Rupiah Bwezani Banda, the Fourth President of the Republic of Zambia, has regretted the flawed conception under which some African leaders view democracy as a way to promote their tribes at the expense of others and use political power as a licence to sow divisions.
The former Zambian head of State says the struggle for unity and sovereignty over tribalism, separatism and zoning, therefore, remains one of the most pressing and challenging goals facing the African continent.
Speaking in Accra last night in a public lecture at the University of Ghana, President Banda told the packed audience that in order to attain peace and prosperity and move forward, African countries needed to explore the issues of strong institutions, socially-focused development and unity.
The Vice-Chancellor– University of Ghana
Distinguished invited guests,
Friends, colleagues and
Members of the press present
Allow me to thank you kindly for coming out to be here with us this evening. It is a great pleasure for me to be here today. I owe a special debt of gratitude to our, hosts the University of Ghana, who have shown such warmth and hospitality to make me feel at home.
I would also like to thank the Boston University and the African Presidential Center for making this all possible, and for giving me the opportunity to meet so many fascinating thought leaders – it really has been the learning experience of a lifetime.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with my background, let me briefly introduce myself. Some of you will know that before becoming president of Zambia, I had spent some 40 years in public service, in various ministerial portfolios and foreign diplomatic postings.
I was appointed Vice-President in 2006, and I became acting President of Zambia following the passing of President Levy Mwanawasa in 2008, which was in line with the constitution of Zambia.
I was then elected Fourth President of the Republic later that year. Last year, in September, I stepped down after losing the election to the current President of Zambia.
As someone whose presidency began in the middle of a national tragedy –when our country lost its head of state to illness – I offer my deepest condolences over the recent passing of President John Atta Mills this past July.
It is to Ghana’s credit how these matters have been handled with maturity, resolve, and institutional strength. It is these qualities that are setting a new standard for African governance.
We can now look back and see how order was maintained, the constitution upheld, and embrace a sense of accomplishment for just how far this country has come since independence, and how much further it can go in the coming years.
When a sitting president passes away, it is a “stress test” of a country’s institutions, one of many we can expect to face as young African nations. Every year we see new dangers and risks arise, threatening the consolidation of democracy in our region.
There are economic crises, runaway inflation, unrelenting inequality, ethnic and religious conflicts, and the scourge of corruption along with its partner, authoritarianism.
And yet, despite these daunting problems, Africa is doing rather well. In fact, I would confidently say, we are succeeding.
Africa has now become a key pillar of the global economy. According to recent reports by some leading economic analysts, seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are located here, and average growth outpaces that of the United States and Europe.
The GDP of the continent’s 54 nations, taken together, would make it the fifth-largest economy in the world, after the United States, China, Japan, and India.
We possess significant quantities of the world’s most valuable natural resources, and we are beginning to understand how to translate our raw material economies into broader economic growth.
In terms of democratic governance, 2010-2012 have been watershed years for elections in Africa, with several dozen countries holding relatively free and fair polls.
Over the past decade, there have only been a few successful coups, compared to the 1970s when there were more than 20 seizures of power by force. This is, no doubt, a sign of increasing democratisation.
In fact, Ghana itself has become a much-cited African success story, exhibiting many of the values and positive trends that many other African countries should seek to emulate.
While I know that many in this audience would be keen to remind me of the country’s unresolved problems, internationally Ghana is applauded as a beacon of peace, a well-managed development model, and among the top destinations for investment.
I know that there is another election coming up soon, so I hope citizens and competing parties will keep this positive reputation intact, as there are many looking up to you.
So, given that we have some countries flourishing under democracy while others are yet to progress, it is worthwhile for us to examine some of the important features, principles and policies that support democratic governance.
How do we avoid the common pitfalls and reversals that afflict some African countries? What can be done to protect our progress and make sure we are on the road to a better future as a region?
I do not claim to have all the answers to these questions, but I hope that by sharing some of my perspectives and experiences from my time in government, we can open up the dialogue.
While I can go on all night talking about Zambia, I would rather hear from you. It is important to me that your voices are heard and considered. So what I will do is share just three lessons from my presidency that I hope may be of some value
LESSON 1: INSTITUTIONS MATTER
As I have said many times now, the reason I find myself here with you today is that democracy does not always produce the results that every participant is looking for.
If that sounds overly simplistic, it still needs to be said. Following the 2011 election, many supporters came forward asking me why I didn’t contest this or that irregularity with the results that may have tipped the scales.
I even heard some jokes that other long-time rulers were very upset that I chose what seemed to be the easy way out!!
But I was steadfast in my position, which I stated as we closed our campaigns 48 hours before opening the polls, that the results must not be disputed, that we must accept the verdict of the people and that a civil transfer of power must take place.
As you all know, tensions tend to run very high during close elections, and public safety and stability of the nation must take precedence above all other interests. But there is more to it than that
A well-known American political scientist once wrote that “democracy is a system in which parties lose elections”, with an emphasis on what happens to not only the winners, but also the losers of elections, especially in the case of an incumbent losing to the opposition.
It is bad for democracy if the candidate and the party defeated in elections just disappears or is unrecognisable from past versions. It is even worse when leaders cling to power and add stress to the purity of a rule-based system.
The role of stable and steady political parties is extremely important to democracy, as the organisational structures, horizontal accountability, and delegative functions are what eventually become integrated into the running of the official apparatus.
The organisation must be more important than the individual. When parties are weak or discredited, then democracy suffers, as these are the critical institutions that serve to incorporate grassroots movements into the administration.
Institutions are important because they are governed by rules. Institutions are predictable.
When you have a framework for social organisation that is based on fairness, rules, accountability, and pragmatism, then you have the makings of a calm and orderly society that can not only allocate resources for its members, but also negotiate the settlement of disputes
Democracy, it should be remembered, does not only exist around voting day, but should represent a set of values of mutual respect, equality, and consultation practiced every day by governments, leading to a greater inclusion of all our people.
If there is one lesson I take away from my presidency, it is that Africa needs strong institutions, and these institutions can only be delivered via free and fair elections and healthy political competition between well-organised parties that stay together whether they win or lose
LESSON 2: SOCIAL POLICY IS ECONOMIC POLICY
When leaders talk about “good governance”, it often never goes beyond the rhetoric – and that’s because we are too often focused on boosting growth figures, pleasing investors, endearing our allies, more than we are working to improving the lives of our citizens.
Good governance, in my view, represents the efficient and transparent delivery of services to citizens. That is our social contract– that we consent to the legitimate rule of a representative leadership under the condition that minimal services are provided.
Let me be clear that I am not speaking about generating dependency, which has been a cancer upon the mentality of many of our citizens, but rather empowerment, and opportunity – which is impossible without access to good education and healthcare.
In most of our countries, the human development index has not grown at the same pace as GDP. Our economies have not incorporated tens of millions of young people, and education levels remain abysmal.
Economic development is commonly cited as the main concern for African leaders, but if we are not steadfast and effective in achieving real and tangible social policy improvements, I fear that it will be too little, too late.
When my presidential term began in 2008, we were faced with the consequences of a full-blown global economic crisis, while at the same time being pressured from many of our partners and stakeholders to implement certain policies.
However, our constituents in the hardest-hit regions were pointing to more immediate concerns
After much thought and consideration, my administration chose to preserve our jobs and prepare for the end of the crisis. To prepare for the coming out of the crisis, we began to work on our infrastructure to support the economic activity in the nation.
So we planned and began to work on our roads, which are key to moving our agricultural produce, and opened up our country’s rural areas. Next, we were to work on the airports and railway system.
And to keep our jobs, we were not ready for any of our mines to close or go under care and maintenance, as was the case around the major mining countries in Africa. All this, taken together, helped Zambia maintain its levels of growth during the recession
So we also focused on the agricultural sector– although agriculture represented just 21.5 percent of Zambia’s GDP– because it was the largest source of employment and, naturally, a local and sustainable source of food security while we awaited better global economic conditions.
As a result, we were able to produce three consecutive bumper crops, which did much to alleviate the difficult conditions among our people.
Next, we focused on education and healthcare, implementing policies that allowed for the opening of more than 75 new schools while expanding our healthcare services coverage through the use of mobile medical clinics and health posts.
It’s true that Zambia was able to average well above seven percent GDP growth, but I do not believe that it would have been possible to do this had we not first secured a minimum level of social wellbeing. I do not believe that economic policy exists without first achieving successful social policy
LESSON 3: UNITY IS PARAMOUNT
Ever since the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, Africa has been divided into premature states defined by outside parties. But it is within these borders that we must live together and succeed together, meaning that the struggle for unity and sovereignty over tribalism, separatism, and zoning is one of the most pressing and challenging goals we face.
In Zambia, for example, we have a population of just 13 million people but we are home to a diverse 73 tribal groupings. Some see participation in a democracy as a way to promote one’s tribe at the expense of another, fueling future tensions.
In my view, there is a fundamentally flawed conception of political power in many African nations, which leads leaders to view their powers of office as a licence to sow divisions.
How can our nation succeed without meritocracy – where the best and brightest, the hardest working citizens, are the ones who rise, not just the village or province or tribe of a given political leader
The issue of unity is one that still needs to be addressed by Zambia’s current and future leadership. Unity is defined by listening, respect, and consensus-building.
Ask any politician in the world how far they have gone in terms of respect and dignity – especially for those politically opposed to you – and they will laugh in your face.
And yet, this is precisely what is required – to differentiate between the debate of an idea or policy, as opposed to an attack against a person and the groups they represent.
Going forward in Zambia, consultations must be carefully managed not only among traditional chieftains and leaders who may exist outside the formal political structure, but also among moderate members of other parties.
Once again, I will refer to my presidential inauguration speech in November 2008. In that speech, I had made a promise that I would be a president to all Zambians. I pledged to deliver economic prosperity, to deliver good governance, to continue the fight against poverty and corruption, and to ensure the country was able to feed itself and not rely on handouts.
I understood that to sustain growth and prosperity, the country needed to be unified and to uphold democratic governance and the right of the people to elect their leaders freely and fairly.
In summary, I believe that if we can explore these issues of institutions, socially-focused development, and unity, many more countries of Africa may have the opportunity to attain peace and prosperity, paving the way forward for a new model that could solve common problems.
Ultimately, I believe that these are the qualities that contribute to the most important aspect of inclusion: that the people feel that they have dignity, that the leadership works for them and can be removed if need be, and that there can be hope of growing opportunities.
To achieve these goals, we cannot afford to be dishonest. We cannot play games with people’s expectations and hope to survive their disappointment.
The responsibility to fulfill the duties of office within the boundaries of the law is the only way to guarantee the level of economic growth Zambia, and indeed most of our nations, need to solve the problems of inequality and unemployment.
Unfortunately, for Zambia, many observers feel that they are not seeing a stable policy environment that engenders this sort of outlook right now.
Thank you kindly for this opportunity. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.