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Civic consciousness: The pulse of democracy

THE political wind is slowly and gently blowing on our motherland as we dive deep in the official campaign period. With defections and counter defections becoming the centrepiece of our politics, most folks in the hood are marooned on the political cross-road not knowing which symbol to flash or which political grouping and party to embrace.
This level of uncertainty and anticipation is expected given the enthusiasm and charm that usually accompany our politics.The citizens of this great country have a boundless responsibility, as voters, to awaken and arm themselves with their inherent virtues of civic consciousness even as we gravitate towards August 11, a day on which Zambia goes to the polls.
The tools and skills of civic consciousness are critical in objectively analysing different political aspiring candidates and parties positioning themselves for the most noble race of leading and servanthood to our motherland. As a citizen of this great country, I feel duty-bound to engage my fellow voters on the discourse of civic consciousness, which I believe is a cornerstone of modern-day political dispensation.
I define civic consciousness as the ability of a person to understand his or her constituency. It entails having an astute mind; a high level of alertness; a certain degree of free-thinking, a good latitude of mental and social independence; knowledge and skills that are critical for one to meaningfully participate in the politics and governance of one’s community.
Civics entails the rights and duties of citizenship and the role citizens have in establishing, shaping, and overseeing government at any level (Altinay, 2010). Civics is founded on citizens’ perception that governance is actually necessary; that it is functionally required to solve societal, environmental or economic problems at a particular level, be it local, national, or global. But to do these things begins with an awareness of one’s community and the civic life in which we participate.
The ability of citizens to know their rights; demand a dignified life from their leaders and capacity to hold their leaders accountable is very critical. It also implies a duty and responsibility to interrogate various police tools and programmes against a lens of patriotism and a shared national dream.
The challenges that beset this nation are quite obvious – unacceptable levels of illiteracy, hunger, unemployment, high maternal and infant mortality and morbidity rates, nutritional poverty and the burden of a mono-economy. Every election period therefore gives us an opportunity to apply our civic virtues as independent and free thinkers in choosing a team of leaders we believe has the capacity to address the aforementioned challenges.
Voters, therefore, have a civic responsibility to interrogate the policies, manifestos and promises of all aspiring candidates and their parties at all levels with a critical mind.
We cannot continue to use defections, the tribal card, mere appearances and rally crowds as a yardstick for selecting the best men and women to lead us. By activating our mental fortitude, citizens ensure and uphold certain democratic values inked in the Constitution and other human rights instruments.
Those values or duties include justice, freedom, equality, diversity, authority, participation, truth, patriotism, human rights, and rule of law. Schools teach civic responsibility to students with the goal to produce responsible citizens and active participants in community and government.
Equally of importance under the discourse of civic consciousness is civic knowledge. This means that people should invest time in gathering information and accumulating knowledge on matters that affect them. It is embarrassing to the global world to have citizens who cannot even read and interpret their constitution. It is an affront to democracy to have political debates that are devoid of key national issues. Schools and the media therefore have an indispensable role in ensuring that citizens are abreast of the social, political and economic issues affecting them. Citizens need to be abreast of the history of their independence; citizens need to articulate the national dream; they need to understand key governance-related tools and documents.
Knowledge of the ideals, values, and principles set forth in the nation’s core documents serves an additional and useful purpose. Those ideals, values, and principles are criteria which citizens can use to judge the means and ends of government, as well as the means and ends of the myriad groups that are part of civil society including all political parties.
Zambians should, therefore, not shy away from any governance and development-related discourse. Instead, we need to summon the spirit of investigation, the sense of ownership and patriotism as we sail through the happening around our environment.
For instance, citizens have the right to know the contractor engaged to construct a road in their community; they have the responsibility to inspect the quality of works; they have the right to demand for progress updates on the project; they have the right to approve or disapprove the works, and in case of disapproval petition leaders, be it from central or local government to terminate the contract.
This feat can only be achieved with an enlightened citizen, embodied with exception social intelligences and impeccable social mobilisation skills. These skills do not just fall from the moon, we’ve got to develop a culture of reading, cross-checking information and facts and ability to decipher facts from mere rhetoric.
Above all, civic consciousness entails having a wealth of civic skills. These include, but are not limited to, intellectual and participatory skills. For citizens to have an active and impactful participation in self-governance in their country, they need these skills. People need to have the intellectual capacity to interrogate issues or situations objectively.
They need to understand the history and trends of issues affecting their social, economic and political subsists. It entails competencies in explaining and describing events and how these events contribute to social development.
It also includes comparisons and acute analysis of the merits and demerits of a cause under consideration as well as its relevance to the modern era. Civic consciousness is the pulse of democracy!
The author is a social development expert.