Dr. Kaela Mulenga
In the life of an individual and indeed of a country, there is a need to take a pause and reflect on the progress or path one is on. You have to evaluate whether things you have been doing or the life is successful. If not, one may be compelled to go back to the drawing board or change direction.
Entering a brand new year and approaching 50th birth year in the case of Zambia is probably a good time for taking this stock. For individuals, we end up passing resolutions or statements of what one wants to achieve in the New Year. The goals may be as simple as losing weight to more complex ones like financial stability, writing books to getting married.
In the case of Zambia, we need to review issues like – what type of society are we building – either willfully or inadvertently? Where are we headed to – Armageddon or Paradise? Are we building a fair and just society for everybody or one where the rich and mighty are better off than the rest of masses? Does anyone really care as to what sort of society we shall bequeath our grand children?
Do the young people themselves care about the kind of society they will inherit or are they too busy and pre-occupied with iPhones, internet or watching social media like YouTube? Answers to some of these questions are crucial.
Briefly, let me state what I think is happening. That said, since my own opinion is not Holy Bible, I do not expect people to agree with me. But suffice only to say that – I am stating what I believe is close representation of the reality. What are your beliefs about Zambia?
To begin the discussion, let’s go back to the early days of independence. Just before independence, being in a segregated society – the main focus was on liberty and winning political freedom from colonialists. Discrimination was a big issue. After independence, surely the concentration should now be on economic emancipation. Having experienced poverty, many Zambians would agree that today – fairness and the distribution of opportunities and resources concerns them. Indeed, the main cardinal point in a fair society is that – the society’s social good must be enjoyed by every citizen.
I think it is fair to say that the British left us a relatively sound administrative structure even if educated manpower was in short supply. Moreover, Zambia is endowed with abundance natural resources – especially the mineral ones. In terms of resources then, Zambia was in a better position than many African countries. Only Congo (DRC) rivaled what Zambia has. President Kenneth Kaunda and his UNIP structure did their level best to maintain peace and stability. In addition, Zambia’s population is mostly youth – composed of mainly the 15-24 year lads.
In spite of all these advantages, 50 years down the road, I don’t think that – in terms of economic development we have done as good as we should have. In other words, we are not where we should be. The barometer to show that this assessment is correct; we have to compare ourselves to some other countries, which were at par with us at independence.
It is often stated that, 50 years ago: Ghana, Zambia, Malaysia, Singapore and even South Korea were similar in terms of availability of resources and economic indicators like GDP and per-capita income. That is they were equal in terms of the level of economic development.
But today if you look at the economic development – Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia – are way ahead of Zambia. If we factor in South Korea, which has no natural resources to talk of – the results are startling. South Korea is now the 10th largest economy in the world. This is an economic miracle. Zambia which has enjoyed peace and stability since independence, what excuse do we have?
Another comparative view done is by looking at other equals in Latin America. For those who care to recall, Zambia was a leading member of copper producing countries cartel: CIPEC. Other members were DRCongo, Peru and Chile. Of course Peru and especially Chile are now more economically developed than Zambia. Zambians are only better off than the next door neighbor DRC, which lies at the bottom of the heap.
What can we show for the resources which have been dug out of our soil – very little! Therefore, unless we re-strategize, we will continue moving at this snail’s pace.
In Zambia one reason why there is poor commitment for achieving high economic growth, is lack of accountability. Due to this, a lot of resources are siphoned out through corruption and pilferage. This is accentuated by voters’ docility. Zambian voters are either docile, bought, incapacitated or don’t care. For, unless voters demand high accountability from politicians, they’ll always get away with a lot of things including misappropriation of public funds.
Pot holes on roads cannot be fixed unless people force government to do so. Just before elections, Pres Rupiah Banda (RB) tried to patch up roads in two months – trying to correct three-decade dilapidation. To govern by bribing people always fails. President Michael Sata on the other hand – promised to fix the constitution within 90 days after being elected to government. Again this hasn’t happened because he falsely promised to correct a problem which dates back to Independence Day, plus attempts by at least three constitutional review commissions.
Other problems like water and air pollution and environmental degradation have not only worsened, but they will continue to deteriorate unless people put their foot down. Fellows in Latin American countries and now in Middle East – are more demanding. In our country masses pay only lip service to what government is doing, perhaps that is why Shanty compounds will continue to be without running water or proper sanitation.
Even in a democracy, government must be forced to govern responsibly. Left alone, government can for example, be outmaneuvered by the international investors such that investors ‘take-home’ profits become abnormally large. Foreign investors cite creation of jobs and their rights when they put in demands for low taxes. But with voters’ pressure, taxes and royalties from minerals could be shared fairly. Look at what is happening regarding windfall taxes (WT)! Investors are basically calling shots to ensure that their interests are protected.
Therefore as it stands now, our masses do not work in tandem with the government of today or the ones before it. Consequently government fails to act forcefully in favour of the people. Their strategy is thus, inter-temporal, sometimes childish and not serious. This leaves citizens not sufficiently protected: be it from international crooks or from domestic criminals. Maybe because they live in gated neighborhoods they (politicians) don’t care. The other downside of this is that – classes have emerged among Zambians, yet at independence we were united in fighting the common exploitive system.
[[Food production is still sporadic 50 years after independence. Many Zambians continue to struggle with poor health due to shortage of drugs and poor equipment in hospitals. Also, HIV/Aids have devastated our people reducing the average life expectancy to only 47 years – when in some countries like Japan the average is 80 years.
Today, the 5% of Zambians who enjoy the 95% of Zambian resources – care very little about everyone else. Corruption and abuse of office has grown to support this affluent and selfish life. To make matters worse, every President who came after KK seem to tolerate this state of affairs. They do so because we see that appointments and distribution of resources follows the pattern of favouring kith and kin and nobody says a word. The revolutionary zest which was in every Zambian at independence has flaked out.
Because of this trend, during political campaigns or by-elections, the only incentive politicians have is to fatten their pockets. Strangely enough even voters have lost direction. They vote either because they are motivated by ethnic background or because they believe that their would be Member of Parliament (MP) would drop some crumbles once in office. This is a thinking way far from the good of the society and country. They say that Zambian voter is the cheapest in the world, because for a tin of cooking oil, packet of Kapenta (dried fish), a bar of soap and Kitenge cloth – they are swayed. Once in a ballot box, somehow they forget about their dilapidated living conditions in their compounds or villages.
In short, if people did not accept the low standard they are living in – they would be putting pressure on politicians so that they can deliver. At least they should make them accountable for all the public resources they oversee. If that should happen – crime, lack freedom to associate, hunger, poor health or school services would not persist. Delivery of economic development lags behind simply because nobody is in hurry – government or people.
Politicians and civil servants, to a certain extent even executives in private sector – all squander the country’s resources and nobody says anything. As an example, community development funds allocated by parliament to MPs disappear in thin air – such that millions of Kwacha gets buried in yards and culprits go scot-free. I talked about road and rail infrastructure which have been neglected for decades.
Unless the ordinary person will wake up and begin demanding for better services and more accountability from our government and its politicians, they’ll continue to ignore their responsibilities. In the meantime, those with access to resources and power will continue to accumulate even more riches to themselves. The end result will be a society with few “haves” and many “have-nots”. This sabotages the “just society” which those of KK dreamt of in 1964.
Only a change of mindset on the part of people, coupled with a good vision by government, shall Zambia become a paradise everyone has been hoping for. The youth and future generation have power to reverse this status quo trend while aiming for accelerating the economic growth. The ball is in their (young peoples’) court.
For sure we lost our way somewhere along the way. But if the rhetoric coming out of the PF government is any indication, we may find our correct way once more. Its infrastructure program ambitions and the war against corruption require peoples’ support. But this can’t happen on its own, it needs pushing. Cheers!
Toronto, January 15, 2013