The following article was published in South Africa’s New Age newspaper.
Zambia’s new President Michael Sata promised to transform the lives of the poor in 90 days, but while he axed directors and increased mining taxes, people say life went on without much change.
The long-time opposition leader was elected September 20 to the highest office of the world’s second copper producer, promising to put money back in the pockets of an electorate that hasn’t enjoyed the fruits of the mineral wealth. But as Sata’s first three months in office ended, street vendor Harry Phiri was disillusioned.
“Big man, there is nothing that has changed. More money in the pocket? What more money in the pocket? I am worse than I was,” the sweating 30-year-old said as he lugged a backpack of CDs through the streets of the capital Lusaka.
Over half the impoverished southern African country’s 13 million people are under 20 years old and earn less than a dollar a day. Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) took office ten years after it started as a breakaway party of the MMD.
But many Zambians, especially the youth, expected its change from opposition to ruling party to bring more prosperity, according to political analyst Obby Chibuluma.
“There was more politicking on their part rather than what is realistic. They tried to play to the major expectations of the Zambians by trying to make it look that they would deliver on all those promises when they cannot,” he tells AFP.
Zambians who expected less poverty, more jobs and schools for their kids will be disappointed, he adds. But Sata has not been idle either.
The 74-year-old president has started an overhaul of the mining sector, sparking concern among investors especially the Chinese.
Mining licences have been suspended and the mining tax doubled to 6.0 percent to fund state spending on infrastructure and health in 2012.
Fuel prices have fallen three percent and taxes were lowered for salaried Zambians, but few people reap the benefits in a country where only 500,000 have jobs in the formal sector.
Sata also got rid of officials seen to be too loyal to former president Rupiah Banda, whose Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) gave up power peacefully after 20 years in government. Zambia has a new police chief, central bank governor, and anti-corruption director-general.
The head of the national electricity company Zesco got the chop, as well as the editors of two daily newspapers with a state interest, the Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily Mail.
The populist leader reversed the sale of privately-owned Finance Bank to First Rand of South Africa. The $5.4-million (4.1-million-euro) deal raised public outcry when it was pushed through a few days before the presidential elections.
The government is also in the process of reversing the sale of state-run telecommunications company Zamtel to LAP Green of Libya. Now in opposition, the MMD has branded Sata’s first 90 days a “disaster”.
“There is no rule of law and bad governance is the order of the day,” MMD chairman for Legal Affairs George Kunda told a news conference Thursday.
“The so-called fight against corruption being undertaken by the PF government is selective and targeted at former leaders, especially those who served in the government of Banda.
They are being vilified as corrupt and yet some of the leaders who served the same government but have joined PF are safe and exempted from the so-called investigations,” he said. But Vice President Guy Scott is little bothered by the criticism.
“They failed completely in 20 years and those guys are jokers. They can never praise the PF, they want to come back to power. The MMD are in disarray”, Scott told AFP. “We are conducting the fight against corruption professionally.” -Sapa-AFP