Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Whispering Drums With Maigani

by Musa Ibrahim

The game of politics

Like communication, politics has steadily grown to be an essential organizing feature of human society. It is an age-old phenomenon that has grown and expanded with society, and changed as well. At its rudimentary stage, the domain of politics was limited, transient and ephemeral. Today, however, the story of politics is different. It is now perceived as a global, complex field and a means of reaching out to the whole world. It has become a universal and an all encom- passing process consisting of a series of actions or operations directed and geared towards the achievement and satisfaction of a certain set of goals and objectives.

But then, the question has always lingered. What is politics? Eliminating such tongue-in-cheek definitions by the unknowing that "politics is a dirty game", a universally acceptable definition of politics has proved elusive over the years for several reasons. According to Stephen Chaffe, a communicologist, "politics (like communication) is one of our most persuasive, important and complex clusters of behaviour, but because of the complex multi-disciplinary nature of the pro- cess, politics is very difficult to define. The word 'politics' is abstract, and like all abstract words, it possesses multiple meanings..."

Besides, the domain of politics as a discipline worthy of scholarly study and attention is just being realized in spite of the fact that the reality of politics itself has been with mankind from time immemorial. Further, like the society and like we human beings, the field of politics is a dynamic, on-going process that is constantly changing. These notwithstanding, attempts at definitions have been made and they all boil down to politics being a systematic attempt by human beings to recon- struct their lives to a more meaningful order. Like law, politics is a rich and limitless process of negotiations, of manoeuverings which in the end, prevents the strong from always having their say. Like mathematics, there are rules and conventions and formulae governing the operation of the game of politics. And an abiding and religious faith in the rules of the game prevents the strong from doing as they will and the weak suffering as they must. Again, beyond the sources of politics which are a concatenation of common sense, social fact, historical accident and a predilection for peace, justice, equality and hard work, everyman we have been told, is political while any issue that is significant is, by definition, political.


Unlike a philosopher who has to employ the use of symbols to explain what is abstract, a politician (a person that engages publicly in the game of politics) relies on wits, guts, gift of the gab, convictions and unlimitless faith in himself and in the game itself.

In Shakespeare, the history of the English people is that of a race consistently engaged in the game of politics. Theirs was politics of death and vaulting ambitions. Kings were murdered by cousins and fathers by sons where Kingly crowns were at stake. The internecine wars that characterised Africa's past as well as its colonial history were as a result of the game of politics. Similarly, America's War of Independence and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia were all political battles and struggles. So were the first and second world wars.

Politics is verisimilitude. It is a feat only human beings can accomplish. And as human beings have grown and developed, so have their own brand of politics. Depending on where the game is being played, politics is now seen differently and by many as a scramble for power, for material gains, for popularity, for position, for votes, for the masses, for the essential commod- ities of life etc. It has become a game of systems and philosophies, a game of guns and brutality and vindictiveness, a game of ignorance. To some, the rules no longer matter. The strong now do as they will and the weak suffer as they must. In some places, the human race has been forever pigeon-holed into two neat categories - the governors and the governed. The governors being the strong and the governed the weak.

When people take to burning killing themselves in Africa as a sign of loyalty to a political party, they tell you they are playing the game of politics. When soldiers in Africa come in the thick of the night and ram their guns threateningly on defenceless citizens they too are playing the game of politics. When old and senile African leaders cannot give way to the young because "they ain't got the experience to govern" politics becomes the watchword. When the Russians and Chinese bring out or elect their leaders surreptitiously, it isn't that they ain' playing politics. When campaigns are going on in America and the Americans seem not to be aware, it isn't that the people are apolitical. When Bishops and clergymen in Britain abandon their congregation and show accusing fingers at the "callousness" of the government, it is politics.

It was Alexander Pope who once echoed that "for forms of government let fools contest. Whatever is best administered is best." The day coups cease to be a recurring feature Africa's politics, the day old leaders begin to give way to young, untested blood, the day Mobutu, Doe, Bongo, Kerekou, Gaddafi and a host of other sit-tight African leaders realise they have outlived their usefulness, that day the game of politics will have a mean- ing to an ordinary African. For now, it is fools that are still contesting.

NEXT WEEK: The Politics of Power.

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