By Jones K. Kasonso
This past weekend we saw the re-emergence of one of the toughest and most outstanding sons of Zambia. Freddie Mmembe owner of the now-defunct Post Newspapers has resurfaced on the national stage as a politician and presidential candidate. Doubtless for his writing and entrepreneurial dexterity, probably the most influential journalist since the founding of the republic, Freddie Mmembe is no small man as his stature suggests. His impact towers over Zambia since the third republic. To many of us, he is a hero and a person of unmatched courage who risked his life for truth, democracy, and justice in our country. If we were a country that places national leadership in the hands of those who have paid their dues in life and something for their country, the Dr. Freddie Mmembe has many personal attributes that would make a great President for our country. However, with that said let me be the first to question his current adopted political platform and ask the simple question: Is socialism the right answer for Zambia?
I listened to his stump speech on the evils of capitalism and his historical perspective was audacious if not even intriguing to an attentive ear. But I did not hear any constructive solutions for the problems of our country. In this, I was very disappointed. As a curious but critical observer, I saw three serious flaws in the socialist platform constituting: a misdiagnosis of the problem of Zambia, an inadequate definition of the problem, and a failed proposed solution.
A Misdiagnosis of the Problem of Zambia
In Dr. Mmembe’s view, the capitalist is the problem of Zambia. Not inept leadership. Not the lack of competitive focus in a globalized economy. Not the worldview of hunter-gatherers who don’t understand the gist of wealth or its purpose. Not the deficits in public policy and strategic implementation. Not the auctioning of the nation’s resources to foreign multinational corporations by our own clueless leaders. In the end, it seems to me the anti-western, anti-capitalism, anti-democracy posture and platform that Dr. Mmembe has adopted is more for personal recovery or self-preservation against a vicious ineptocratic PF government that for political survival closed his company. Clearly, a personal reason sits at the center of all aspirations to gaining political power. In this regard, we need candor from our politicians including the new entrants. An English novelist George Orwell (1984) was more candid in this when he wrote:
“Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”
Therefore, we must be awake to this reality. If retribution and survival against the Edgar Lungu administration have taken Dr. Mmembe to the level of abandoning his lifelong crusade for free speech intolerable under socialist regimes, then even his long-term followers have cause to pause and consider his motivations. It is not inconceivable that Dr. Mmembe has successfully courted Cuba to secure support to help confront the Edgar Lungu PF for using government to strip him of his enterprise. Unfortunately, the PF government appears to take the bait already and started fighting with Cuba. Dr. Mmembe has clearly won this round because he drew the PF to start fighting a bigger and more terrifying opponent.
An Inadequate Definition of the Problem
In Dr. Mmembe’s view, capitalism is synonymous with a 20th Century businessman called Cecil John Rhodes. But in research, any concept defined on the character of a single participant in that concept is susceptible to drawing apathetic inferences. Dr. Mmembe suggested that based on this one-character capitalism steals, kills and destroys. This was a very simplistic proposition. Capitalism a word coined in mid-19th Century during the industrial revolution is defined as:
“an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.” [dictionary.com]
It is this economic system that is responsible for transforming our world into a better place as private enterprise have soared to create products and services that have been replicated worldwide to meet customer needs, and thereby earn profits and retain equity in privately owned enterprises. Capitalism is the force behind the global integration of all peoples and the flow of capital, and delivery of superior products and services. Clearly, no one single country is an outright capitalistic society as every country in the world has some form or dose of capitalism with most western nations generally accepted to be based on this model. Dr. Mmembe himself is a prime example of an individual who invested and owned the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth at the Post Newspapers Ltd [in liquidation]. We can’t use him as an individual businessman to say CAPITALISM DOESN’T PAY TAXES or CAPITALISM WROTE NASTY STORIES ABOUT PEOPLE. That definition would be inadequate.
A Failed Solution
Dr. Mmembe’s solution is to bring back a failed ideology of socialism as a philosophy of governance for the beautiful republic. Socialism is defined as:
“An economic theory or system in which the means of production, distribution, and exchange are owned by the community collectively, usually through the state. It is characterized by production for use rather than profit, by equality of individual wealth, by the absence of competitive economic activity, and, usually, by government determination of investment, prices, and production levels.” [dictionary.com]
In answering the question: Is socialism the right answer for Zambia? Our traditional wisdom counsels that we anticipate the safety of a concept or object by way of comparison (Ichikwanka bachimwena kumampalanya). Socialism falls short of admirable models for resolving national problems. As an incredible journalist and chronicler of note, Dr. Mmembe knows that socialism is a failed concept from the defunct Union of Soviets Socialist Republic (USSR), Yugoslavia to Cuba, Venezuela and the post-independence Pan-African states. On the other hand, nearly all the tools that we are using to improve the human condition in the 21st Century are products and services hatched in capitalism. Whereas am no proponent of ultra-capitalistic administration of socio-economic services, that leaves the majority poor in perpetual debt, the contribution of the concept of capital and entrepreneurship is the most powerful ideology for upward mobility at the personal-level, firm-level, and country-level. I take the view that a moderated version of capitalism under a just and robust legal framework is a more constructive platform for crafting a prosperous future for our country than an experiment with an isolationist ideology.
In a nutshell, notwithstanding that it would be too premature to discount the Mmembe-Musumali proposition for us to have a look at socialism as a constructive political platform for addressing the current systemic problems of our country, the specific public policy propositions are what we must watch out for during campaigns. It’s suspicious, however, that a quintessential capitalistic indigenous entrepreneur in Freddie Mmembe would resort to socialism. Rick Godwin once said: “If something looks suspicious, it is suspicious.” With no notable models of success in the 21st Century prescribing socialism for today’s Zambia feels like a witchdoctor telling a barren woman that to have a child:” Ukembe sansa, no mubanga ichishimba mutima wakanyelele or imishila yamukole nomupapi ichishimba lino lya musungu.” (dig the roots of the trees called Sansa, and Mubanga and mix it with the heart of an ant or dig the roots of the trees called umukole, and umupapi and mixed it with the tooth of a white man). We all know the inevitable end of those types of solutions.
The author is a Zambian, An Author, A Consultant and Accounting Professor in Washington DC and holds Ph.D., CPA, CGMA, MBA, BSc., NATech qualifications.