It has been interesting to watch Zambian politicians, their supporters and hear “politics” in this great land of Zambia. As a foreigner of Ugandan origin, in some respects, Zambian politics is light years ahead of the politics in my native Uganda. In Uganda, we have had a near emperor or king type politics with “elections” every five years yielding the same man over and over. The morning-after results have not changed except increasing repression and corruption. President Museveni has been a tired and perhaps even a divisive face of Uganda’s agonizing politics for the last twenty eight years. Despite Zambia’s current political woes, your wounds are better and shallow than ours.
Zambia is interesting in its brand of politics. It has multiple candidates under a plural type of politics that encourages near full expression of opposing political ideals. Except for tongue slip-ups by political surrogates or imposters, most candidates have been civil though not as inspiring as I would have desired.
Zambia like the country of my birth is amidst deep economic problems. There is rising unemployment (particularly youth unemployment), worrying population numbers, uninspiring health facilities (actually, “disease-uncaring” outposts), poor-quality education, entrenched corruption. The list is unending. Therefore, voting for a country rather than any candidate is doubly important. But first, why is the fourth estate sleeping, dozing or impotent?
In these circumstances, one would expect Zambian candidates to repeatedly flog these issues or at least to display mastery of strategies for lasting solutions out of the problems besetting the country. Except for two candidates, who seem to understand real challenges besetting Zambians, the rest are seemingly “escorts” or wanna-bees. Unless I have missed this,
it is as shocking as it is surprising, for example, that the two front candidates have never held a public debate
The blame lies, in my opinion, on the electoral commission of Zambia (ECZ), the campaign teams, the media and the civil society. Observing the candidates,seeking out their tone and body language and their thinking on serious social, political and economic (especially economic issues) would provide the voters stark choices. This is important because having these candidates head to head in a neutral environment of a hall or a studio moderated by a council of neutral elders helps us “read” their mind and imagine their hearts. It would be a sanitized environment devoid of the confusing noise of crowds. It would be free of parochial supporters (some of whom do not even understand “their” party platforms on different issues). Certainly, the studio would lack suspect campaign teams some of whom do not even understand their own candidate. There would of course be the issue of neutral interviewers—but these abound in Zambia. There are Zambians who genuinely love their country and have no extra dogs to fight for a particular candidate. They would guide these candidates through furnace of questions.
- What is your source of campaign funds?
- Are you using government resources for campaigns?
- What prevents you from continuing this resource abuse (and potentially plunder) once in government?
- Is only infrastructure development a cornerstone of your economic policy?
- Why do you think your opponent can be a good president not only why he would be a bad president?
- Will you divest your interest in your businesses on your first day in office to avoid potential conflict of interest?
- There is a notion that you are a perpetual drunk, can you assure us that that allegation is malicious, or that such a habit will not interfere with your running of state affairs?
These are serious questions for which the media has robbed Zambians of answers from these candidates. There is still some time left to rectify this mega error of absence of public debates among these candidates.
Please debate issues and candidate traits
It is not adequate to argue that HH has a high ground or that EL is the real deal, or NM is a perpetual presidential material who never becomes one. In fact it would be cheapening our intellect to argue that Zambians don’t like one candidate or prefer one candidate over the other without the voters seeing a live contest of ideas between candidates.
Most times these candidates are preaching to the already converted. If they are to win, they need to convert more “independent” voters who are tired of the status quo and yet are wary and uncertain of the self-claiming angels. Part of endearing one’s self to the electorate is being able to debate and explain complex issues in simple words to an electorate. The way is to empathize with the electorate. The candidate should not get a vote because of naked tribalism, or that his personality is “bubbly” or “interesting”. These are certainly good traits to connect with the people but these traits and personality disposition alone are neither sufficient nor necessary for the affairs of the state.
I would prefer a candidate who is sometimes “warm” but extremely reflective. The matter of running a State requires a calm rationalizing approach. It is about an ability and capacity to envision where Zambia will be in the next 20 or 50 years or even where it should have been at this time or thinking and learning from missed or squandered opportunities.
The matters of the State are certainly not about a candidate having prior proximity to power, having been an ancillary witness to influence or even having a sense of entitlement.
In fact, in Zambia’s case, a candidate should not receive a vote solely because of his prior association to the status quo or more directly a “sympathy” vote. There may be moments where emotions seep into us. However, it is potentially dangerous to choose the captain of the State without cold rationalization of a candidate’s ability to shepherd social, political, Constitutional and economic aspects of the State, especially the economy. Whether you like it or not, a candidate with the ability and capacity to ensure continued supply of my meal mealie (code for vision for job creation), has vision for my education and plan for my health facilities is my man! Let me shoot straight; in our poor countries, the status quo or the former regime often stinks so fresh thinking and thinkers endear themselves to thinking and patriotic voters. Notice I mention “regime” rather than president because the candidate may have distanced him or herself from the terrible past of his party.
Every Country Has a Cartel
Every so often in the media or when I interact with my Zambian friends—and my Zambian in-laws, I read and hear about “Cartels”. Almost every state has “cartels” with various shades of severity to the functioning of the state. These cartels go by different names in different environments, and have varying influences on levers of government. In fact, it is difficult to avoid the politically manipulative nature of cartels. What we could do, however, is to blunt these cartels to the extent that the harm they do the State is minimal. And this is hard work.
So when I hear allegations that HH or PF is under a cartel, I wonder if these accusers are first graders or even naïve social commentators.
What they forget is that these cartels have no permanent allies in party candidates. What is paramount to cartels is that these party candidates or affiliated networks maintain the cartels interests. Pure and Simple.
For the electorate, the issue then is to carefully rationalize who among the candidates is more pro-Zambia than pro-cartel or pro-corrupt networks. Moreover, awareness of the potential dangers of these cartels should encourage citizens to act as alert watch dogs so they can bark and forthrightly remove these politicians from office at the slightest stench of corruption and at the earliest awareness of cartel capture of the state. Better fresh office bearers than a continuing bunch of plunderers and incompetents. Moreover, the cheapness of cheapening a candidate rather than grilling the candidate for serious national challenges is not, and should not be, Zambian.
It is un-Zambian to call people names or soil their persona. Iam talking about names like Vodka Lungu or Satanist HH.
And as in a functioning democracy with equal justice for all, these men have all the right to seek re-dress from courts of law to right the wrongs from intellectually poor political gofers. The poverty of ideas from these minions distracts them and potentially us from the contest of ideas that would propel Zambia forward. Theirs is rather espousing Kachasu or Lutuku-induced type point of views which shames all of us as a poor struggling nation.
On HH and privatization of mines
Another thoughtless remark that HH’s limited and challenged analysts peddle is that HH sold Zambia on the cheap during privatization. Why should we think, as a parallel example that a Zambian teacher should receive a low salary or even volunteer for his services because our government opened our schools to international students, and did not think through policy? As a consultant and not a government official to the privatization process, why would we expect HH not to charge whatever fee for his services? If he was exorbitant, the government and the process should have avoided his excellent professional services. Pure and simple. If professionalism is expensive, why should we seek out careers or should we be simply volunteering? Well, I know Ignorance is cheap; perhaps we should embrace it instead of seeking out professionalism and professionals. I know which alternative most straight thinking Zambians would embrace.
First a mere candidate then a uniter of one nation one Zambia
The campaign toll can be exacting on a presidential candidate. The president-elect will have to set aside prior hasty alliances, cheap rhetoric, fickle supporters in the demanding calls of statesmanship.Where a candidate was once demonized by his opponents or endured unwelcome labels of “Satanism”, he or she would now have to cultivate partnerships in the legislative duties of the presidency.
Again, the assertion that a president-elect will have a hard time working with opponents speaks of narrow-mindlessness, vision-lessness, and intellectual barrenness.
The corollary of which is that unless opponents or elected MPs are swimming in point-less narrow-mindedness and devoid of love for Zambia, the president-elect whatever his party, should get the votes necessary to conduct government business. The president-elect or the president of Zambia would not be a president for UPND or PF or MMD or FODEP alone. A mere candidate now becomes a uniter-in-chief, a coalition-builder, rallying everyone to one Zambia one Nation. Indeed the mantle of statesmanship brings a candidate to more scrutiny than ever before. Prior deals made in private life and the supposed laxity or absence of checks and balances now become the order of the day particularly if the in-coming president is of a serious and reflective type who runs the country on efficiency-based metrics of a private corporation. In other words, EL or HH would have a 24 hour surveillance of his words, deeds and deals!
Zambians should carefully think through, and search their hearts and minds before voting for a candidate
They should ignore divisive simpletons who are bent on sowing discord and not promoting a united Zambia.
Serious Thinking Times
Zambians should be aware that some players in the current market of presidential candidates are full of limited narrow self-interest couched in the poverty of retrogressive tribalism, pettiness and reckless partisanship. For some media outlets and commentators, the poverty of ideas and lazy intellectual analysis of serious challenges besetting Zambia is evident. Imagine, for example, one tired assertion that a president-elect HH will use, abuse and misuse Public Order Act against his opponents. Is this new? Is this even news? Every leader—anywhere, particularly in some of Africa’s banana republics occasionally pursue self-interest political agenda under the guise of maintaining “law and order” or in the interest of “national security”. Rather than associating these mostly “third-world constants” of ruthlessness to soil some presidential candidates in order to scare voters, Zambians and the so-called elite commentators should be assessing what each candidate can potentially bring to the table.
This includes management experience, capacity and facility with the law, ability to advise negotiating teams about the implications of international trade, debt policy, etc. The best check against an incumbent leader gone wild is an engaged electorate particularly after the votes have been counted, and the losers have gracefully conceded defeat—the Rupiah Banda style, and the winners have not displayed pride—the previous PF style.
Most importantly, there is no perfect candidate. Not one.
Zambians will likely be voting into office an imperfect person. Imperfect though that person may be, the President-elect should have a management capacity and vision for serious challenges besetting Zambia. I love Zambia, and I’m proud I married into these interesting political in-laws. Good luck on Jan 20th 2015. May your candidate win or accept defeat with grace!
By Emmanuel Acheta