THE TRAGEDY OF PERCEPTION
There comes a time in any nation, when the men and women find themselves at a cross road. At this point, they ought to recognize that there are only two choices: one path leads to national destruction through a continued blame game between the ruling party and the opposition, interference in other wings of Government such as the Judiciary and Parliament by the Executive, continued infringement upon the rights of citizens such as freedom to assemble, a smear media campaign to paint all former government decisions as corrupt, and misapplication of public resources in an attempt to consolidate power through holding of unnecessary by-elections instead of delivery of campaign promises. The other path requires a leadership on both sides that puts away egos and recognizes that in a democracy, national stability is the bigger good. It is then, imperative, that all energies are expended to preserve this stability through dialogue and reconciliation. At this point, I am reminded of the words of the American President, Thomas Jefferson who said I may not like what the man next to me is saying, but I will do everything in my power to defend his right to say it.
There is a perception that the political, social and economic landscape in Zambia is deteriorating so fast that many of us are failing to tell if this is the same Zambia from just two years ago. I am not going to argue whether this perception is correct or not as I choose to leave that to you to interrogate the same. What is clear, however, is that perception plays a critical role in how world leaders and investors make decisions vis-à-vis a particular country. And sadly, once perceptions become widely accepted as reality, it becomes very difficult for a country to prove otherwise.
I believe that, we have to get worried as a nation when the perception of Zambia is that we are doing nothing but holding elections. The perception is that since the general elections in September 2011, we have continued with politics of electioneering at the expense of politics of development. The un-precedented by-elections with still more to come am sure, cost billions of un-rebased kwacha at the expense of improvements in education and health. Some analysts put the figure at about 10 to 15 billion un-rebased kwacha for each by-election.
We have to worry as a nation when the perception of our country hinges, knowingly or not, on blatant breaking of the law by those in Government on mundane processes such as nominations to Parliament and appointments to boards. Recently, we have also seen citizens constitutional rights such as the right to assemble abused under the guise of the Public Order Act. We have heard of citizens arrested because they went to meet a chief, gathered at a church or hotel and even Members of parliament who were taken to the police station because they went out to meet their electorates. Or is it just perception that the country is retracting and that we no longer respect the rule of law?
How can we not worry when the perception is that our Government was elected purely on deceit through the 90 days promises. Some may argue that that perception is just a reflection of bitterness, but so far, it seems this deceit perception may become a reality considering the many broken promises. As Brutus remarked this is not the time to praise Cesar…
You and I, have to worry when our country is perceived to have a President who is under siege by unelected people. The perception that the President fails to succinctly and concisely explain national matters has not been lost on the streets of our nation. You may wish to use your own barometer to verify this perception too.
One of the saddest perceptions is that the Government leaders are clueless on hpw to govern in a democracy at this particular point in time in Zambia, let alone plan for the future. As such, their attempt to be seen to be working is the so called allergy to corruption, a scheme merely aimed at harassing opposition leaders, citizens and foreigners with opposing views. Otherwise, the ACC officials would have been allowed to conduct proper investigations, without undue pressure, on many of the cases we keep hearing about. The perception is that this would have saved the country a lot of resources because the task force does not come cheap. We all recall the thousands of dollars mentioned to pay those who speared headed the last task force.
As I stated earlier, it is not my place to accept or dispute these perceptions. However, like every Zambia loving citizen, I am concerned about the effects, these perceptions have on our international standing vis-à-vis investment and our bilateral and multilateral relations. We are not the only country in dire need of fast development and so there is a lot of competition for investment funds.
My fears are compounded by the latest Fitch report (February, 2013) which highlights lack of clarity on the Government’s economic policy direction, lack of effective consultation on the minimum wage increase and its impact on private sector, and raises fears over the introduction of foreign exchange controls. The report is also skeptical on whether Zambia can go back to the market to raise capital for ZESCO, ZR etc as confidence has been eroded due to Governments lack of respect for property rights and expected plunge in copper prices. I will not be surprised if the next World Bank and IMF reports have similar perceptions to cement the argument that economics is truly driven by political and social perception.
Did I hear that the Commonwealth has began their investigations on our human rights record and that very soon it will be the UN? Or is it just my perception?
It is not long ago when another perception of Zambia as a one party state which did not respect citizens rights and private property crippled our country to it’s knees. Queuing for bread, sugar, cooking oil and mealie meal were the order of the day. Children died needlessly because antibiotics were unavailable and doctors were on strike, and the University was always shut. In those days people could only afford salaula cloths, there were no shopping malls. Peoples homes were turned into bars called shabeens and there was no coca cola, fanta or spirit. The transport sector was hard hit with people spending weeks at stations with very few Zambians owning a car. Besides, being seen to own property of any kind, even owning more than one TV set was enough ground to be investigated. This was also extended to foreign travel. Whao! was that a reality? Once again, I leave it to you to jog your memory or indeed do some research.
Let me bring you back to where we are currently, a cross road of perceptions. Are we doing better compared to 5 or 3 or 2 years ago? Do we have the right to freely assemble and associate? Are human rights being respected? Do we get a sense that our Government is fair and reasonable? Is the discourse on tribalism in Government perception or reality?
Does the opposition have the political space to provide the much needed checks and balances? Is the Judiciary and Parliament operating without interference? Have the NGOs been coerced? Is the media reflecting society or just passive while sections of it push a narrow private agenda? Is the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation just a perception?
Many have said when a Government fears the citizens its democracy but when the citizens begin to fear the Government, you have a dictatorship. Are we happy with our Zambia today?
Perception or reality, have your say
Dora Siliya, MP
7th March 2013