In most emerging democracies and in those countries seeking its consolidation (Democracy), education institutions are not only seen as places where intellectuals and scholars are educated but places where people who will help govern or lead the country are trained. Apart from that we all know that students have been part of our independence struggle and have also played a big role in the introduction of multi-party democracy in most African states. The student body is that part of our political landscape that is important even now. However, the role that students are playing in our politics today is rather a compromised one.
Why do I say so? In my opinion students are now seen as tools or instruments that can be used to provoke the political process and not as a body that is there to add value to its development. Because of this situation they are found in. They have now become catalysts of political violence, political desperation or rather a group of young people who will sell themselves to the highest bidder. This in turn has been seen by many politicians as a get way to paradise. I think it is more about taking advantage and not trying to help or offer solutions.
In the resent past even today our universities such a the Copperbelt University(CBU), Mulungushi University(MU) and the University of Zambia(UNZA) among other public establishments have become institutions of higher advantage than institutions of higher learning. Every activity at these organisations especially CBU and UNZA is politicised and people think this has a very big impact on our political scene especially elections.
After what I may call primitive riotous behaviour by CBU and UNZA about a month or so ago. Higher Education Minister Michael Kaingu closed the two institutions. Some people condemned the stoning of innocent people and the burning of tyres on the road by unruly students. Others condemned the use of the police to calm the situation. As usual opposition political parties blamed government for being the root cause of everything. I have the opinion that if something like this happens everyone should be counselled or advised on what to do in order to avoid similar situations.
When a certain number of students who later influence others are aggrieved a lot of people are affected and inconvenienced. So the issue of pointing fingers does not exist. Similarly siding with only one side of people or groups involved will just fuel misunderstanding, lies or false political instability. False political instability brings about a number of elements which don’t add value to our democratic consolidation. It brings about false hope. People especially politicians in the opposition think that situations like what happened at CBU and UNZA will aid their quest to be elected into power. I am not saying it can’t. What I am saying is that the number of affected or aggrieved students is not as people think,
When the two institutions were closed I wanted to find out how many students are at these organisations and how they may affect this year’s elections. According to my research both institutions have a combination of not more than 28 000 students. This number includes non residential students, PhDs, Master’s, distance. apart timers and those at Ridgeway campus in Lusaka. Out of the 28 000, CBU has about 4200 students more or less. When the two universities were closed only those students at UNZA main campus and CBU were directly affected. Meaning non residential or rather distance learning and students at Ridgeway were not affected.
It is important to note that not everyone is on government bursary or receiving meal allowance. So as I said the effect is not as much as people would like it to be seen. Moreover, Minister Kaingu revealed that he is ready to reinstate meal allowances for CBU and UNZA students if managements at the two institutions meet the conditions set for their reopening. The problem we have in our country is that we like generalising things. Yes those students on government sponsorship have families so do those who are not on it. Again so do those people who were inconvenienced by the unruly behaviour. And from that number of students you will see that the impact will be not as much. The numbers are not so great. In short Chipata or Mansa have more voters by far than the two universities put together. You also have to take into consolidation those who didn’t register.
One thing people should also know is that people are now aware that students are being used by politicians and people can’t deal with the behaviour of some students. Some people are for the idea that government closes these universities longer than they are closed and when opening proper screening of those students on government support should be done. Not everyone is on the side of students any more because of what I may term as stone age demonstrations. So if any politician seeks to take advantage of the situation they may hit a dead end. Both the ruling and the opposition should find another message for them students.
For me the impact will be more on the students than the election in the long run. I know there are students who just go with the wind or just because they feel obliged to demonstrate. Think of your education first. Think about people who are paying for you. Government or relatives. Imagine your mother spends 12 years waking up in the morning to go to order or sell things from/at the market only for you to lose your place at the university in the first or second year. It is so disheartening.
Sometimes I think student ought to be smart. Who posts demonstrating photos on social media? Fools do that. Imagine going to look for a job and you are told “ no please we don’t want no trouble makers.” So be careful what you ask for and what you do. You will be used just to be flashed away like a used toilet paper. Some of these opposition political parties including some Civil Society Organisations mean no good. Their aim is to seek power or source for funds.
Mistakes are made and when you make one you don’t have to play smart. As some people have noted just fold your tails and engage the authorities in a calm, apologetic and mature manner. I am sure if this is done you might just get what you want which is readmission of course after meeting those preconditions.
There is no country in the world that does not face challenges. But when these challenges are seen as opportunities for some our countries will remain in the stone age. And any leader who rides on the problems of others just in order to get into power such a person is a fake and should not be trusted with leadership.
President Edgar Lungu together with his ministers should not take things for granted. We are not smart because we are in power we are facilitators who should long to bring services to the people. Hence popcorn reactions should not be condoned. Before actions are taken wide consultations should be taken. Otherwise you will end up losing an election which you have already won.