Raised Hopes, Shattered Dreams: Democracy, the Oppressed, and the Church in Africa

By Kapya Kaoma
As Zambia celebrates its Golden Jubilee, my book Raised Hopes, Shattered Dreams, has just been published by Africa World Press, N.J. As the title suggests, the book is on the democratic predicament in beloved Zambia. Like many citizens, I had so much hope in the Sata-led Patriotic Front (PF) administration. I debated one of my friends in 2010 about the value of voting for President Sata. My friend told me that nothing good can come out of the Sata administration. Within three years of his administration, it seems my friend was right.
Zambians are frustrated with President Sata’s manner of governance. Aside from his constant reshuffles of Cabinet ministers, the president seems to take us back to the colonial, the United National Independence Party (U.N.I.P.), and the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (M.M.D.) eras. Besides, he seems to follow the Robert Mugabe led Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front’s tactics of intimidation, violence and arrogance.
President Sata’s government has created a sense of déjà vu in Zambian political history. In many respects, the Patriotic Front government reminds one of the early 1960s. People held high hopes of the Kenneth Kaunda led self-rule, but their dreams were shattered when the U.N.I.P. government turned out to be much worse than colonial masters were. 27 years later, people’s hopes were rekindled when the “hour” came for the Movement for Multi-party Democracy to rule. Alas, our hopes were shattered by poverty, corruption, and underdevelopment. In 2011, the Patriotic Front donchi kubeba campaign promised more money in our pockets within 90 days, and the people driven constitution. Within 3 years, our dreams were shattered – the Patriotic Front administration has become the first administration to refuse to release the draft constitution to the public in Zambia’s 50 years history.
Over the years, our presidents’ names have changed, but our economic conditions are unchanged. In most cases, they have even worsened. The results are self-evident: an ever growing gap between the rich, and the poor, extreme poverty, the collapse of the health delivery sector, and increased violence in residential compounds and streets – to an extent that burning suspected thieves or witches alive is now a norm. The police abuse people at will, street children parade the streets like swam of locusts, while politicians spend millions on pleasing themselves. Our hospitals are like funeral homes, where patients usually go to be buried rather than to be healed.
Mansa is a good example here. When I was a child, we had a sewer system. Today, however, Mansa has no sewer system and running water is only for the select few. Pit latrines are all over, while contaminated bole-holes are the only reliable source of drinking water for the majority of the population. The situation is not different from Siavonga town. Despite being by the edge of the Kariba dam, water is a luxury. One wonders whether we are dancing the traditional N’gumbo dance of akalela – whereby going forward means retreating backwards!
Moreover, politicians know that hurdling on people’s hopes is a good way to win elections. The U.N.I.P., the Movement for Multi-party Democracy, and the Patriotic Front did so when they were in opposition. It is ironical that the Movement for Multi-party Democracy now wants us to believe that it would address the plight of the masses should the people develop dementia, and vote it back into office. I hope not.
Zambia’s biggest problem is not the Patriotic Front government, but the political structures under which it is governing. The current government structures are founded on the oppressive configurations that once characterized colonial rule. Just as the colonial governor was central to colonial power, our presidents have too much power over every aspect of our lives. It is the president who interprets the national constitution, controls the courts, and who speaks and who is heard – the people’s voice means nothing.
Democracy grants power to the people, yet the current political configurations are not democratic at all. Currently, the president can legally create new districts, provinces, change names of international airports, and appoint or fire judges. Unless such powers are drastically reduced, democracy will remain a sung slogan.
But the de-politicization of these agencies depends on how far we are willing to go to reduce presidential powers. Zambians should not expect politicians to resolve this mess; we, the citizens ought to do it. We must remember that Zambian politicians cry foul when they are in the opposition, but once in power, they revert to the same systems they once faulted.
Presidents Kaunda, Chiluba, Banda and now Sata opposed the victimization of political opponents until they tasted power. Sata blamed the Movement for Multi-party Democracy for oppressing the masses, abuse of powers, and in some cases, the arresting of political opponents. Today, however, he has turned out much worse than the very system he fought. The same can be said about Kaunda, Chiluba, Mwanawasa, and Banda.
The slogan of Zambia being a peace-loving nation should not blind politicians from the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, and Libya among many other African countries during 2010-11 uprisings. No people can be tamed forever without consequences. Intimidation of citizens through state-sponsored violence, and the politicization of the law enforcement agencies can pacify people only for a while, but in the end, people will always rise and triumph.
Lest we forget, electing Alias Chipimo, Hakainde Hichilema, Nevers Mumba, Ng’andu Magande or Edith Nawakwi into office under the current configurations is crafting another vicious dictator – who will rule with an iron fist. Unless we curtail or curb presidential powers, elections will come, and new governments will be born, but our experiences will be the same – raised hopes, shattered dreams. Here, the Church can play an important role by standing up for the rights of all God’s people.

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