In Zambia, the debate is still on, as to whether Prime TV was unjustifiably shut down following its appetite for controversial and, often times, fake news to prop up the political image of the opposition in the country. Who can forget about how the TV station carried a breaking news item of Mr. Hakainde Hichilema dodging police bullets for 8 hours in the bush? Is that Press Freedom?
Now and again, President Paul Kagame has reiterated one principle: If there is no political stability in the country, you can’t expect production to take place, you can’t expect the right reforms to be implemented therefore you can’t expect fast economic growth. And yet in Zambia, the opposition aligned press reports one falsehood after the other, basically undoing every progress government posts. Who benefits from scandalising government Ministers apart from those who believe they can only win elections if there is Armageddon.
The advent of social media has even given credence to some otherwise unknown destitutes in the diaspora insulting the Head of State and his government. How can the Health Minister, Dr. Chitalu Chilufya, after all the effort he has put in, of late, be accused of stealing face masks by an economic refuge in the UK and it’s treated back home as breaking news?
Rwanda’s progress is not a game of chance. Let’s seriously learn from the discipline that we need to post economic growth. In the year 2000, the government established Vision 2020, a long-term development strategy with its main objective to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by 2020, based on a thriving private sector. Since then, the Rwandan economy has been growing steadily at seven percent every year, earning a reputation as one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies.
One of Rwanda’s noted political commentators, Frederick Golloba-Mutebi, explained how the country’s economy has recovered after the devastating war and 1994 genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group.
“The economy was destroyed and through the process of economic reconstruction, it picked up with a tendency to go very fast, faster than the economies which are already developed,” said Golloba-Mutebi. He added that President Paul Kagame’s leadership has played a positive role in terms of the political stability the country has enjoyed since 1994.
To maintain steady economic growth for almost two decades, the government invested time and resources into soft and hard infrastructure in order to attract foreign direct investment. The government established key institutions that would help it achieve its objectives enshrined in Vision 2020.
The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) was put in place in 2009 to help oversee the country’s business regulations, foreign investments, tourism promotion, environmental conservation and broader economic and development planning. What is key is that everyone is looking at the same target. There is no room for negative politics of Mr. Hichilema lying about Government selling parastatals.
According to Vision 2020, the Rwandan state is tasked with ensuring good governance, which includes accountability, transparency and efficiency in deploying scarce resources to key sectors of the national economy. The 2017 Corruption Perception Index ranked Rwanda the third least corrupt country on the African continent behind the Seychelles and Botswana.
But according to Reporters Without Borders, President Kagame is still among the world’s Predators of Press Freedom. This is because many journalists lack the responsibility it takes to have freedom of expression. They report on anything as long as it is exciting ignoring the negative consequences that may come with it. While we appreciate President Edgar Lungu’s tolerance of negative energy from the press, the question he may wish to ask himself is at what cost?
The fact that respect for press freedom is enshrined in the constitution does not mean it must be abused. President Paul Kagame knows all about that. He tolerates no embarrassing questions at press conferences, frequently insults independent journalists and brands all critical media outlets as new versions of “Radio Mille Collines,” the radio station that encouraged the 1994 genocide.
The government cannot deny the obvious – it is tough being an independent journalist in Kigali. The authorities target any journalist, local or foreign, who puts out news they do not like or who violates the taboos of the society rebuilt by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which came to power after overthrowing the genocidal Hutu regime and ending its massacres.
In 2008, a Ugandan journalist was declared persona non grata, a Tanzanian journalist was deported and three other journalists were forcibly expelled from a ceremony marking World Press Freedom Day. Every year several Rwandan journalists decide to go into exile because they find the atmosphere unbearable in their home country. This does not worry President Kagame, who refers to some journalists as “mercenaries” or “bums”.
But if this is what it should take to check the ever escalating levels of poverty on the continent, then be it. What Paul Kagame has demonstrated is that Africa must ignore Western democracy and implement its own democracy in line with how we communicate as Africans. We are not Europeans or Americans. We don’t speak in the face of elders nor do we correct them in public.
There is an urgent need for a home bred governance system that must prioritize development over political hegemony. The enormous popularity of the Cuban revolution in the face of outside interference and economic isolation, in my opinion, suggests that this approach of a non-partisan people power electoral system may be the best for economic development in Africa. In Zambia, partisan politics has reignited tribalism that was buried back in 1973 by Dr. Kenneth Kaunda.
In the Cuban view, freedom is the participation in power by the people and it should make a lot of sense to all of us who value cooperation and consensus because it promotes integration and equality among people and a strong sense of community based on good education of all and public control of mass media.
My argument has been that democracy should take centre stage and not party politics. The idea is to obtain a slate of national representatives who are a “mirror of the nation.” Politics is that particular area of human endeavour which involves creating and changing societal rules in all areas, driven only by the concept of the common good not behaving like sheep behind a shepherd.
Democracy should not be misunderstood for anarchy that comes with irresponsible journalism but, rather, it is anchored on the nation being able to consider all honest perspectives in order to reach the broadest possible consensus. The focus must not be on who must win the next elections but how many children in rural Zambia must not go without food, healthcare and quality education.
“We need to mobilise the right mindsets. In Africa, we have everything we need, in real terms. Whatever is lacking, we have the means to acquire. And yet we remain mentally married to the idea that nothing can get moving, without external help. We are even begging for things we already have. That is absolutely a failure of mindset,” President Paul Kagame reminds us. I may ask you, Press Freedom or Economic Development? My take is, let the press be a catalyst of economic development and its freedom won’t be checked at all.
Surely, there must be something good about Government Ministers that private media are hiding. Unfortunately, you will only hear about it when they join the opposition ahead of the 2021 General Elections. The wrong political system is behind our numerous economic issues.
Mpandashalo Evans Mwewa
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