Analysis by Mphatso Moses Kaufulu
Ritual has its purpose — yet ritual can also obscure and impede what is important. One place where ritual has become particularly paralyzing is within the Office of President and Cabinet.
Firstly, the terms ‘Excellency’ and ‘Right Honorable’ which are often followed by other excessively deferential verbosity such as ‘It has pleased his/her excellency’ and so on, neither establish nor sustain the presidency.
They are titles infinitesimally small in comparison to the people’s vote which confers upon elected persons the reigns of those offices. Repetitive pronouncements before, after and during statements do not make an elected office bearer more presidential than the level of presidency already conferred by the people’s vote.
Additionally, omitting these titles takes nothing away from the presidency. Thus, whether someone says ‘Ngwazi’, ‘Professor’, ‘Dr’, ‘Reverend’ etc. Chakwera or just ‘President Chakwera’ changes nothing of the importance of that office, save perhaps to prolong otherwise short functions, waste precious mental activity and words, and potentially deplete additional reams of paper than otherwise.
But paralyzing ritual does not end there. There is also the ritual of the presidential podium. The podium is a cumbersomely massive piece of carpentry, fortified by an equally — pardon my turn of phrase — hideous red armchair which is flown, ferried or hauled to most functions the president attends.
If the vice-president too should make an appearance, his own hideous red piece of furniture is similarly transported.
On top of this, the president’s podium is never shared with others who might also make statements — statements inundated with their own excessive title-letting — at those functions.
Where is the disrespect in having the president step to the side to allow the vice-president and other government officials take their turns at the same podium.
Notice I said: Step to the side, which means the president, the vice-president, and others – surely – can remain standing for 30 minutes or so to deliver or listen to statements, and to take journalists’ questions using a single, simple podium.
By extension, the facilitator’s role at press meetings is obsolete, as is the role of the Aide-de-Campe journalists can simply wait for the president’s invitation to ask questions after a statement.
Similarly, the president can carry his own notes and pour himself a glass of water. The whole event becomes easier on the ear (and eye), and everyone — including the president, the vice and others — all get to go home fresher and happier.
I commend the current president for promptly trimming what was a torturously long motorcade. This is so great it almost brought me to tears.
Let’s indeed expend our logistical acumen and thinking on real problems: a president traveling from place A to B is not a real problem. However, it can become a real problem if the convoy is inflated into an endless noise-producing, traffic-blocking, and public purse depleting, spectacle; an openly contemptuous mockery of the electing citizenry.
In sum, ritual that adds nothing of substance to process except to bang on about what is already obvious, breeds insecurity while contriving a poison.
Little by little, that poison begins to pollute the otherwise humble-minded people we elect into office, transforming them into semi-gods and convincing them of the same.
My suggestion is this: let’s acknowledge the office and respect it for what it represents. It represents our exercised collective will and sovereignty which confers specific limited powers and responsibilities on elected persons.
On this basis, let the president remain the president and the vice remain the vice. More importantly, let our poetic creativity otherwise reserved for title-letting become useful for developing and building our republic.
It is for this purpose that we even elect presidents at all.
*Mphatso Moses Kaufulu is a Pan Africanist and a political scientist, temporarily based in the southern United States. He maintains a blog on medium where he predominately writes about postcoloniality, race and gender, with occasional commentary on international political economy. He is also a contributor on iAffairsCanada