The problem with using mini-buses in Lusaka is that you wiz along so fast that you don’t see much of the city. And you can’t be looking out of the window because you have to watch your pocket.
The great advantage of another fuel crisis is that you can take your bicycle and proceed at a more civilized and reflective speed, free from the attention of pickpockets. And it was when I was cycling slowly and laboriously along Mungwi Road that I was taken aback to see a sign I hadn’t seen for years – Government Stores. And freshly painted underneath it said Open for Business – Under New Management.
I climbed the concrete steps, and pushed at the peeling green paint of a large ancient door. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom I gradually managed to focus on something even more ancient, sitting at a rickety colonial desk. ‘Good Morning,’ I said. ‘I’m Spectator Kalaki.’
A scarred and sinister figure in a crumpled suit rose to shake my hand. ‘I’m Axe Chikwale, Financial Controller of Government Stores. What can I do for you?’
‘If you don’t mind, I just came to have a look,’ I said, as I shook his withered hand. ‘I thought this place died completely with the death of the one party state!’
‘The new government has decided to bring it back into operation, ‘ he replied. ‘You see, the free market is far from perfect at distributing goods and services, so we thought it was necessary to impose a bit of government intervention in procurement, supply, distribution , subsidy, and that sort of thing.’
‘What were the problems of the free market?’
‘It tends to work to the advantage of the rich, overlooking the interests of the poor. So this government got into power by promising to supply more jobs, lower prices, loans for small businesses, steady supply of electricity and fuel, more money in your pocket – all to be done within ninety days!’
I looked around at the empty shelves. ‘But you’ve had nine months!’ I exclaimed, ‘and I don’t see much progress!’
‘Well,’ he spluttered, ‘Rome wasn’t built in ninety days. We’ve ordered everything, but of course it takes time for goods to be delivered, and to put systems in place.’
‘Has there been some administrative muddle?’ I wondered.
‘There was a bit of delay because of the shuffling of ministries, followed by the shuffling of ministers, causing some ministers to get lost. For example the Ministry of Sport has been attached to three different ministries, and the present minister is still looking for his office.’
‘So where is he to be found?’
‘I’ve no idea. He just moves from one football match to another.’
‘So can you show me around the store?’
‘Certainly,’ said the old fellow, as he slowly rose to his feet, desperately trying to breathe life into his crumpled corpse, as he shuffled off towards a group of empty desks. ‘This,’ he said, waving his hand grandly at nothing, ‘is where we sell electricity units at very reasonable prices.’
‘But there’s nobody here,’ I laughed.
‘Not at the moment,’ he conceded. ‘This happens to be the time when all residential areas are on load shedding so that we can supply free electricity to the mines.’
‘Of course,’ I said. ‘I overlooked that. We have to look after our investors, and ensure that all our precious wealth is safely exported.’
Next we came to another group of empty and dusty desks. ‘This is our new Job Centre,’ he announced proudly, pointing to a pile of job application forms.
‘But there’s nobody here,’ I protested.
‘It’s a pity,’ he lamented, his ancient lungs wheezing like a death rattle. ‘But none of our job applicants can afford the two hundred pin for an application form. So in the meantime we’re having to give all the new jobs to the Chinese.’
He shuffled along some more. ‘Here is our most important section, the Development Bank of Zambia, which provides loans for entrepreneurs.’
‘But there’s nobody here,’ I repeated wearily.
‘Unfortunately the Post Mortem Newspapers were given all the money during the election campaign.’
‘So can you re-capitalise the bank?’
‘Oh yes. Sacking all the judges should raise a few hundred billion.’
‘Did they do anything wrong?’ I wondered.
‘Very wrong,’ he sneered. ‘They’ve been acting independently of the government.’
We now walked out into the yard behind, where hundreds of fuel pumps were surrounded by huge storage tanks. But not a fuel tanker in sight. ‘Bit of a glitch on this one,’ admitted poor old Axe Chikwale. ‘We bought a huge consignment at a bargain price, but it turned out to be coconut oil.’
‘From what I can see,’ I said boldly, ‘it looks like you haven’t been able to deliver on any of your promises.’
‘On the contrary,’ replied Axe proudly, as he tried bravely to straighten his crooked spine, ‘we’ve put more money in everybody’s pockets!’
‘Oh? How have you done that?’
‘Now that people are not wasting their money on fuel or electricity they’ve got a lot more money in their pockets. Everybody is very happy with the good progress we’ve been making.’
Now we turned a corner and came to a gleaming new building. ‘This is the Security Supplies Section,’ said Axe, as a policeman saluted and we went inside. There we found new metal shelves packed with helmets, uniforms, AK47s, rifles, batons, handcuffs, tear gas canisters, bullet proof vests and whips. On the vast floor were parked BMWs, landcruisers and kasalangas.
‘Our primary responsibility,’ said Axe Chikwale sternly, as he coughed and spat blood upon the floor, ‘is to ensure that the happiness of this peaceful nation is never threatened by a small lunatic fringe of malcontents.’
But somewhere, in the distance, I heard the sound of women screaming.
Courtesy of http://kalakikorner.blogspot.com/