By Kalima Nkonde
In all my previous articles, I have focused on analyzing the economy; criticizing the ruling PF and giving them solutions and I have just mentioned Opposition Parties in passing. I have , however, noticed to my great disappointment that even in the light of the economic crisis, most of the leaders of the Opposition Parties have been quiet and not providing proper checks and balances to the ruling Party. The majority of the Opposition parties have not been making comments or analyzing the economy apart from the UPND and to some extent the FDD in order to provide necessary checks and balances to the ruling Party!
The ruling PF has been criticized left, right and centre by commentators, analysts and the Post Newspaper but Opposition Parties have been the holy grail of Zambian politics. I would like to depart from this and criticize the opposition as a collective so that I give them a nudge to provide better, more aggressive and effective checks and balances to the ruling Party. It is only Opposition pressure that will ensure that the ruling party is kept on its toes and is prevented from making such reckless and outrageous expenditure decisions like Chartering an aircraft for seven days to New York with the alleged 256 people on board!
Zambia has so many Opposition parties to such an extent that I have lost count but the top twelve off the cuff are: UPND led by Hakainde Hichilema, FDD led by Edith Nawaki, MMD led by Nevers Mumba, Rainbow Party led by Winter Kabimba, National Restoration Party (NAREP) of Elias Chipimo jnr,Heritage Party by Brigadier General Miyanda, National Movement for Progress (NMP) led by Ng’andu Magande,National Revolutionary party(NRP) of Charles Milupi, Green party of Peter Sinkamba and 4th Revolution (4R) led by Eric Chanda, Liberal party of Sakwiba Sikota and Dr Ludwig Sondashi led Forum for Democratic Alternatives (FDA).
The majority of the above parties have neither a single Councilor nor a Member of Parliament and you never hear them say anything and only appear during the general election! The question one asks is what is their motivation for forming these parties and continuing with them when they have no chance of winning and they are hardly contributing to the political discourse? What comes to mind are words like ego, selfishness, delusion, pride, eccentricity, publicity but certainly not public service? My guess is that they get a kick out of being called Presidents! The Donor grants such as the European Union’s grants (money) for successfully filling in for the Presidency during the general election could also be another major motivation.
Zambia has been going through the largely self inflicted economic problems brought about by the PF administration and one would have expected that all the Opposition Parties would be falling over themselves to tear the ruling Party apart! The only parties that have been consistent on exposing the economic mess are the UPND, Rainbow and the FDD! When did you last hear about General Miyanda, Eric Chanda, Nevers Mumba, Elias Chipimo , Dr Sondashi or their advisors and others talking or writing about the economy? It is very rare indeed. One can conclude that these parties lack depth to such an extent that the majority of the Opposition Party leaders do not understand the basics of the economy and are scared to expose their ignorance!
How do they expect to run the country if they took over? They are more comfortable talking about politics like the PF. In the age of social media, they could have been posting articles giving their positions and pressurizing the Government in the process. As a commentator, I have written more and criticized the PF economic management more than the majority of the Opposition parties!
One of the major weaknesses of the PF government is the reckless expenditure and waste which has led to a huge budget deficit and an astronomical public debt. If I was the opposition strategist, I would have been researching to obtain the facts and figures and exposing to the public for example the Constitutional holders salaries and benefits, personal to holder vehicles for ministers and their wives, the costs of each trip the President takes, air time allowances, petrol allowances, the daily per diem of Government Officers so on and so forth to sensitise the public about the gravy train that has made Zambian politics an industry with sub sectors of per diem, corruption and tenders. This will be providing proper checks and balances and act as a deterrent to wasteful expenditure but at the same time promote the Opposition’s brand as an alternative government.
The other issue of concern to the public is that the Opposition Parties are so divided that they hardly talk to each other and they fail to share notes or cooperate even on common ground issues. The latest case in point is the Charter of the plane by the President to New York. One would have expected that they could have jointly agreed to hold a press conference and insist on getting the total cost of the trip.
This would have put pressure on the Executive and acted as a deterrent for the future. The other missed opportunities for showing a united front include the Kaizer Zulu shooting incident, the creation of new ministries when we have huge budget and the purchase of 156 vehicles for District commissioners. They could be many more public interest recklessness in expenditure which would expose the ruling party to the electorate who are hurting with the prices of commodities having doubled recently!
Another issue that they could have seized upon as opportunity to show unity, caring about the economy and project themselves as more responsible is the opportunity the President provided them by refusing to hold an economic Indaba amidst economic crisis. They could have organized an economic conference themselves, sourced sponsorship from the corporate world or from the Donors and scored immense political goals. I have mentioned in some of my articles that Opposition parties do not have strategists and are not innovative . My suspicions is that there is no intra party democracy in most of these parties and there are no thinkers apart from their “ great leaders” who are considered omnipotent and the rest of members are passengers and merely follow the leader without contributing constructive ideas.
There is also another problem about Zambian opposition political parties. They do not carry out research to find out the actual needs and concerns of voters on the ground and using the same findings to carve out campaign messages that will resonate with the voters so as to win hearts and minds. In addition, they are allergic to big data!
In 21st Century Politics, in order to have a competitive advantage you have to carry out research, collect data and make use of technological tools to analyse the date as a basis to formulate a winning campaign strategy. This would include doing in house scientific opinion polls. The UPND’s recent Business survey is the way to go. As a result of lack of research, the Opposition campaign messages are superficial and are based on their perception of what is important for voters not targeted on issues important to voters and therefore ineffective resulting in voter apathy as the electorate is not fired up to vote.
I would like to challenge some Opposition Party leaders to rethink why they are in politics. Are they there for public service or for selfish personal reasons? If they are in politics for public service and they figure out that they are not making any impact, there is no need for them to reconsider their Parties’ existence and think of merging with the bigger ones so that they can contribute to the country more meaningfully.
The Zambian opposition landscape is so fragmented that they are unlikely to win any election in the near future, divided as they are. The smaller parties, some of them with leaders who are among the best brains in Zambia should think seriously about their future. Some of their leaders have so much economic, legal and political experience that Zambia needs and they should seriously consider merging with the bigger parties and contribute more positively to the nation if indeed they love this country.
In the event they do not, for egoistic and selfish reasons, posterity will not be kind to them. In politics, there are no permanent enemies ; politics is all about compromise. In my previous articles for the past nine months, I have provided the ruling PF administration enormous free of charge, well researched economic advice which they have largely ignored. In order to be even handed, I will write a few articles advising the Opposition on various issues and this article is the first in the series.
In my next article, I will advice how the Opposition can increase their chances of winning the 2016 election exponentially!