Elias Chipimo writes:
Everyday, ordinary Zambians battle to make their way through life. I see the resignation in their eyes – the sense of deep frustration and lost hope. All the time I am reminded of the question: why did I choose to enter the extraordinary and unsavoury world of politics? Why would I, a former (some would say, successful) corporate lawyer opt to take a path of constant ridicule, misjudgement and contempt that erodes precious family time and generates little understanding and plenty of pitiful sympathy, even from those that are closest to me?
I have made every effort to examine my relevance in our politics and to take stock of where we stand as a nation battling to improve the lives of ordinary citizens: hard working parents trying desperately to provide for their families; youth on the losing end of the struggle against joblessness; business owners hampered by an environment that always feels as though it is punishing them for daring to thrive. I have also reflected on the state of our democratic credentials and the paucity of insight into our most enduring problems. The picture is not pretty: we appear to value lies over truth, prestige and privilege over principles and posterity, short-term gain over sustained, systemic, inclusive change.
And what have we reaped from all this other than mediocrity, corruption, greed, neglect and the attendant suffering that is an inevitable outcome of corroded values and corrupted leadership at all levels of our society? Sadly, the results are there for all to see: we are publicly and privately crippled by debt that has rendered us incapable of managing our own affairs and left us wandering the earth with a tarnished reputation and a series of begging bowls; our central bank has been forced to consider printing money to pay salaries for government employees and to settle local public debt; corruption on a scale not witnessed before has become a way of life; numerous businesses are on their knees and at the mercy of their creditors and the taxman; unemployment has gone so viral we have become numb to its effect; and hordes of our unemployed and unemployable youth are valued only to the extent that they can be politically, socially and sexually exploited because of their vulnerability.
What is abundantly clear to all but a tiny minority is that we need change. What seems less clear to most of us is that we also need, as individual citizens, to change. The external change we seek will not happen unless each one of us is prepared to make the internal change – to change ourselves, our outlook, our way of being.
We all accept that high level corruption is eating away at the core of our society but how can we even begin to fight the corruption we complain about when it resides comfortably in our own homes; when it is the unseen guest at every meal; when we hold more tightly to it than to our own girlfriends and boyfriends, husbands and wives? How can we fight the greed we see in our elected officials when the moment we are given even limited power at work, in the home or community, we abuse it to satisfy our own cravings?
Unless each one of us resolves to take personal responsibility for the state of the nation we find ourselves living in today, we will fail to realise that the corrupt politician we so desperately want to get rid of, is “us”. The man or woman we see abusing his or her powers, is “me”. No amount of external change will bring about the righteous life and nation we desire if we fail to see the need to individually make the personal change required to make it happen. To get to a place we have never been before, we have to do something we have never done before. To achieve the change we desire, we must first be the change we desire.
Our politics has become a haven for everything that is wrong in our nature as human beings. We destroy, cheat, lie and steal in the name of the people in order to enrich ourselves at their expense. We no longer value values but we vehemently preach them to convince others that we are worthy of their trust. We then proceed to abuse that trust with all the energy we can muster in the brief time that our power lasts. We have distorted our most sacred cultural practices and comprised traditional leadership roles, turning some into silent but active accomplices in a gutless national betrayal of future generations.
There is everything right about dancing to celebrate a harvest or a ‘coming-of-age’ ceremony and everything wrong with dancing for a fraudulent politician who has consistently betrayed the people’s trust. We are constantly on the wrong end of our traditions, abusing them to suit our twisted ends. Rather than recoil at the exposure of corruption, we consistently seek to shoot the messenger who dares to call it out for what it really is. Rather than be repulsed at the abuse of our young men and women, we stand in line, craving the opportunity to be beneficiaries of their vulnerability.
There is much that our nation could become if it just developed the right mindset. We can be the best nation on earth when it comes to health, happiness, holistic living and the protection of the environment. In overcoming these very challenges lies the key to our prosperity. This will happen when we embrace not only a compelling vision but determined leadership that is radical, resolved and ready. Ready to breach new frontiers, ready to do things completely differently. This is not the time for ‘business-as-usual’ politics, nor is it the time for ‘business-as-usual’, ‘corruption-as-usual’ leadership. This cannot be the way forward for our struggling youth.
So here is my invitation to you the people of Zambia: I offer myself as an unworthy aspirant to lead the way into a future we all yearn for: a future that values the worth of every citizen and restores the pride and dignity of our nation; a future that will lift our nation out of poverty because it will have leaders that have chosen not to settle for a timid mindset but to be bold enough to admit that they are unworthy of the honour of leading and are humble enough to recognise that they must always remain accountable to their true masters – the people.
What do I possess to undertake this journey? Nothing other than my integrity, an unshakeable faith in God and a vision centred on a deep desire to see the needless suffering we are going through as a nation, come to an end. I will not promise you untold wealth and prosperity in order to entice your support. I will not promise you an easy life as we wrestle to free ourselves from the tyranny of kakistocracy. In fact, what I can assure you is that if you join me, you will almost certainly face ridicule and hardships. You will be misunderstood and maligned. You may even face the threat of losing your businesses along with some of those you now call friends. You will be told that this type of politics is not for Africa and only appeals to the elite. Yes, these and many more such deceptions will be used to discourage you. However, you will do well to recognise that these attacks are merely weapons that mask the fear that grips those that want to protect the terrible state our nation is in because they either have or hope for beneficial but illegitimate access to the political power that keeps things just the way they are. But note this, their time has already come to an end and they are simply serving out the remainder of their days. Their insults and spurious language are merely the last kicks of a dying horse.
Although at times we are discouraged, we persevere. We do this because we know that if our hearts remain true to our calling, we will be esteemed before our Creator, whose eyes roam throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. I have no doubt that we will also be rewarded with the personal and political victory that will come from a true and worthy desire to be shining examples of the change our nation needs.
So let us step into the arena and dare to do the deeds that will restore the sacred trust that should exist between the citizenry and its leadership. Let each one of us stand up and resolve to be the change our nation so desperately needs. What will this mean in paractice? It means no longer criticising from the sidelines and social media but getting involved in engaging your communities to hold our leaders to account. It means rallying our neighbours to a higher standard of responsibility. It means making a stand not to promote or partake of corruption wherever it rears its head. It means discussing progressive ideas more frequently than discussing people. It means being ready to have healthy dialogue rather than trading nasty insults. In short, it means changing who we are and becoming the people we need to be.
Elias C. Chipimo
National Restoration Party