By Muna Ndulo
(Professor of Law, Director of the Berger International Program, Cornell University Law School, and Director, Institute for African Development, Cornell University.)
Zambia goes to the polls on 20th January to elect a new President. This is a great opportunity for the country to elect a leader that possesses a vision for the country, the intellect to implement the vision and the knowledge of the world economy and an awareness of the challenges of development. A successful democracy is underpinned by the strict adherence to meritocracy, that a place in the scheme of things has to be earned and not merely handed to a person. No country has developed a successful democracy in the world without observing this principle. If the opportunity is not seized wisely, Zambia could find itself on the precipe of anarchy, mediocrity and corruption. This is also a great opportunity to institute meritocracy in our governance and political system. Candidates in this election must be evaluated on the basis of merit for as Achebe writes ““Age was respected . . . , but achievement was revered.”
The election is clearly between Mr. Lungu and Mr. Hajkainde. Fear, petty jealousies, rumors should not interfere with choosing a leader wisely. Mr. Lungu is standing on a record of three years of PF rule. The record is: a politicized civil service, unbridled nepotism in appointments, uncoordinated development, unsustainable borrowing, an administration with no respect for diversity or merit in its appointments, failure to provide Zambians with a new and progressive constitution, a politicized police force, interference in the judiciary, arrogant violation of the fundamental rights of freedom of association and speech, harassment of the press, selective application of the public order act, interference in traditional authorities and a mining tax policy which is populist, misguided and endangers the country’s economy. This is the legacy (if one can call this a legacy) of the last three years. The term ‘legacy’ here is used loosely because the word should bring to mind something positive which has been absent in the last three years. The other candidate, Mr. Hachilema has demonstrated extraordinary intellectual achievements and organizational competence. His legacy as a successful entrepreneur exemplifies discipline and planning that entails and addresses issues that confront the country with an incisive and informed mind which is clearly important in policy formulation. His campaigns are issue based and despite spurious efforts to link him to the abuse of the privatization process and free masonry, no credible evidence has turned up to link him to anything illegal.
In attempt to confuse the electorate, and believing that the electorate is gullible, job seekers, desperate politicians, self-proclaimed analysts, psuedo intellectual and political commentators using a cartorie of online media, agenda driven newspapers, and one man NGOS have engaged in a guerrilla campaign of lies and distortion. In a last minute act of desperation the tribal card is now being used. Tribal talk has no place in a modern democratic state. The people accusing others of tribalism are the ones who in actuality practice unprincipled tribalism. Zambia needs a visionary leader who can move the country forward. We need a leader who is going to fix a broken economy, a broken civil service, a moribund education system, a judicial system tittering on collapse, a broken health care system that has sent many of our citizens to the grave prematurely and an incoherent agriculture and mining policy. It is my hope that all Zambians going to vote should vote wisely. Let us say No to mediocrity which has been a feature of our political system since independence. The consequences of an incompetent government visit every citizen regardless of ethnicity and political affiliation. Zambia can only solve its paradox of abundant natural resources and abject poverty through a competent government that can develop and manage the country’s resources efficiently and effectively for the benefit of all Zambians. “Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals, and to imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible” says Kennedy. I urge all Zambians to seize this opportunity to vote wisely and join together to make our nation an inclusive, progressive, and equitable one.