There’s a very serious decline of public trust in our politicians. Our politicians are generally known to be liars, crooks out to enrich themselves and their families.
Wherever I have been, I have been asked not to do what other politicians do – Lie!
I tell them I am not a politician to do what the politicians are doing – I am a revolutionary. But this mistrust doesn’t seem to be limited to politicians. I see declining levels of trust in the country, whether it is public confidence in government and elected officials or their trust of each other. I see declining levels of trust in our religious and traditional leaders, in our school teachers and indeed among family members.
I believe that the interplay between the trust issues in the public and the interpersonal sphere has made it harder to solve some of our country’s problems.
However, my greatest worry is that the capacity of leaders to implement policies depends crucially on trust. Without trust in politicians, governments and institutions, support for the necessary revolutionary changes becomes difficult to mobilize, particularly where short-term sacrifices are involved and long-term gains might be less tangible. The sharp decline in trust in politicians and government is serving to underline that trust is an essential, yet often overlooked, ingredient in successful policy making.
A decline in trust can lead to lower rates of compliance with rules and regulations.Citizens and businesses can also become more risk-averse, delaying investment, innovation and employment decisions that are essential to regain efficiency and jump start growth. Nurturing trust represents an investment in revolutionary transformation and social well-being for the future. Trust is both an input to revolutionary changes – necessary for the implementation of transformative measures – and, at the same time, an outcome of revolutionary changes, as they influence people’s and organizations’ attitudes and decisions relevant for economic and social well-being. As a result, trust in politicians and government by citizens and businesses is essential for the effective and efficient policy making both in good times and bad. Investing in trust should be considered as a new and central approach to restoring economic growth and reinforcing social cohesion.
The biggest challenge is how to restore public trust in our politicians and their governments or how to make progress without this trust. If we don’t quickly restore public trust in our politicians, the result will be ineffective and illegitimate government, and declining social and economic well-being. Therefore, whoever wins the August 12 elections must address this problem as a matter of urgency.
Without trust we have diminished capacity to meet complex, long-term challenges. Weakening political trust erodes authority and civic engagement, reduces support for evidence-based public policies and promotes risk aversion in government.
This also creates the space for the rise of authoritarian-populist forces or other forms of independent representation. Bridging the trust divide between citizens and politicians is no easy task.
Clearly, the connection between the Zambian people and their politicians is hanging by a rather tenuous thread. What needs to be done to reverse the decline?
My simple approach has been to ask our people what they would do if they had to deal or work with people they don’t trust.
You don’t leave them on their own; it’s tight marking. I also remind them that leaders lead, the people govern. They have allowed politicians to lead and govern. This time around they must govern. What they can’t do for themselves nobody will do it for them.
I tell them that revolutionary democracy is a growth in the confidence in the power of ordinary people to transform their country, and thus transform themselves. It is in the appreciation of people organizing, deciding, creating together. It is a growth of fraternal love and trust.