The campaigns lacked any clarity about how the candidates would tackle the huge socio-economic problems bedeviling the Southern African nation. But now that there is a new president in office for the next 18 months, he must strive to heal the deep ethnic cleavages and craft and implement a programme that will improve the quality of life of the majority of Zambians.
Congratulations are in order for Mr. Edgar Lungu, duly and democratically-elected sixth Zambian president. This is the beauty of Zambia, a small nearly 15 million-peopled Central-Southern African country. For over 24 years now, we have set a high bar for free and fair elections in Africa. We have also demonstrated that we can transfer power peacefully and democratically. The 20 January 2015 election was tenaciously contested. Two political parties (Patriotic Front (PF) and United Party for National Development UPND) won, but only one produced the republican president. Congratulations are therefore in order for Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, too. You are walking in the same shoes great presidential campaigners walked. This was your fifth attempt at the presidency; others have fared worse, but they won eventually. Michael Sata was one; and Abraham Lincoln was the other.
Lincoln’s race to the White House was a mark of persistence and diligence. In 1816, his family was forced out of their home; he had to work to support them. In 1818, his mother died. In 1831, he failed in business. In 1832, he ran for state legislature; he lost. In l832, he lost his job; he wanted to go to law school but couldn't get in. In 1833, he borrowed some money from a friend to begin a business and by the end of the year he was bankrupt. He spent the next 17 years of his life paying off this debt. In 1834, he ran for state legislature again; this time he won. In 1835, he was engaged to be married, but his sweetheart died and his heart was broken. In 1836, he had a total nervous breakdown and was in bed for six months. In 1838, he sought to become speaker of the state legislature; he was defeated. In 1840, he sought to become elector; he was defeated. In 1843, he ran for Congress; he lost. In 1846, he ran for Congress again - this time he won, and he went to Washington and did a good job. In 1848, he ran for re-election to Congress; he lost. In 1849, he sought the job of land officer in his home state but he was rejected. In 1854, he ran for Senate of the United States; he lost. In 1856, he sought the vice-presidential nomination at his party's national convention, but he got less than 100 votes. In 1858, he ran for US Senate again, and again he lost. In 1860, he was finally elected president of the United States.
To Mr. President, if this electoral victory should mean anything, it should be predicated on one thing – the welfare of the Zambians. The election campaigns have left the nation bleeding – tribe against tribe, brother against brother, and friend against friend. All these need a leader who will heal the wounds and bring Zambia back to that almost divine prerogative, One-Zambia, One-Nation! Surely, the gloves went off. Tribe finally came out from its hiding place. Not that democracy is not about the free choices of whom to vote for; but that democracy, by definition, must prescribe parameters, usually economical and issue-based. In the just ended election, we saw how and what has kept not only Zambia, but Africa, in the economic and political doldrums for this long. Eventually, the election became a choice between Edgar Lungu (a Nyanja who rallied his armies on Michael Sata’s alleged unfinished business and on Bemba support) and Hakainde Hichilema (a Tonga, who at every corner was viewed from the rear-view mirror of his tribe). Others might argue that tribe was not an issue owing to the fact that MMD`s Nevers Mumba, a Bemba, stood and was not elected. But it everything was as much about tribe as it was about voting for nothing at all.
A cursory review of the social media produced these two comments. A Lungu supporter reported, “Because even with a miracle HH can never win elections in Zambia. He is tribal, racial and seriously with a faulted heart. He has seriously no interest for Zambians and his past and present behavior tells it all. Unless Zambians are all fools, they cannot decide to plunge the country into total chaos so carelessly.” This immediately drew a rejoinder from an HH supporter: “And now we shall openly fight these fools who think they are the only ones who should be supplying presidents for our country. They have a syndicate which is now attracting open fights (war)! We have been patient for so long! Tongas sacrificed a lot by selling their cattle so that Kaunda and Nkumbula could go to London to negotiate our independence from the colonialists. Imagine up to now Tongas are still denied a chance to rule! This is rubbish. HH is a humble and cool man!”
This, Mr. President, is the kind of polarization you cannot afford not to address. The nation is now divided and is seeing things through tribe. This cannot be ignored. It cannot wait. However, another thing that should not wait (and the real subject of this article) is the welfare of the people. It will be very sad and counter-progressive if this victory should fail to benefit the Zambians. I have three issues to discuss concerning the just ended election, and the fourth is my strong wish for the good of order, economic progress and democracy in Zambia.
CONVERSATION WITH A RELATIVE IN ZAMBIA
My relative is a level-headed, smart and a true patriot. But like every Zambian, he likes to follow political developments and he is a voter. Just before the elections I asked him for whom he was likely to vote. My cousin did not mince words, “Ifintu ni Lungu,” he said, or something to that end. Then I followed up with another question, “What will Lungu do for Zambia?” There was some silence. Then he answered, “He will complete what Sata began.” I was a little bit inquisitive, so I followed up with another question, “So, what is it that President Sata began?” My relative paused, and then said, “They are saying that Sata began building roads and hospitals.” I did not want to probe further, but I remained thinking.
I did not want to sound partisan or patronizing so I inquired about his views regarding the other presidential candidates such as HH, Nevers Mumba and Edith Nawakwi. He was silent, but then he said, “HH cannot be president. He will be a regional president…” Although I did not want to meddle into his private thoughts and convictions, I cogitated that he was representative of most of the people voting on the ground. Like most Zambians at home, my relative is unemployed (although he has completed Grade 12), lives in a dirty and unsanitary shanty compound, and survives on less-than-a-dollar-a-day. He is also, like the 60% of the population, poor and hopeless. But he loves God.
NUMBERS DO NOT LIE
Zambia is poor, but it is the manner in which this poverty reigns which is disturbing. My relative belongs to the lowest 10 percent of the population. This group consumes less than 2% of Zambia’s revenues. In real terms, about 1.5 million of the people in Zambia are likely to have had no meal in the last three days, are likely to die in the next three months, and will never have more than $100 in a year! Now consider the group whom these poor and desperate souls were braving the rains and risking death for – the politicians and corrupt businessmen – these constitute only another 10%, but consume close to 50% of the nation’s income. Less than 1.5 million in Zambia share half of the nation’s resources! The rest, what may be called the Zambian middle-class, who make up about 80% or about 12 million people are ashamedly forced to share a meager 30% of the nation’s income! This means, in essence and the chances are, that majority of Zambians, about 60%, is poor, will likely not see their 30th birthday, will have their newly born die premature or at birth, will easily succumb to curable diseases like malaria or will never set foot in a post-primary classroom.
In Zambia one out of 100 mothers giving birth will die; about 70 out of 1000 babies will die at birth; and just from these two numbers, Iraq where ISIS is waging war is doing much better than Zambia! Again, my relative, with good intentions, did go out and vote (for a candidate or candidates who did not explain to him how his country’s problems would be solved once that candidate became president!)
I observed the campaigns. Candidate Lungu was saying he would continue from where President Sata left. In essence, he would be perpetuating these gaping inequalities in the absence of his own campaign agenda or vision to the contrary. President Sata may not have had a clue how to solve these problems, and unless President Lungu will miraculously come up with the solution in his brief rule, he will be a liability, just like his predecessors were, to Zambia. The other opposition front-runners, similarly, did not have a convincing agenda of how they intended to tackle these problems once elected, but they presented themselves better. And yet people still braved elements to go out and vote, including my relative.
Then talk about 7.8% (or 1.1 million) of the population who are living with HIV, the virus which causes AIDS. The saddest dilemma is that the government has no clue or plan of how to tend to the HIV sick. The philanthropic movements, donors and bilateral and multilateral institutes have now assumed the role of government. Not that I vouch for government to provide for all its citizens, but it is government which should set a legislative scheme as well as craft policies that will necessitate the end to this malaise. But our government and the political candidates the people went out to vote for, have no agenda, no policy, and no clue on how to deal with the scourge.
My cousin lives in a shanty compound as I mentioned. He has no running water. The only pump in the neighborhood drops water in the wee hours of the morning. He is among the other over 60% of the population with no access to clean water in Zambia. And yet, my relative did go out to vote for a candidate with no clue how people like my cousin will be provided with sanitary conditions worthy of human beings or be provided with accessible and clean water system once that candidate became president.
My relative will go to the hospital just after the elections, perhaps with a headache as a result of rubble-rousing or due to sheer lack of sleep and excitement. There will be only one doctor tending to over 100,000 people at the hospital. He may not see a doctor in months.
But no one in our presidential campaigns was talking about these issues. They were more concerned about threatening each other, insulting other citizens and bullying their way to power. Moreover, “We are spending only 6.1 per cent of our GDP on health. We are also spending only 1.3 per cent of our GDP on education. Yet 66.2 per cent of our people are below the age of 24, with 46.2 per cent being below the age of 14 - all young people requiring more education and healthcare.” This was a sane commentary by the Post. And it was apropos!
BEAT NOT THE DRUMS THOUGH THE DANCERS ARE READY
The election was the most closely contested ever held in the history of Zambia - 807,925 votes for Edgar Lungu and 780,168 votes for Hakainde Hichilema. But it can equally go into history as the worst election ever held in Zambia in terms of issues. It is the only election where a president was elected who did not have any message or position on issues. President Lungu was elected based on the premise that he was the anointed successor to the late president, Michael Sata. In other words, President Lungu`s election is based on pity and emotions. He articulated no platform, no agenda and no vision. The electorate saw him as Sata incarnate. As the acting president, Guy Scott, campaigned, the election was a continuation of President Sata`s funeral.
Nevertheless, all these sentiments can be forgotten if two things happen. First, the new president understands that about 50% of the Zambians who did not elect him are still part of his mandate. He must serve the whole country, and not only those who voted for him. Second, he must provide leadership in addressing the daunting economic and social problems currently facing the Zambians.
ZAMBIA HAS EVERYTHING ZAMBIANS CAN ASK FOR
There is always an elephant in the room when it comes to Zambian politics. Will Zambia ever break free from its doldrums of economic underdevelopment into the bright light of the developed terrain? Even the most ambitious and optimistic find it hard to respond in the affirmative. This sentiment is true for other nations in Africa as well. But some in Zambia are very hopeful. A dear friend of mine in Zambia recently upbraided me when I wrote that the PF did not have a vision of developing Zambia beyond building what was bequeathed to Zambia by Imperial Britain - except for a few roads in Southern, Luapula and Northern provinces: “You live in a country with an excellent transport network (rail, air, road, and sea and tunnels),” he began. “So I expect you to appreciate the few economic projects that the PF has initiated and are implementing. Canada was not built in a day. Canada was once like Zambia.” I did agree. In fact, in Canada I partly lecture in legal history and I have a good understanding of Canada’s historic formation, and of the strength and weakness of its economy, too. However, despite living in Canada for the past ten years my energy has been concentrated on Zambia. In 2011, I wrote the biggest book on Zambia. ‘Zambia: Struggles of My People’, captures everything one can think of about Zambia: its history, economy, politics, law, culture, education, and everything in between. This magnum opus is 1,100 pages. And just recently, I published, ‘The Legacy of President Michael Sata of Zambia: Allergic to Corruption’. No-one can deny the fact that I think and breathe Zambia.
It will be unfair, however, to compound Zambian politicians as failures. I have articulated this most convincingly in my writings. For example, successive Zambian governments have done quite well to establish major development projects in various parts of the country. Even the so-called Link-Zambia 8000 Road Project is a fundamental undertaking. It will be equally unfair to fail to mention the precarious nature in which Zambian governments find themselves when they have to be forced to adjust their party manifestos to suite the IMF/World Bank sanctioned National Development Plans (NDPs), currently into the Sixth NDP (2011 – 2016). Besides, in 2006 then president Levy Mwanawasa instituted what has come to be known as the Zambia Vision 2030 – articulated in NPDs and budgetary terms. The vision desires to establish Zambia as, “A Prosperous Middle Income Nation by 2030.”
The irony is that the seven principles underpinning Vision Zambia 2030, namely: (i) gender responsive sustainable development; (ii) democracy; (iii) respect for human rights; (iv) good traditional and family values; (v) positive attitude towards work; (vi) peaceful coexistence and; (vii) private-public partnerships, fail to address the gaping disparity in terms of the rich and the poor. IMF/World Bank backed austerity measures are inadequate; they can only be supplementary. Currently, there are more Zambians who have been denied a good life not because the nation lacks resources, but because someone is living on what 100,000 people can share. Pure capitalists will argue “Equality of Opportunities; Not Equality of Results,” but the Scandinavian Peninsula has proven that both are attainable contemporaneously. In fact, for the past several years it is the Scandinavian countries which have led in terms of good life and better standards of living among their people. The so-called Welfare Model is bearing fruit. Sharing is still a viable concept. It is this ideal which truly defines us as humans. The then newly minted Obama-government in 2009 made the US escape the Credit Crunch (depression) through the same.
It was the late President Sata who said, “If talking was an industry, Zambia would be prosperous.” I agree. Look at the NDPs and their Chief Whip, the Zambia Vision 2030; they are rich in bombastic declarations, breath-taking analyses and buoyant reviews. And yet, people still die from curable diseases, poverty rules and people are denied access to clean water. The word “Implementation” is an overused platitude which now means a campaign excuse for amassing wealth by a few politically-savvy elites and their accomplices – the state entrepreneurs. For example, Zambia Vision 2030 articulates, “The analysis shows that economic development entails a progressive migration of labor from agriculture (primary) into industrial (secondary) and finally into services (tertiary) sectors. A key to this process is the increasing labor productivity, first in agriculture, and subsequently in industry which releases labor to the tertiary sector.” Who writes these things? Geniuses! Yet, it is only beautiful words. Nothing happens in real developmental terms. The haves are a tiny minority. The have-nots are in the majority. Service is now the primary industry in Zambia, and all successive governments do is flaunt around pre-written proposals and escape answering real questions. Take the just ended election which presidential candidate consistently enunciated the practical ways in which to make implementation feasible, and yet people still voted overwhelmingly for issueless, promise-filled and unsubstantiated reverberations. We have a president. But we still have the same problems. What have we achieved? Will time show?
Zambia has everything Zambians can ask for. We can neither excuse the youthfulness of the Zambian democracy nor the scarcity of Zambian natural and national resources. All the nations (poor and rich) have similar challenges. There are no pure Capitalist nations any more. What now works is a bit of pragmatism and a pure commonsensical model of national management. Zambian land, natural resources, minerals and people, developed well and engaged properly can sustain a small population of 15 million into a developed formation. Zambia can become a developed country in Africa.
Your Excellency, President Lungu, again congratulations! However, do not make excuses, lead Zambia well, and we will not close our eyes until you do right with the mandate, the resources at your disposal and you improve the welfare of the people. A year and a half is not adequate; but we want to see results!
* Charles Mwewa recently published, THE LEGACY OF PRESIDENT MICHAEL SATA OF ZAMBIA: ALLERGIC TO CORRUPTION. Charles’ other works and political commentary can be found at his blog: www.mwewa.ca
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
* BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!