Notwithstanding its own internal weaknesses, Zambia has fared mildly in trying to both create and sustain its political and democratic structures. If they will function is another point to ponder. Going forward in the next 50 years, Zambia faces two challenges it must overcome. The first is economic, and the second is political mindset. I will begin with the first.
Almost a year now, on August 20th, 2012, I published the following poem:
Zambia, I Cry
The nation awakes to sounds of mourning
More frequently than it does to mirth
There is music in the air-waves burning
But not to celebration of life or to birth
Bana-Musonda just learned that her job
Will no longer be hers, but foreigners’
Children now run for help to the mob
And begging is part of the national anthem;
Small victories are displayed as mementos
A few malls are idolized as development
And education is a bygone word for ruiners
Inventions are rare and unknown for “them”
Talent is lamped to worst in churches or ghettoes
The nation feels like a chilling firmament
As workers and students alike resort to strikes
Since conditions are bad and the meal hikes
Who shall bring light to a nation in dark
Will the future be as it has been in the past
Are these leaders all look but on the back,
Oh Zambia, O land, stop sliding so fast!
At the brink of Zambia’s 50th Independence Anniversary, a poem like this presents a situation that, in medical terms, warrants intensive care.
As summed in the preamble to Part I, issues of national consequence are rarely discussed in Zambia. Thousands of people are dying for lack of medicine or good healthcare; unemployment is rife; children lack quality education and educational facilities; national infrastructures are in ruins; half-hearted commitment to the alleviation of poverty is still a menace; and generally, the poor quality of life measured in how much income Zambians earn and spend, and the sheer lack of an economic vision that ensures that everyone in Zambia is not left behind, compound the problem further.
Zambia has not moved economically from where it was in 1964. In fact, it has gone backwards. It reminds me of a career criminal who refuses to stop committing crimes because to him, life is more endurable in prison than outside the prison. At least in the prison, he has a place to sleep and get two meals a day. Should Zambians be forced to choose dependence rather than independence? That will be shame to the spirit of independence and an insult to the blood that was shed. After 50 years of self-rule, we cannot blame the colonial masters any more. Even Germany that was impoverished by the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, by 1935 had rebuilt itself into a powerful nation, albeit through the tyranny of Adolf Hitler. Tthe resilience of Germany in rebuilding itself both after WWI and WWII should serve as an example to poor nations across the globe.
While Zambia has neither experienced a bad war or civil war, the nations that have been devastated by wars are better economically. After 50 years, Zambians can kiss their genius goodbye if all that it does is creating an atmosphere where its progeny should die young but peacefully! Peace must entail prosperity. It follows, therefore, that Zambians have either mismanaged the economy or the governors have no idea of how to sustain the nation’s resources. Pragmatism is a virtue as long as it delivers in economic sense. For this reason Sata was hailed when he led ministerial positions under FTJ, and, in fact, delivered. It remains to be seen if Sata is merely good being a number two man under a great leader or he can lead himself. In theory, Sata stands a better chance to pragmatically manage the economy if he utilizes this opportunity well.
In practice, however, the trajectory currently unfolding in the country leaves a lot to be desired. “This is not the Sata people knew and voted for,” writes Michael Chawe in Africa Report. In 2011 thousands rallied support to elect Michael Sata as president. But rather than rule according to their expectations, Sata is exhibiting day-by-day stealth dictatorial tendencies. This has recently been in form of the marauding of his opponents. Majority of analysts in the Diaspora, me included, predicted that Sata’s governance would be riddled with traces of autocratism. However, we were all satisfied that given the choices Zambians had at the time, Sata was the “lesser of the two evils”! There was also another reason why the majority flocked to Sata’s candidature, under the mantra of “More Money into Your Pockets,” the youth were of the view that Sata would create jobs for them. As is today, there seems to be more and more “no money into the peoples’ pockets.”
But there is another reason why people elected Sata. It was under the idea that he would be responsive to people’s needs. After two years, Sata has not. The man known to be action-oriented and a pragmatist, is slowly becoming ideologue, uncompromising and dogmatic. His dogmatism is mainly geared towards those who oppose his views, for better or worse. This is creating other unwanted side effects, such as potential for a questionable track record of human rights abuses. Those who support him are fast developing sycophantic tendencies akin to Neo-Patrimonialism, that is, embracing systematic habits of either disrupting or threatening mass meetings of those who rise up to speak against the government. In the short-term, these stalwarts will be paid and become rich. But in the long-term, like the case was with KK, the nation will dive deeper into economic ignominy and future generations will be worse economically than the current is.
However, to lump every criticism at the doorway of the PF and President Sata, in the larger context of Zambia’s 50 years of independence, will be an error of catastrophic proportion.
However determined the current administration may be in the crackdown on opponents, it will not succeed. Times have changed. During KK’s 27 year rule, Zambia was not as enlightened as now. The existence of the two blocks of Soviet Socialism and US Capitalism insulated socio-humanistic leaders like KK. If Sata continues to rule by the “stick and not carrot” approach, the masses will be stretched too far and may explode. As I have stated, the example of the March of a Million in Eqypt in 2011 is testament to that fact. Modern Zambia cannot tolerate undemocratic tendencies to mushroom, whether in this administration or in the ones to come.
Zambians should adopt a global, and not a parochial, approach in classifying Zambia after the Golden Jubilee. In this approach, governments become a government, and presidents become a presidency. In this respect, Zambia should judge itself more on the scale of national performance and less on individual regimes. This should not be at the expense of ignoring the infamies of present regimes. The present should put leverage on the future. Focusing on one particular regime is only necessary if it is used as preventive mechanism. In ten or more years, the likes of Sata and RB may be out of the quadrant, but the impact of their policies and the leadership styles they adopt to accomplish them may not. The mistakes and tendencies they display will continue to reverberate and to cause mayhem on the Zambian political and economic scenes.
The Zambia of the after-50-years anniversary will not be any different from the present Zambia economically if the mindset that propels it remains the same. Blaming or demonizing one regime, no matter how incompetent it may be, will not make things good for the future. Sata may enter into our annals as a dictator or a candid statesman, if it does nothing else, Zambia will continue to be a wreck.
It does not pay to dwell on personalities, however cantankerous they may be. It does not develop a nation to play accusatory politics. The indignities of the incumbency must be addressed in the framework of the overall national development matrix. In this regard then, the behaviour of the present administration must be weighed on the scale of performance. Has Sata and PF made the lives of the Zambians better so far?
It will be a big mistake, in the interest of democracy, not to give the PF a chance to rule to the finish of the term if they are willing to lead the nation well. It will, however, be inimical, not to hold them accountable where certain propensities show that real issues affecting Zambians are being swept under the carpet at the expense of partisan politicking. That real issue is, and continues to be, poverty.
In Part III, I will deal with the second challenge, which is a political mindset befitting the Zambia of the after-50-years anniversary.
By Charles Mwewa
Author of Zambia: Struggles of My People; and King Cobra Has Struck: My Letter to President Michael C. Sata President of the Zambian-Canadian Foundation.