.

Whether the MPs are sanctioned in one way or the other, the fact that they missed a flight as a result of shopping reflects badly not only Parliament but also our political culture and priorities. Especially where it concerns elected leaders.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity