By Professor Muna Ndulo
Zambia has seen unprecedented growth in GDP and investment flows in the past decade. However the rate of growth is not at a level to make significant inroads in unemployment and a dent in the abject levels of poverty experience by the people and the growth is under threat from bad governance and unimaginative leadership. There is still far too much poverty and increased levels of inequality. Many Zambians cannot access safe drinking water, health care, housing, quality education or basic food needs and practice open defecation. Progress in reducing poverty, improving people’s lives and putting in place a foundation for more inclusive and sustainable growth has been minimal. To address these issues the country needs a government that is competent and a leadership that is visionary. Good leaders deliver security of the state and of the person, the rule of law, good education and health facilities, and a framework conducive to economic growth. They ensure effective arteries of commerce and enshrine personal and human freedom. They respect freedom of the press and empower civil society and protect the environmental commons. Crucially good leaders also provide their citizens with a sense of belonging to a national enterprise. Issue-based politics are needed in Zambia, ones that debate the kinds of measures that should be adopted to tackle the crisis in education, energy, agriculture, health care, housing, urban planning, and industry. For many, the reasons for Zambia’s economy dismal performance are always sought in the past and the legacy of imperialism. Inept policies and decisions by the leaders are excused and their consequences instead blamed on imagined enemies of the state and imperialism. Without underrating the impact of colonialism, it is important to note that the time has come for Zambia and indeed Africa to take responsibility and face up to the challenges facing Africans. Constantly blaming others for our poverty is not a substitute for coming up with policies that advance the continent in general and Zambia in particular.
Social exclusion, income inequality, poverty and vulnerability to economic, energy crisis social and environmental risks and violence against women can only be resolved by the adoption of correct social and economic policies. Such policies can evolve only if we engage in issue based politics and not individual attacks on those who offer themselves to serve the country. Zambians must avoid at all cost tribalism and the stigmatization of a section of the population and viewing them as villains to be prevented from acceding to power. The approach here is very similar to the stigmatization of Jews during the Nazi regime, the branding of activists as terrorists during the apartheid regime and the branding of Tutsis as cockroaches to justify their killing. This is done in order to promote the hegemony of particular groups and legitimize violence and exclusion of the targeted groups from power. Hence in the South African context Wallus (Chris Hani’s killer) was killing a terrorist and not Christ Hani the human being. Bill Clinton observed that ”For too long we’ve been told about “us” and “them.” Each and every election we see a new slate of arguments and ads telling us that “they” are the problem, not “us.” But there can be no “them” There’ is only us.” The same goes for every country and Zambia is no exception. We are Zambians, there is no “us” or ‘them” within our borders.
Correct policies can only come about through a competent government promoting open dialogue and the discussion of policy options on all issues confronting he country. With tribe as a cover, our politics have become much more that fiction; it has become a tragic comedy. Governance is understood as the exercise of authority with three basic dimensions: political, economic and institutional. The political dimension is measured through indicators for democratic accountability, political absence of major conflict and violence in society. The economic dimension reflects government effectiveness and the quality of the regulatory framework and its execution. The institutional dimension relates to matters pertaining to the rule of law, the control of corruption and the strengths of public institutions that underpin good order. Clearly the Zambian state is failing on all three dimensions.
At the heart of our problems is a crisis and malaise in leadership. There is a leadership failure to articulate a common national purpose, and a collective failure of imagination which is underpinned by mediocrity of the highest order. Unlike our friends in Kenya, Zimbabwe and even strife torn Somalia, our leaders cannot even spearhead the elaboration of a democratic constitution because they are so afraid of true democracy. A country in which the young see no value in education because positions are distributed without regard to qualifications and where the educated are not valued, is a country already in the abyss. This is particularly so in today’s world where we are dealing with a knowledge-based economy. It is time for Zambians to demand merit in leadership and in government appointments. No genuine democracy has been established anywhere in the world which is not based on meritocracy. We have to end the practice in governance which is characterized by a patronage-driven system in which the ruling party, political associates, legislators, public servants and now chiefs are provided with jobs and recognition in return for loyalty, regardless of their ability and performance. Only strengthening political, and economic governance in Zambia could significantly contribute to the reduction of poverty and the narrowing of economic and social inequality. For Zambia, this will be particularly difficult to achieve. Mediocrity has taken root in all our institutions. In fact in many cases it has been institutionalized and underpinned by a mediocre educational system at primary, secondary and university level. A country where universities without libraries exist and proliferate and where a degree is a commodity to be bought and sold and no longer a process of acquiring knowledge and skills. To make accountability almost impossible, in the current constitution, political power is concentrated in the Presidency. Parliament has been undermined by the appointment of a large contingent of ministers and deputy ministers who must abide by the doctrine of collective responsibility which in Zambia has been reinterpreted and turned into the doctrine of collective obedience. Parliament is nothing more than a talking shop with little or no discernible capacity to check the presidency. The ruling party has no desire to build strong and effective institutions such as the police and the civil service as strong institutions would stand in the way of what has become the preoccupation on the modern African politician-accumulation of wealth at all costs-put simply stealing from the coffers of government.
Although a number of upright judges remain, sadly the judiciary has not been spared. There is an insatiable desire by the leadership to control and determine the lives of citizens. The trouble with the ghost of authoritarianism is that it is insatiable, making no distinction between the guilty and the innocent, friends and enemies, and devouring its own children in the end. Nuances, modifications, questions, suggestions, however benign, are instinctively viewed as threats to authority. The result is what we see collapsed state institutions such as the police, and the civil service and with their spokespersons sounding more and more like Hitler’s Mr. Gebbles and Saddam’s Chemical Ali in their efforts to spread institutionalized state lies. Collapsed state institutions cannot perform their basic security and developmental functions. In Zambian politics facts and fiction are interchangeable. It is perfectly acceptable to allege that someone stole from privatization without giving any details of how and when the alleged theft happened. Political debates are controlled and led by demagogues who promote poisonous racial and ethnic ideologies and use them as a strategy to secure and consolidate power. There is constant harassment of anyone that is perceived to be an enemy of the ruling elites or is seen as standing in the way of accumulation. The police act with naked bias and impunity and tragically allow themselves to be used as agents of the ruling elites. Some would say the state of the police in any society is the most quintessential expression of decay in any country.
In its 1989 report on Sub-Saharan Africa, the World Bank observes: “underlying the litany of Africa’s development problems is a crisis of governance”. It was true then and it is true today. Good governance in Zambia will depend on the development of political systems which reject authoritarian rule, reject unaccountable governments, and ethnic chauvinism. It will depend on the promotion of an inclusive, and tolerant governance system that gives people a sense of ownership of the political process. Consolidating greater participation in political and economic decision-making requires determined long-term efforts and a huge investment in the development of institutions that can promote greater participation in the state’s political and economic system. It must be remembered that stability in a nation state can only be sustained if it is inclusive and has a solid foundation of respect for fundamental rights and human dignity that encompass a willingness to coexist with differences, a culture of respect for the rule of law, a culture of political tolerance, and the protection of all its citizens under the law regardless of ethnicity, race and geographical origins.
In the end, whether we in Zambia are going to end poverty and promote an inclusive society will depend on leadership, one that possesses a reasoned comprehension of what it takes to build an inclusive and prosperous nation. Leadership that has a vision for a prosperous Zambia, a Zambia that belongs to all ethnic groups, and to all that lives inside its borders. As Harvard University’s Ronald Heifetz observed: “Leadership cannot be exercised alone. The lone warrior model of leadership is heroic suicide. Each one of us has blind sports that require the vision of others” and as Africa’s own Nyerere observed, “leadership is the ability to say I do not know when you do not know.” The weak, unproductive and dictatorial institutions are responsible for the poverty and underdevelopment that afflicts our country. Zambians should realize that throughout the world, evidence of performance at both political and economic levels repeatedly call for attention to the importance of effective political leadership. The values and skills of political leaders have defined the destruction or establishment of democracy in many parts of the world. No country has developed without enlightened leadership.
The author, Muna Ndulo, is Professor of Law, and Elizabeth and Arthur Reich Director, Berger International Legal Studies, Cornell University Law School, Honorary Professor of Law, University of Cape Town and University of the Free State; Director, Institute for African Development, Cornell