Bunga, Zenga and Bandana Narratives: 2011

Bunga bunga, zenga zenga accentuated the overall disillusionment with politicians in every corner of the world.

    From democratic Italy to autocratic Libya, rulers were ousted in 2011 [GALLO/GETTY]

    Exeter, UK - Zenga zenga, bunga bunga!

    These are words that will ring out for a long time, capturing the highs and lows of 2011. They resonate with the message of how even in this day and age checked and unchecked power can still corrupt. 

    But even the masters of zenga zenga, bunga bunga politics do not possess all of the keys for indefinitely locking out people power or stopping it erupt.

    Simply, no narration of the year that has been can ignore these words as signifiers of opprobrium, disdain and defiance against political corruption and monopoly.

    Zenga zenga, bunga bunga...

    In 2011, these phrases stand for more than shorthand for the sensations of power. They also capture how politics is not devoid of sensation, with base instincts, not reason, leading to "exercise of power beyond right". In the case of Italy's now "ousted" Berlusconi, bunga bunga is not only about sex parties, tax fraud and perjury, but also about the sleaze that in Italy and other democracies that more frequently and cheaply undermine the standards of public office.

    Zenga zenga were the words of a demented ruler in a contract-less political system who saw his end nearing and in the face of adversity dispatched his henchmen on a murderous cleansing of Libya "alley" by "alley", the meaning of "zenga" in Maghrebi dialect.

    The phrases rhyme and their comical sing-song sounding in a way summarise the un-statesmanlike demeanour of two "ousted" leaders who were friends, another strange coincidence in the political careers of Berlusconi and Gaddafi and the phrases "zenga zenga, bunga bunga".  

    In my mind, they stand as generic phrases for the exercise of corrupt or tyrannical power. They hail from two different dialects belonging to two languages from different language groups. It is not their difference that is striking. Rather, it is how across barriers of language, these words strike difference with more than onomatopoeic likeness. In democratic Italy and autocratic Libya, these phrases, in the context of the year 2011, speak to a genus of megalomaniacs in politics. 

    That likeness is more than rhymed. It is not the rhymes in zenga zenga, bunga bunga, but rather the unity of rhythm in the disdain the phrases emit that makes these "no-names" as "brand-names" for political unfitness. Their "musicality" is carried through in their status as signifiers of decay. Their joint rhymed effect is mimicry of poetry that matches the semblance of politics, when public office is degraded by its holders to flagrant abuse of public trust.

    Global disillusion with politics

    Bunga bunga virtually conveys the idea of the ruled being taken for a ride by the rulers. The spin, sleaze and corruption are global. The presence or absence of rule of law is what makes a difference, preventing abuse of office to fester or to be nipped in the bud and punished.

    Berlusconi and Gaddafi, differently, stamped the vocation of politics with self-centrism, personalism and self-aggrandisement through hedonistic and/or dynastic tendencies.

    "The disrepute to politics from the acts of two rulers... makes 'zenga zenga bunga bunga' apt to denote misrule and its effect beyond Italy and Libya."

    The disrepute to politics from the acts of two rulers from two different countries, Arab and European, makes "zenga zenga bunga bunga" apt to denote misrule and its effect beyond Italy and Libya. In 2011, they capture the essence of global disillusionment with politics and the widening gulf between the rulers and the ruled.

    Very generically, these "Arabo-Italian" phrases in a strange way convey a two-fold political phenomenon. Firstly, there is the globally emerging political pathology which Berlusconi and Gaddafi represented, in different ways and contexts, through misrule of the powerful few over the ruled. Secondly, nearly every democracy and many international organisations (including IMF) have in 2011, been rocked by breach of public trust. Britain's solid democratic traditions and checks and balances did not prevent the parliamentarians' expenses scandal.

    Such checks and balances did not exist in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen where four rulers had to be ousted. There is a reason why corruption becomes rampant and abuse of power gets out of hand in the Arab region. But how abuse of power continues to sap democracies of their highest ideals and standards is disillusioning for the multitudes everywhere.

    'Irhal'... 'Occupy'

    Zenga zenga is today assuming a new meaning. Alley by alley, and square by square, people are speaking, writing, screaming and fighting back. Their activism seeks to narrate new rules of engagement. The magicians of political power, business, and finance are no longer "sacred". The new age of revolution is hexing their spell.

    From Cadiz in Spain to Gabis in Tunisia, from the squares of Sana'a and Cairo to those of Nimes, New York, Athens and Moscow, people are mobilising and organising days of action, rage and discontent. Politics will never be marked by peaceful and deferential intervals between periodic elections in democracies.

    In non-democracies, the rage will not be bought out with cash and gimmicks intended to placate the masses. Where the Arab world is concerned, by the end of this decade, most of the political species at the helm will become extinct.

    In response, and this is the second dynamic of global politics, there is an emerging global trend to resist and defy political power. It is gaining momentum, and acceptance. Zenga zenga, bunga bunga, accentuates the widening gap between rulers and ruled and overall disillusionment with politicians in every corner of the planet.

    There is a certain euphony uniting the polyphony of discontent and rage the world over. They may be divided by geography, language and context. But the sea of caps and 99 per cent bandanas in the "Occupy" encampments against the Bank of America in LA or their counterparts in London's St Paul is not unlike the "litham" (bandana) and veils of the Arab public squares from which protesters speak back with the single language of resistance against all monopoly.

    Democracy via ochlocracy?

    Irony leaps out of two amazing frames fitting or forever projecting revolutionary graphics from 2011. One: bandanas and veils giving visibility. Visibility they give to those rising up to efface invisibility in every sense, especially socio-economic and political.

    Two: the millennial plot by philosophers to suppress the fickle crowd or the mob through their invention of democracy faces its most challenging test. As if the multitudes or the "mob" are back. This time - with philosophy almost extinct - nothing stands in their way to build the "demos". Except bankers and financiers and a political cast whose democracy may be losing its magic and lustre. Maybe there is no horizon for democracy without mob-rule!?

    In this context of mob-demos struggle, not only barriers of space and time collapse in the expanding geographies of moral protest, but also the scorn directed against the symbols of power or business are more than local acts for global misgivings about the fading of just society and values of equality of opportunity, identity and humanity. They are kind of a new Lingua Franca of new informal politics of bottom-up activism. Rage is rage whether it is read "Irhal’" or "Occupy".

    In these geographies there is much role reversal. It is the rulers who in many a context feature as the outlaws and the rebels. The indignés (more powerful than "protesters") reclaim the power to "occupy", give marching orders (irhal or depart), often the oppressors' exclusive resources of control.

    In this new politics engineered by hundreds of thousands like American Sarah Mason and Bahraini Zainab Al-Khawaja, despite difference of context, they break the barriers of time and space, global north and south, of left and right, as well as of culture and language. But above all else, it is the mob-demos opposition that is coming unstuck.

    This perhaps signals the onset of yet a new phase in the millennial twin journey of democracy and peoplehood.

    Thus always to all tyrants!

    How do they bring what is still taken to be an art into disrepute? The sonorous display of defiance and resistance - degage, irhal, al-sah'ab yurid (the people demand), and lately "Occupy" - are powerfully rhapsodic narratives that speak back at the agents of bunga bunga, zenga zenga.

    As if in chorus across terrains of multi-faceted diversity, the echoes of the demands for social justice and overhauling systems of greed vocalised in the gymnasiums of moral protest and dissent throughout 2011, since Bouazizi ignited protest in Tunisia, will cascade into 2012.

    The ousted of 2011 - such as of Berlusconi and Gaddafi - will not be the last. "Sic simper tyrannis" – always down with tyrants!

    Zenga zenga world! They are coming.

    Dr Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, and author of Arab Democratisation: Elections without Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009), The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses (Columbia University Press, 2004) and forthcoming Hamas and the Political Process (2012).

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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