By Dr Yobert Shamapande
To all patriotic of Zambians, this is no time to stand idly by to watch burning fires in our country, only later to curse the ashes! The Catholic Bishops have challenged us that, “As we celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Zambia’s political independence, we appeal to all citizens to reshape Zambia into a country full of great prosperity.” But to reshape Zambia, I believe, entails the next President to take bold and decisive measures to reverse the PF malpractices of the past three years and launch the country on the path to realizing the promise of Zambia’s independence fifty years ago – to build a hunger-free, poverty-free, corruption – free, more just, and prosperous country/ we can all be proud of. That daunting burden now falls on the leadership vision and skills of the next President. I believe only Hakainde Hichilema at present possesses those qualities to push forward Zambia’s development agenda.
I do not arrive at this endorsement lightly. I have examined the various programmes and policy positions of party leadership with realistic chance of capturing Zambia’s presidency and found that only UPND comes close to addressing the challenges facing our country at this point in tome.
Let me stress three compelling issues of my contention 1) to express my strongest disapproval of the PF succession wrangles and bickering that unfolded even before the Zambian people laid President Sata to rest which, if not handled with maturity, could potentially ignite fires of hatred, instability and insecurity in an otherwise peaceful country; 2) to convey my deep disappointment at the severe damage PF has inflicted on Zambia’s democratic experiment and the economic structures as a result of its toxic, hostile governance environment of the past three years; and, 3) to outline the critical challenges for the next president including the urgent need to reverse the PF destructive and retrogressive policies while vigorously advancing a more progressive national agenda tot truly respond to the aspirations of Zambian people.
Last Tuesday, 11 November 2014, the Zambian people put President Michael Chilufya Sata (MHSRIP) to rest. Deeply troubling, however, was the heightened succession wrangles and political infighting unfolding in the ruling PF party even before Sata’s burial. Zambia belongs to every Zambians and President Sata was everyone’s president, not just for the PF. It was therefore incumbent upon all to put Sata to rest in a tranquil and dignified manner! . Human decency demands that we should only begin to speak out after – NOT before President Sata’s burial – about PF’s failed stewardship of Zambia over the past three years, and what the future now holds for the country.
As a people, we should feel ashamed by the fact, that ,fifty years after independence, we have lost two presidents in foreign lands, all because of the severely broken health care services locally. And nobody cares to do anything about it. Why, after fifty years, couldn’t we build medical structures at home to treat our Presidents at the UTH.? Why has it become fashionable in Zambia to evacuate leaders and their families for “better” medical care abroad at exorbitant public cost? Why did PF go to such great lengths to secretly take Sata across continents to die in a foreign land without adequately informing the Zambian?
But even before Sata’s demise, we saw battle lines already drawn for his succession. Most painful, however, and certainly so to his blood relatives, was that following his passing, his PF colleagues spared no moment to mourn or put him to rest but went straight into campaign mode for his succession. That is disgraceful and unAfrica; it goes against the very grain of our culture! That PF behavior regrettably goes to explain the callous treatment Sata received from his colleagues in his final days of life. They dragged him all ends on earth when they knew full well that was injurious to his deteriorating health. Case in point: thirty-eight people took Sata to the United Nations in New York with full knowledge that his failing health would hinder him from addressing the United Nations General Assembly. And he was even incapable to interface with fellow world leaders. As a result, Zambia was not represented at those gatherings, and those accompanying Sata were in New York strictly on their personal business at high cost to tax payers
Charity begins at home. PF leadership has failed to put its house in order and respond with compassion and reverence to the divine mystery of President Sata passing. Therefore, PF has no business to continue to run Zambia’s affairs.
Here is my larger premise — I believe that this “Dochi kubeba” PF government, has proved to be the worst government ever for Zambia since independence. I advance the following grounds for this argument:
In just three short three years in office, PF has created a highly toxic political environment in Zambia based on intolerance and victimization. PF has completely drifted away from the democratic principles of tolerance and accommodation Zambians have come to cherish since the introduction of the multi-party plural politics some twenty-three years ago.
PF government has time and again flouted the Zambian constitution with impunity; it assaulted the judiciary by removing sitting judges from the bench without due process; it unleashed an unprecedented culture of lawlessness and fuelled violence by inciting its cadres to brandish pangas at will against each other, against political opponents and in intimidating innocent citizens without accountability
The PF leadership basically came to power by touting false promises and 90-day political gimmicks. PF obviously knew they could not fulfill those promises or the promises were simply not deliverable in 90 days. As a result, we saw nothing ever delivered in 90 days – not the creation of employment; not the putting of “more money” in people’s pockets; not the reduction of poverty, not the inaction of the constitution – nothing! The promise for a “people-driven” constitution within 90 days turnout to be a big hoax! Soon after taking to power, PF preferred to retain the current, defective constitution that brought them into power and mocked those continuing to advocate for a “people –driven” constitution to show the government an “animal-driven” one.
PF government has indefensibly applied the police and security arms to harass, intimidate, arrest journalists, oppositions leaders and silence any dissenting voice. It has threatened closure or dragged to courts any media houses that do not toll the line or sing praises about its policies.
This PF government, more than any other government before it, has been relentless in inflicting pain and suffering on its citizens. It has enthusiastically enforced the very offensive archaic colonial law–the Public Order Act, — once used by the colonial regime to muzzle political dissent — to drastically clamp down on constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms of speech, assembly and press among Zambians.
The PF government has also demonstrated extreme extravagance in the economic field. PF has endlessly induced highly Parliamentary by-elections at huge public costs for the sole purpose of attempting to boost its numbers in Parliament and thereby reduce the democratic space for the opposition, weaken the democratic structures, and push Zambia towards a single party state.
PF has fielded the most bloated government in Africa, if not in the World, with some 70 ministers all drawing unjustifiably on the meager state resources for sustenance. Even more troubling is that, in just a short period of time, PF increased President Sata’s salaries and those of his ministers three times in the first two years. Obviously, we are contending here with political leaders who went into government to “eat” instead of render public service. Regrettably, while the PF government stuffed more money in the pockets of a few leaders who already had too much, the vast majority of the poor, income-less Zambians, on the other hand, languished deep into extreme poverty, and subjected to unprecedented cost of living increases of 30 to 100 percent on every thing that matters for their survival – mealie meal, sugar, cooking oil, tomatoes, transport and all.
PF government has been most hypocritical. While awarding its leaders with unjustifiably hefty salary increases, it acted with an iron fist and fired underpaid hospital nurses for precisely demanding salary increments and improved conditions of service; it imposed a wage freeze on the poor civil servants; and further imposed an employment freeze with devastating consequences. The latter amounted to a suicidal policy in a country with 60 70 percent unemployment for government to slam a door of opportunity on thousands of young job seekers.
While professing to be pro-poor, the PF policies have crippled agriculture on which the majority of Zambians, especially in rural areas, depend for livelihood including food security and income. It has failed to provide farm inputs in a timely manner; and failed to pay farmers on time for their maize.
Lastly, PF government has been reckless in external borrowing. Rather prudently MMD left only a small amount of debt when vacating office in 2011, but in just two years by 2013, Pf had pushed that external debt to US $ 3.5 billion, and quickly to nearly US $ 5 billion by September 2014. To facilitate further recklessness in borrowing, PF engineered the raising of the debt limit by Parliament from K 20 billion to K 35 billion. Zambia does not need this new accumulation of foreign debt and the costs it imposes on the national resources. In the mid-2000s, Zambia went through painstaking negotiations and adjustment to get rid of a debilitating debt of US $7 billion through the highly indebted poor countries or HIPC forgiveness programme.
Thus the litany of PF political excesses and mismanagement is endless. Put simply, the PF has failed to deliver for the Zambian people and that is why it has resorted to a more defensive, belligerent posture of governance.
So, what are the challenges for the next President of Zambia. Fundamentally two overriding actions: 1) to move expeditiously to reverse the PF malpractices of the past three years; and 2) to refocus Zambia’s energies on big issues and real priorities with the greatest impact on people’s lives. These entail : a) creating employment opportunities especially to absorb the youth , b) expanding education – primary, secondary and skills development, and c) expanding healthcare services, d) attacking the structures of poverty including strengthening agricultural development again – through extension service, input delivery, marketing and pricing – as well as strengthening social safety nets that support the vulnerable groups in the society
I have said before and will say it again: the presidential leadership in Zambia is key as to whether the country moves forward to social progress or retreats into the stone age where powerful men with extreme personal agendas reigned supreme. The President in our times has the unique privilege and responsibility to do the most good to more people, to shoulder their burdens as well as their dreams and aspirations. For majority of ordinary Zambians their dreams and aspirations simply mean – a modest income on which to raise a family, access to opportunities including basic education for their children, health care at time of illness, decent shelter, clean drinking water and transport to get to work or to sell their produce. I believe that the next leadership should remain focused on these social provisioning imperatives instead promoting self-serving interests. Let’s put our people first.
Zambia has an opportunity once again to correct past wrongs and make a difference in people’s lives. The starting point is to drastically reduce the cost of government and shift resources to meeting the critical human needs; the Zambian people need and deserve to believe again that they have a government they can call their own.
NOW, HERE IS MY PLEA: I URGE EVERY ZAMBIAN, ESPECIALLY OUR YOUNG PEOPLE WHOSE DESTINY WE CHERISH, TO VOTE AND ENTRUST THE RESPONSIBILTY OF PRESIDENTIAL LEADERSHIP IN HAKAINDE HICHILEMA. HE HAS THE QUALITIES AND QUALIFICATION REQUIRED TO TAKE ZAMBIA’S DEVELOPMENT TO GREATER HEIGHTS !!!!!
* Dr. Shamapande, was a candidate for President of Zambia in 2001; he is currently in development consultancy