On his return from his seven (7) days at the United Nations Meeting in New York, President Lungu dismissed the idea of having an Indaba on the economy because in his view, it will not serve any purpose as the late President Mwanawasa held several of them and according to him they produced nothing!
I totally disagree with the President’s dismissal of dialogue with a cross section of society on the status of the economy. I also disagree that the answer to our man made economic problems are prayers and fasting! The President’s refusal to call for indaba clearly shows that he is not exposed in such issues and lacks the understanding as to what those meetings are meant to achieve.
First and foremost, President Mwanawasa’s approach to dialogue is the reason why he left a strong economy! He embraced dialogue and consulted widely. The economy under PF has tanked because they do not consult! An example of a direct result of Indaba is the creation of CEEC. When President Mwanawasa visited Botswana, the Zambians, who were there at that time, recommended that in order to empower Zambians he needed to explore the establishment of an institution like the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) which the Batswana had.The South Africans also had Small Enterprises Development Agency (SEDA).President Mwanawasa proposed that the Zambians in Botswana send a group to State house – which we did – and give him a formal proposal ! CEEC was born out of that indaba meeting in Gaborone! I believe those who were in Government with the late President can testify on many examples.
To illustrate the importance of formal dialogue, one of the major secrets of Botswana’s economic success is the dialogue that the Government has with stakeholders especially the private sector. The President interacts directly with Citizens to get first hand information about what their views are through the Kgola. The Government headed by the President holds quarterly high level consultative meetings with the Private sector represented by the national Chamber called BOCCIM to share ideals on policy issues affecting the private sector. On bi- yearly basis, the Government (President, Ministers, PS and other senior government officials) meet the Captains of industry and hold an INDABA called Private Sector Conference for four days to discuss economic issues.
In America, during the 2008 financial crisis, President Obama did hold a wide ranging consultative meetings with the private sector. On September 16, 2015, President Obama met the Business Round Table, an association of Business leaders who employ more than 12 million Americans where they exchanged ideas on the economy and they asked all sorts of questions. On 23 September, 2015 the Chinese President, Xi met Chinese and American leaders in Seattle where he told his audience that the Chinese economy is doing well with big growth potential and his country is working on being more open and transparent. This was reassuring to the market and had positive impact on Chinese currency!
The former President Rupiah Banda also supported the need for an Indaba. He said, ” I think we have a problem which every Zambian must be made to understand and get involved in finding a solution, and the only way to make them understand is for Government to engage them.” He added that in the 2008 global economic meltdown, his government engaged the people in an indaba which helped the information gap between Government and the people. He said,” I needed the support of every Zambian in order to find a resolution to rectify the problems we were going through.”
The President should learn that the purpose of such meetings are wide ranging and some of the most important positive outcomes are the intangibles .The meeting of the President with stakeholders can change perceptions about him and his government. The meetings can also achieve great public relations coup for the President and engender trust.
The question the public want to know is: why does President Lungu avoid interactions with people as evidenced by the following:
- his refusal to participate in debate for January 15 elections,
- his failure to hold a press conferences to answer questions for eight months,
- his chickening out at the last minute from a BBC interview
- and now his refusal to hold an economic indaba.
This is clearly a pattern and the Opposition and NGOs need to take this up .The job of a President requires him to be personally accountable to the public. What is he afraid of? The President’s conduct of avoiding interviews, questions, debates is what raises speculation. In countries where you have a robust independent press and astute investigative journalism, the journalists would have been upset for being avoided and will be writing all sorts of speculative stories so that he would have been forced to communicate and interact with them through press conferences. If he cannot carry out these basic tasks, then he is in the wrong job!
As the saying goes, “if you cannot stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” On the other hand, we gather that he is ready to meet foreign investors and selected local businessmen privately at State house or fly to Mfuwe with them! He personally gave a directive that Ministers should make appointments to bring foreign investors to State house! He has made State house an Investment Centre! What is the role of ZDA and Ministry Of Commerce then?
The call for prayer is similar to the President’s emphasis on tribalism as a major problem that the country faces instead of focusing on corruption which has had devastating effects on our economy
In the light of the above, one cannot understand how a President who has been in power for only eight months can be so dismissive of suggestions for dialogue on the economy and make a statement tinged with arrogance and a know it all attitude! One wonders how he will be if he gets a five year term! He is basically claiming to have better wisdom than Mr. Rupiah Banda who occupied the seat for three years and is an experienced politician and others like Obama, Masire, Mandela, Xi etc who understand that to run the country you have to engage stakeholders in a formal manner!
It is apparent that President Lungu has not accepted responsibility for the economic mess happening under his watch nor has he properly identified the causes. His statement last month that nobody has mismanaged the economy and our economic problems have been caused by global factors. Also, his recent statement on arrival from New York when he said “I am in control and there is nothing that I have failed. Anyone who does not believe in God should stay away from the 18th October day of Prayer and fasting.” These statements are major causes of worry. Whereas most people believe that our problems are self inflicted and a result of lack of leadership and poor management and need economic solutions, the President believes our problems have been caused by global factors and sin and so they require divine intervention!
I personally believe that the call for prayers and fasting is all politicking and it is not being done in good faith but merely meant to dupe gullible Zambians and divert their attention from the problems caused by mismanagement of the economy. Prayer and fasting alone without action will not produce results. The call for prayer is similar to the President’s emphasis on tribalism as a major problem that the country faces instead of focusing on corruption which has had devastating effects on our economy. My take is that these are just diversion political games. Indaba is more important and more effective than public prayers and fasting. The President and all us should pray privately rather than politicize prayer!
We should not solve economic problems with political and religious solutions as it is similar to giving a malaria patient Atenolol which is for Hyper tension (BP) instead of coartem. The patient will not be cured. Zambia’s economic problems can only be solved by first identifying them, then accepting that we have problems and thereafter implementing practical measures not by prayers alone! The consultation process through an indaba whose composition is what can be debated, should form part the process. It is in this vein that I would ask President Lungu to reconsider his position on formal consultations of stakeholders on the practical solutions to our economic problems and some of us will be prepared to share our experiences in other countries if asked!
By Kalima Nkonde
The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession and a financial management expert. He is an independent and non partisan commentator.