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Friday, September 28, 2012

From the Archive: If Politicians Were Players

If Politicians Were Players

9 May 2008

His fans nicknamed him “The Phenomenon”. He was indeed a marvel to watch as he dribbled past dazed defenders and scored dazzling goals. This is none other than Ronaldo Luis Nazário de Lima, the three-time world soccer player of the year.

At the age of 31, Ronaldo is now struggling to prolong his illustrious career after a recent knee surgery. However, in the world of soccer the average retirement age is so close to that. It is only in very rare cases you get to see the likes of Roger Milla and Romario de Souza Faria who retired in their forties.

One wonders what would happen if politicians were players. Would they be able to sustain their careers even when they can no longer meet the playing demands of the times? Interestingly, the other day my uncle, a former player of the Tanzanian national soccer team that ever competed in the African Cup of Nations, asked me why youngsters are not seriously taking over politics.

They, the old guards, have outlived their usefulness, my uncle who would be considered young in the political arena insisted. How can a political party remove one of its top leaders, claiming that he is too old, only to replace him with another old ideologue from the same generation, he queried?

Indeed it will be ridiculous for politicians to retire at the same average age as players. But they can learn a lot from them. Players don’t retire early simply because they want to. Soccer as an institution ensures that they go when they can no longer cope with the pace.

Surely Diego Maradona would have loved to keep on playing what Pele of Brazil dubbed “The Beautiful Game”. He even tried to do so by any means necessary in the 1994 World Cup. But the drug test, nay, his own weary body he was trying to force to play, ruled him out. That was a simple indication that the time had come to give way to a new generation of Argentinean players that is now epitomized by Barcelona’s sensation, Lionel Messi.

All the signs of the times indicate that some of our politicians have to give way to young politicians not just because they want to but because the dynamics demands so. Of course we need the wisdom of age. But in a way, as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, observed, this tend to make our wise old leaders do the same things over and over again expecting different result. As a result they maintain the beaten track even it is a dead end.

Admitting he doesn’t have the same type of ambition and courage he had 35 year ago, Zenawi concluded thus: “I think it's partly because of the experience of defeats, the achievements, and the experience of life itself which makes a person wiser and at the same time less courageous and less ambitious. If we could combine the wisdom of age and the courage and ambition of youth then we can break out of a mad situation of doing over and over the same thing.”

It is this courage of youth that led Anton Lembede, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela among others to form the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League in 1944 to awaken the then old guards. Many of them “felt, perhaps unfairly”, notes the author of ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, “that the ANC as a whole had become the preserve of tired, unmilitant, privileged African elite more concerned with protecting their own rights than those of the masses.” As history tells us, this passion of youth transformed the party into a formidable freedom movement.

Hopefully, the youth wing of our ruling party will take a leaf from this history of youth struggles. In fact it is standing on the shoulders of its very own legendary predecessors, the Afro-Shiraz Party (ASP) and Tanzania African National Union (TANU) youth leagues. It ought to use this rich legacy, as a base, to fly. Its Tanga branch has shown the way: “CCM Youth now call on ‘tainted’ members to go” (The Citizen 5th May 2008).

When a player retires or moves one of my Zambian friends, a diehard Liverpool fan, consoles himself by saying players come players go. They go but the team stays. The institution stays put. Captain Patrick Viera left but Arsenal went on to almost win the European Champions League final. Roberto Baggio, christened “The Divine Ponytail”, was a ‘retiree’ when Italy won the World Cup in 2006.

We need to strengthen ‘politics’ as an institution rather than a personality. It has to be a stable, democratic institution that can survive beyond iconic politicians. If we do so we will be able to also truly say politicians come politicians go. 

Yes, if we do so we will be able fight corruption even if moral personalities like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere are no longer there to enforce a leadership code. All this will be possible simply because of stable institutions that have self-regulating mechanisms to enforce public accountability. Politics is too precious to be personalized by politicians.

© Chambi Chachage - The Citizen

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