Monday, December 12, 2011
John Howard, water and the death of expectation
I would never, ever have voted for former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. I despised much of what he stood for and yet despite that I believe he was a great politician - not for what he did, but for how he did it. Howard had the most incredible capacity to read the Australian populace; to gauge public sentiment and then manipulate that to serve his own agenda. And he had an incredible capacity to use language to provoke or disable.
When John Howard declared that Australia would be following the US into the second Gulf War, the country was outraged. In February 2003, over the course of three days, nearly a million Australians took to the streets in protest. In a country of less than twenty million people this was a huge show of opposition to the Government's policy. In response, Howard made a statement along the lines that he had heard the nation's opinion, however, he had been elected to govern and to make decisions, and he had decided to go to war.
It was as if the country deflated overnight. A million people had taken to the streets and Howard had turned around and said he didn't care. In one simple statement he made it clear that people could protest all they liked but he had a mandate to rule. It was incredibly effective. It would be years before the country would rally the same sort of energy to speak out against the Government. Only the very brave spoke out because no one expected it would have any effect.
If Howard was good, then African governments are better at crushing expectations.
Over the last few days we have waited to see if the water will flow through the pipes for the first time in three weeks. We have been encouraged by the sight of a slight trickle, but it has been barely enough to fill even one of our storage tanks. In the street today, water trucks have been delivering to many of our neighbours. If the water doesn't come in tonight then we too will be phoning for a delivery.
In Australia, three weeks without water would constitute close to a national emergency. Here we don't even consider calling to complain because no one is particularly surprised. And really, should we really expect to have water? After all a mere 14% of the country enjoys water and sanitation. If we get water flowing once in three weeks then we are ahead of most of suburbs.
If you raise a bar, human beings have an incredible capacity to rise to meet it. But if it falls often enough, eventually so too will people's expectations fall and they will adapt to life at that lower level.
Photo credit: Chris Greenburg