A country may be characterized or defined by a diversity of physical features such as mountains, rivers and peculiarities. All told, what constitutes a country is a community of people, homogenous or heterogeneous, who inhabit the territorial space or land.
Thus inevitably, Zambia is a summation of each and every individual and our rather composite social relationships. Herein lies a spectrum and proliferation of issues of gravity such as our individual rights which per force must be matched by duties, obligations and responsibilities. A mismatch between our rights and duties induces a disproportionality which is not cost neutral for our beloved country.
In recent times, Zambia has very regrettably witnessed acts which are a disservice to the country when some citizens have painted blatantly adverse images of our country. In the past, it was unheard of for Zambians in the Diaspora to campaign against their country, whatever political differences that existed in our midst in the country. There is an absolute and urgent need for all of us to close our ranks and get our country to meaningfully move forward. Despite the undeniable reasonably robust development endeavours of the Patriotic Front (PF) administration, Zambia, like the rest of Africa, is at scandalously low ebb of development.
The entire sub-Saharan Africa, with over one billion people, has a gross national income that is less than France or the United Kingdom (just about $3 trillion). The continent’s two biggest economies, South Africa and Nigeria, have a combined GDP that is scarcely bigger than that of the Netherlands – a country of 41,000 square kilometers in size and a population of 17 million people.
Some critical issues are at the core and underlie Africa’s retardation. Key among the issues is appalling governance and sentiment and emotion driven decisions which naturally have zero or very little rationality content. The continent has, since liberation from colonialism, put a caveat on intellect and frowned upon depth in thinking and meritocracy – in the process generalising and institutionalising mediocrity. In sociological terms, this is partly because we are transitioning from ascriptive societies (hierarchy-based) to modern achievement based societies.
Post colonial Africa embraced the one-party systems which had their own immutable internal logic, namely indivisibility of power reposed in individuals or fragile personalised institutions. The logical sequel of this system is the “privatisation” of the state. In most of the countries, if not in all, no steps have been taken to foster improvements in governance and unleash the energies of the citizens for more concerted efforts to banish the poverty that engulfs more than 50% of the populations.
My admonition to all Zambians is that we have had enough of the blame game and daily screams of obscenities at each other. It is time to pull our very meagre intellectual resources to make Zambia a model country. The global economy is once again palpably slowing down and the headwinds of deceleration look quite gloomy and ominous. Like most of the continent, we are still unhealthily commodity dependent. The dip in commodities can take a downward spiralling at the whims and caprices of a few individual actors on the global stage such as the trump induced trade wars.
The opposition parties and the free (cum opposition) media which in a way try to check the excesses of government misdirect their efforts by concentrating on the Republican and Patriotic Front leader, Mr. Edgar Lungu, with a misperception that they can bring him down. Mr. Lungu’s approval ratings in the PF is high and PF feel that the inroads the party is making in provinces where the party’s showing was weak in the past is essentially on account of those provinces’ perception of Mr. Lungu’s affability, humility and a spirit of fellowship. The ingrained diehard segments in opposition should also realise that it is not easy to wish away the numerous development projects going on throughout the country which has not been the case in the past.
A more credible opposition would have undressed the many flaws in the constitution because governance does impinge positively or negatively in the direction or impact of development. The present electoral system entails that parliamentary and Presidential candidates have to marshal large amounts of financial resources to dish out to the voters or leaders of opinion and influence. Isn’t this the genesis and recipe for corruption? It is also a requirement of the law which government cannot circumvent that when a vacancy occurs at the level of parliamentary or local government seat, a by-election is held within 90 days. The cost of by-elections is becoming increasingly unsustainable. It is a good thing for the country to scrupulously fulfil the requirements of the constitution but when health institutions go without drugs, a gloss over morality is difficult to justify.
Other veritable electoral options such as proportional representation merit consideration. With the system of lists, by-elections and their exceedingly excessive costs are avoided. The voters are asked to endorse the ideas and programs of parties. Those leaders who are consigned to lose in Presidential elections will sit in parliament as long as their parties meet the minimum thresholds. Proportional representation also has fairer and more equitable representation and no personal-to-holder turfs.
When there was a change-over to multi-party politics after a number of us confidants of President Kaunda persuaded him not to proceed with a costly referendum but amend an appropriate section of the constitution to reinstitute multi-partyism, all that happened was to craft multi-party politics onto the flawed one-party constitution. The implicit risks of the “privatisation” of the state were not addressed.
The Patriotic Front and President Lungu should not miss this rare opportunity of making history by leaving a unique legacy for Zambia and again being a trend-setter for a continent that totally lacks innovation in the important human sphere of governance. Restructuring governance arrangements to have a non-executive President would be a historical landmark. It would take a lot of heat out of our future politics. The cost savings would be astronomical because support institutions would be drastically reduced. This practical and meaningful “dis-privatisation” of the state would be a laudable decision and would set Zambia apart as a continental role model.
There is hero worship and deification of leaders that is creeping into our own politics – it has been there before but a reinstating of decadent practices when we are supposed move forward has some worrying overtones. There is always flattery in all human societies, and most people do not realise that flattery is an equally insidious form of corruption. It can reach unimaginable proportions such as in North Korea’s Kim II Sung era when the leader was unambiguously eulogised as a great and beloved leader, destined and ordained to live longer than the mountains and the oceans!
When we fix the constitution which incidentally must not proceed with indecent haste, we should do so together as a remarkable people who have done well in diversity, addressing the challenges some of which I hereby list:
- The first challenge relates to demographics. Our population which was just below 3 million at independence is now 18 million, meaning it has grown by a factor of 6. Meanwhile our economic growth rates have been exceedingly depressed in single digits. Over the past three years, economic growth rates have averaged 4% which when discounted against our robust annual population growth rates of 2.8% leave a net growth rate of 1.2% which cannot sustain reduction in poverty levels deemed to be in excess of 50%. We need consistent double digit rates of economic growth for at least two decades to lower poverty levels significantly.
Poverty is itself the biggest hindrance to any country’s upward thrust. Poor people have no purchasing power and cannot make a contribution to social security as they have to be supported all the way. Poverty severely constrains accelerated investment, whether foreign or domestic.
Zambia is essentially a county of young people. The 0 – 30 years age group accounts for 70% of the population and 90% of our people are 45 years old and below. Ordinarily, this would constitute a rare privilege of a gainful demographic dividend, but we have had no such advantage because the dire paucity of resources has entailed absence and inadequacy of requisite skills. Our country has poor work culture and ethic. Various governments have oriented our people to harbour unsustainable expectations instead of being active agents of development.
- The second major challenge in our country is that agriculture has not delivered beyond modest levels of food security. This is a sector that suffers most from dysfunctional policies that are invariably emotion and sentiment driven. Two major problems are common – the very low yields by small scale farmers are either due to inappropriate agronomy or growing crops in unsuitable ecological zones or areas. These two issues have to be resolved as a matter of life or death, for only when the small-scale farmer earns money which is a fair and reasonable recompense for his or her toil can poverty end. It would be unrealistic for government to end the Farmer Input Support Program (FISP) overnight but resources must be found for increased extension services, including unconstrained mobility for extension services officers – then costly and wasteful schemes like FISP will disappear.
- A major problem the country has is to sustain expenditure on constitutional and statutory requirements, namely emoluments and public debt which account for more than 80% of the national budget. There are no easy solutions. We cannot reduce the size of the civil service without risks for service delivery and accentuating unemployment. However, government should take the plunge and decelerate the annual wages salary adjustments.
As debt servicing becomes increasingly unsustainable, it is inevitable that except for concessionary facilities from multi-lateral institutions such as the World Bank, African Development Bank, etc, the other types of borrowing be frozen which leaves scope to finance viable infrastructure through Public – Private Partnership (PPP). I have in the past noted that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is now less theological. The institution cannot depart from the ingrained habit of coming with a pre-ordained script from Washington DC.
With pain, I admit that the IMF’s concerns about borrowings are plausible. The decline in our reserves is rather worrying so let us all responsible citizens urge our government to take the tough medicine – delay could affect the economy’s resilience. A program with the IMF gets a diversity of investors onboard. This is the ugly reality of our lop-sided world.
At any one time, now and in the long distant future, our country will experience reversals as indeed do all countries. We need resolve and principally togetherness to overcome difficulties without those cleavages that cause avoidable anguish and agony. United for the love of our country – patriotism is a useful tool. It is our duty, obligation and responsibility to posterity.