Green Parties in East Africa should address issues of bread, butter

Saturday December 17 2016

Christopher Kayumba

Christopher Kayumba 

By Christopher Kayumba

The East African Greens Federation, an organisation that brings together all the Green Parties in the sub-region organised a two-day training for its leaders on the issues of democracy, elections and campaigning.

The event took place in Kigali this week and brought together members from Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and the host Rwanda.

Discussions ranged from the history of democratisation and electoral politics on the continent to leadership, campaign strategy and tactics in unfriendly waters to the role of ideas in the organisation of society to how individual and party ideas become issues to promote in campaigns to how they become government policies once a party is lucky to be elected to office.

Critical bottlenecks identified by almost everyone who spoke range from lack of resources to mount serious campaigns to how to win over “illiterate peasants” to vote rigging and the deployment of the state machinery to serve the incumbent during the electoral season.

While all these are serious challenges, the primary task that all Green parties in the region must perform if they want to be taken seriously and one day assume state power as is the objective of all serious political parties is what a member of the Ecological Party of Uganda called being based on “intellectual ideas”.

She explained that, sometimes, it feels like “the ideas we promote are too intellectual” to be understood. This, I believe can be explained by three factors.

The first is the history of the green movement that gave birth to green parties. The second is how Green parties have been branded politically. The final explanation is the reality of life and its interaction with electoral politics and ideas.

The active green movement was born at the height of industrialisation in the western, mass and “reckless” consumerism and the threat of nuclear weapons when human scientific achievements threatened to annihilate living species.

At the time, particularly during the late 1960s, and 1970s, these were the main challenges visible in the Western world and Green parties were born in countries like Germany or New Zealand in opposition to those developments.

In that sense therefore, we could say that green parties in Africa were “imported” and might be addressing assumed challenges. Yet, of course, Green parties are based on noble ideals: a care for mother earth and a commitment to preserve our ecology for posterity.

And indeed, if there are areas where environmental degradation and climate change is having a visible and devastating effect, it is in Africa from landslides in western Uganda and much of East Africa to desertification in North and West Africa.

Yet, while Green Parties address serious issues, including ideals such as social justice; equity and the alike, to an ordinary voter, these are issues not only difficult to understand, but aren’t considered immediate threats and therefore don’t fetch votes.

For the Green Parties to make sense to the ordinary voters, they need to unpack these ideas to explain how, for example, what members call “green wisdom” or “green” politics or economics can bring bread and butter to millions in their constituencies who don’t have it.

For any political party to be taken serious by voters, it has to climb down from high thinking and speak the language of the stomach and the suffering before explaining how it wants the unborn to live once they join the living.

What this also means is translating these ideals into, as Chinua Achebe would put it, the language of “is and was” for ordinary voters to relate with.

Winning elections in a free and fair environments isn’t really about having high ideals and intentions per se but speaking to the electorate’s day-to-day monetary challenges and fears of tomorrow; it’s about showing how, in choosing you, their lives will be better off than the alternative.

In that sense therefore, green parties need to think about and explain how green politics can put food on the table, how it can bring sleep to many who don’t in places like Burundi and freedom to seek happiness to many constrained by coercive states.

And politics not being for the faint-hearted, green members must also be prepared to pay the required price to achieve their.

Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba