One of the most famous buildings in Rome is the Coliseum. This building is now a major tourist attraction in Rome. In Ancient Rome it was also a major attraction for those who wanted to see the various events that were put on at this vast building. The Coliseum could hold over 50,000 people and the viewing public were well looked after by the authorities. These shows were usually free to the public. Roman emperors believed it was a good way to keep the people of Ancient Rome happy and content with the way the city was being governed. The government provided free bread and free entertainment – a combination they believed would keep happy the many unemployed people in Rome.
The concept was first described by the satirical Roman poet Juvenal, who penned the Latin term panem et circenses, which means “bread and circuses.”
“Two things only the people anxiously desire — bread and circuses,” he wrote, lamenting the failure of citizens to take action as the democratic Roman Republic fell and the heavy-handed Roman Empire began.
Within a mere 100 years, Rome underwent massive governmental changes. What in 133 B.C.E. was a free republic that relied on a voting populace and an assembly system morphed into an embittered autocracy by the first century C.E.
Thus, Juvenal’s term, “bread and circuses” went viral, used by scores of people – then and now – to describe people who voluntarily trade their democratic freedoms in exchange for a controlling government.
Back then, the Roman government kept the Roman people pacified by offering them free food and rousing entertainment in the Roman Coliseum. Now, “bread and circuses” applies to any civic or governmental entity – or any situation, really – in which the masses willingly accept short-term solutions to ease their discontent. The “bread and circuses” concept is also a fitting descriptor for Dominant Ideology. Dominant Ideology is a Marxist construct exemplified by the idea that economically disadvantaged classes will accept that it’s their fate to remain so.
Roman entertainment is a byword for the decadence of the late empire, and it led to its downfall when the empire spent more time on amusement than important public reforms or rooting out corruption.
The idea that people can be pacified by food and entertainment when they should be rallying to their prescribed civic duties is one which clearly is being embraced by the Peter Mutharika administration in the 2019/2020 budget statement- when ones takes the time to critically analyse what finance Minister Joseph Mwanamvekha presented to parliament.
The similarities are frightening: Abuse of public office for private purposes? Check. Bread (Fisp etc) and circuses (football stadiums) for the masses? Check.
For me, it is not the illegality of the idea of using MK1.6 billion of taxpayer funds to fund stadiums for football clubs that are essentially private entities that bothers me the most here, although we as a people should be appalled by this display of arrogance of the part of this administration. It is not even the fact that when I think of Malawi’s so many crucial priority areas such as insufficient hospitals and still a great many roads that are still in need of tarmac, or many other important infrastructure that needs to be built, I wonder where the importance of football stadiums for Private football clubs fits in this equation, that astounds me the most.
What really angers me in all this is the blatantly unscrupulous ploy by the Mutharika administration to harness the masses into supporting the presence of Peter Mutharika at the state house on the basis that he has built them stadiums.
The Mutharika administration is trying to borrow a leaf from the ideas of the Roman Empire, and doing so using taxpayer funds just like the Romans used to do. The idea obviously is that given that the two teams in question have the largest following in the country, the multitudes that follow these teams will come out to defend Mutharika’s presence as leader against the forces of electoral justice that seem to be threatening the security of his tenure in the state house this time around- all because he has provided in the budget funds to build their teams some stadiums. It is the Roman idea of bread and circuses all over again- with the belief that Malawians are too stupid to see through the tactic.
It bothers me that an administration whose legitimacy is already under challenge can be using an important instrument such as the national budget to take the Malawian public for granted in this way. It is sheer impunity and condescension of the highest order, and I do not even know how I will feel if our parliament somehow allows for this kind of madness to happen. This madness should not stand, people!
For those parliamentarians that are in doubt, let me break it down as clearly as possible.
First and foremost, the building of stadiums for private football teams should not come from the public purse. It should come from Mutharika’s private funds. When he made this promise during the election campaign that is what he said.
Secondly, even if such a notion was acceptable under whatever governance jerkological cheap shots we could devise as a nation, football stadiums for two of our football teams are not a priority for any Malawian. Not even for those very football clubs, not to their supporters. Not by a long shot.
Thirdly, if this whole madness is meant to please the masses so that they should feel some sympathy or loyalty to Mutharika and probably refuse to go and demonstrate against the suspected illegitimacy of his president, or to support him if there is an election rerun declared by the courts then it is downright idiotic
The bottom line therefore is simply this: This nonsense, this madness must be stopped forthwith. Malawians are counting on you, their parliamentarians to make sure of this.