2.Africa has survived mainly because of its resilience and character of heart. But when it comes to the precarious economic conditions currently obtaining, African politicians and their attitude to leadership vis-à-vis their subscription to a “naïve mentality” has maimed Africa’s potential to be self-sufficient. Africa must continue to make poverty an embarrassment, not an excuse.
3.The African (Zambian) media should desist from reporting about African politicians insulting each other in public while neglecting to discuss issues affecting millions. I will resort to this issue under point #10 below.
“We did not come here to ask for adoptions; we have a continent to return to, to develop!”
4.Recently I attended a concert held in Brampton, Canada featuring the African Children’s Choir (ACC). I noticed a radical shift in perspectives between when I attended one in 2005 and now in 2015. In 2005 when I first attended the ACC’s concert, I could not avoid but get so embarrassed with the solicitations for alms that I had left the concert before it ended. In 2015, however, it was delightful to hear the choir’s leader stand up and announce, “We did not come here to ask for adoptions; we have a continent to return to, to develop!” I stood up and gave an ovation.
5.Africa has begun to export “money, skillsets and brains to the developed countries” more now than at any time in the past. At the same event in Brampton, a volunteer stood up and announced, “We have specialty merchandise lined up for you. You can help educate Africa by purchasing any of the items outside.” I was alerted. In 2005, someone would have come up and asked for donations without practically giving any incentive. There was, historically, a delirious anchoring for Western free money, for alms and donations. But now, more than before, it is routine to hear of African self-made millionaire, artists, authors and even Nollywood is slowly but steadily penetrating many a Western homes. Africa is beginning to believe it can compete favourably with other continents.
6.When the author left his native country a few years ago, nearly everyone who met someone from America or Europe asked for money. In 2012, this author visited Zambia on a business trip, and successfully transacted a $1 million deal with a local Zambian businessman on behalf of a technology company in Canada. Africa and Zambia must now start to “give” to the West and not just to receive.
7.The biggest hindrance to what Africa and Zambia can be is in the attitude towards poverty. For many years, poverty was accepted as a reality. The poor had ceased to be a concern for decision-makers. For example, the numbers in Zambia are bad. But not bad enough to warrant the levels of poverty and stagnation in the land. There are enough resources to go round to every household in Zambia. The Zambian economy has experienced strong growth in recent years. Between 2005 and 2013, the average real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth was more than 6% per year. After 1995, the Zambian government did not experience losses in copper mine output. This is because it had privatized the industry and had greatly increased copper mining output and profitability. In short, economic growth took place. This has been the trend since 2004. In addition, foreign investment (as well as direct foreign investment) has boosted growth. The world economic crunch of 2008-2009 did not devastate Zambia, either. And between 2010 and 2014, Zambia experienced bumper maize harvests. Zambia’s economy is strong despite the rare sharp depreciation of the kwacha in March 2014. Even with that, government reacted quickly and mended the situation by revoking statutory instruments SI 33 and SI 55 in late March 2014. Zambia has adequate revenues to satisfy every citizen’s need; all leaders need to do is to craft strategies to make this work for the people!
Zambian leaders should believe they can change things for their people
8.There is enough money to be shared by every citizen in Zambia. High birth rate, the high HIV/AIDS burden and market distorted agricultural policies are not the cause of poverty in Zambia. They are simply excuses politicians use in order to dodge fixing real problems. The economic disparity is irrational in Zambia; over 90% of its citizenry survives on less than 20% of the nation’s income. Every year, the nation accesses resources from the outside purportedly for health, education or environmental/sanitary improvements. And yet the standards of healthcare, education, public infrastructure and etc., continue to worsen. The editor of Zambia Weekly was prompted last week to lament: “Most of us are too busy getting on with our own lives to notice the abject poverty, inequality and suffering around us.” People should speak up!
Politics is not about blame or petty jealousies; it’s about issues facing the people
9.It is amazing how Zambian politicians can strategize and coin the appropriate language to demonize each other, and fail, to the same extent, to coin strategies and solutions against the poor conditions their people are going through day after day. For example, the recent statement by President Lungu is very revealing, “Others are breathing with envy over Siamunene’s appointment.” What the president is telling us, argue for or against, is that some people are jealousy over political appointments. Admittedly, the president has crossed political lines to fish for a Defence Minister, but that has happened before in Zambia. But to think of holding a political office as a right (and not a privilege to serve the people) is an attitude that must change if Zambia is to develop.
10.In the same week, Hakainde Hichilema of the UPND held a press conference where he condemned violence (constitutional violations) by the ruling PF. Admittedly again, violence is bad and should be condemned by all. But who is holding a press conference to report on how Bana-Mulenga (Mulenga’s mother) from Chaisa Compound is copying with $0.99 a day! This is what a common Zambian experiences on a day to day basis. While politicians are holding press conferences to condemn intermittent bad behaviors of some political cadres, no politician is voicing out against the injustice of not having a daily meal, unemployment, dying from curable disease, lack of clean water, lack of access to adequate and quality education, as well as of living in dirty and unsanitary compounds. African politics in general and Zambia’s in particular must move away from the defeatist attitude of discussing persons (who they are, where they come from, how they look, and so on) to discussing issues facing the people and crafting ideas that will lead to sustained solutions.
I offer the following three pieces of advice to my fellow countrymen. First, the combination of poverty and ignorance is a recipe for national disaster. The illiterate poor can be both in danger and dangerous. They are in danger because a bag of mealie meal or a packet of cigarette can easily buy their way to blind loyalty. But they can also be dangerous because they can easily be used as rabble-rousers, agitators and violence-peddlers. These are people who may be corrupted by a bottle of beer – a reward for fuelling violence and forcing undecided voters to voter for their patrons. And yet, these are people for which politics exists in the first place. Second, we must invest in working institutions and working systems.
Focus should not be on particular individuals or a class of individuals; everyone should be capable of running the institutions. In 2016, Zambia should ask questions, probe the candidates, and demand that they govern with a plan. Last, African leadership in general, and Zambia’s in particular, should acquire a “yes, we can” mentality, a belief that with what it has, development is possible. The West cannot change or develop Africa or Zambia. Zambian leadership must emerge to fashion solutions from its resources, because it can!
By Charles Mwewa
Charles Mwewa is author of Zambia: Struggles of My People and has recently begun running a weekly column in the Zambian Eye called, “Law & Development.”