I heard media guru Fred M’membe speaking for the first time on TV during the launch of the Socialist Party. I think he writes better than he speaks. However, he did a fantastic job in highlighting some of the challenges that Zambians are facing today despite the country being endowed with vast natural resources. My quick research on his socialist agenda revealed that socialist countries such as China, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Canada, Norway etc. are among the best performing economies with the highest standards of living in the world. They have some of the world’s best education, health care and welfare systems. Finland for example has a 100% literacy rate.
Socialism advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or controlled by the community as a whole. Most Socialists, but not all of them advocate for government ownership of industry and public services. This rings a bell in the minds of many Zambians that are familiar with the circumstances that led to the change of government in 1991 and the subsequent privatization of most of the State-owned companies.
Some of the challenges that Zambia Experienced in the mid 1980’s, including the debt crisis, were a direct result of inefficient State-owned enterprises (Parastatals) that were not meeting their objectives of engaging in business activity to generate revenues on behalf of the Zambian government. Most of them were making huge losses and were totally dependent on tax payer’s money for survival. Most of these companies were used by politicians to reward party cadres with jobs for their loyalty and support during elections. This culminated into Zambia becoming one of the most indebted nations in the world, relative to its gross domestic product (GDP). Kaunda moved into an understanding with the IMF in 1989 and a raft of austerity measures similar to what has been put in place by the PF government were implemented. The country’s urbanized population rioted in protest and two years down the line, in 1991, every Zambian knows what happened.
Zambia has since moved towards a capitalist economy though a few firms are still run by the State. The problems that were faced by most firms before the introduction of Capitalism still exists in Zambia today. Out of about 40 State-owned enterprises, less than 10 of them are profitable and paying dividends to the government. More than 75% of our parastatals are unprofitable and depend on tax payer’s money to stay afloat. Part of the high taxes Zambians are paying today are routed towards these companies. Unfortunately, an average Zambian does not understand the repercussions of government holding on to these companies. Any rumor about government’s intention to allow the private sector to take over perturbs the average Zambian. That’s why shutting down or privatizing some of these unprofitable companies is considered “Political suicide” by those in power.
Will Fred M’membe’s Socialist Party advocate for the reintroduction of nationalization or as it was more commonly known a few decades ago, Zambianisation? Perhaps he will advocate for the introduction of a “Socialist market economy” where the decisive means of production remain under state-ownership but state-owned enterprises are organized into corporations and allowed to operate like private capitalist firms. What strategies will he use to avoid the challenges that Zambia experienced in the mid 1980’s. Will he manage put Zambia on a trajectory to become one of the best performing economies with a good education, health care and welfare system like other socialist nations? Can the socialist policies that have worked in other developed countries still work in Zambia today? Well, we just have to keep our fingers crossed and wait to see what comrade Fred M’membe will bring on our Political landscape.