By Chimwemwe Mwanza
It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all try something new. This was one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR)’s guiding principles to fulfilling his new deal agenda.
Taking over the Presidential reigns at the height of the great depression, America’s 32nd President initiated a slew of economic and political reforms that ignited an economic boom. He seized his moment to create one of America’s greatest economies of all time.
Acknowledging we live in different eras, there are parallels to draw from FDR and challenges facing President Hakainde Hichilema’s (HH) Presidency. Both inherited a mess of their respective economies but had emphatic mandates from their electorate to turn around their respective country’s fortunes. Just like FDR, one can’t dispute HH’s commitment to service. Few would dispute that he has been diligent in his approach to governance thus far.
You can almost sense sincerity in his reasoning, and this illustrates something very important? He didn’t become wealthy by making irrational and reckless decisions. From Ring Road, New Kasama to 42nd street NY – UN Head Quarters, one can only watch in glee at HH’s newly elevated political standing. And this bodes well for a President whose country’s official unemployment rate is north of 56% and is in desperate need of foreign direct investment.
UPND faithful Cornelius Mweetwa best sums up this exciting phase of his party’s honeymoon with the electorate. The HH Presidency will be a departure from the past. “We will co-govern and critique the President where necessary to avoid a return to the past,” remarked Mweetwa at a recent briefing. The inference in this statement off course being that kleptocracy, corruption and nepotism – hallmarks of the vanquished PF regime is dead and buried and the rule of law will no longer be a distant second to politics.
Now, at the risk of sounding uninformed, is there a reason for silence in both the UPND and political fraternity to the President’s appointment of Mr Jito Kayumba – a managing partner at Kukula Capital to run his economic desk at State House? With due respect to Kayumba’s impeccable and academic credentials coupled with the experience of managing Zambia’s biggest private venture capital firm, Kukula’s links to Mr Muna Hantuba is well documented and Hantuba’s business’s association with the President is an open secret.
This brazen act is mind-boggling – it’s akin to leaving a hare in the custody of a starving fox. Is this perhaps a glimpse into the nature of future appointments coming our way? While appreciating the President’s prerogative, doesn’t this incestuous relationship place Kukula or the Presidency in an awkward position? Put more succinctly, isn’t this type of decision-making lifted straight from PF’s book of Kleptocracy?
For a person of his intellect, it’s either that the President has deliberately cocked a snook at ethical leadership or he is being politically naïve? Curiously, the PF and the Socialist Party’s main argument against his character flaw in the build-up to the recent elections had been that the UPND leader was a rent-seeking plutocrat that was only interested in enriching himself and his cronies.
Is this really a new dawn?
For all the corruption, ineptitudes and spendthrift of the previous dispensation, Zambia isn’t decrepit as the new government would like to make us believe. Yes, fact is that the bar had dropped so low under the previous dispensation – which is why we are now being made to cheer the sight of newly appointed Ministers orientating themselves on governance processes at a state sanctioned workshop. It makes one wonder, did this activity even warrant wall-to-wall coverage by state media?
And why should the new government and the media project this norm as a significant departure from the past?
Here is the caveat. Cognisant of the enormity of challenges facing an electorate weary of failed promises, the UPND is strategically positioning to govern as the antithesis of the PF. Thus, every scandal or crime uncovered by law enforcement agencies and linked to the PF will only serve to provide it with political oxygen necessary to cleansing its failures. Watch the fodder that will be made from the K65 million and US$57,000 recently seized from an Ibex Hill home.
Trouble though is that both the media and the political commentariat have in the past been complicit in creating unnecessary distractions from real economic issues affecting Zambians. Having learned nothing from experience, we are back to square one. We traversed this path when Frederick Chiluba’s MMD dethroned UNIP. Through a sustained assault on his persona, it is MMD and the media that consistently vilified Kenneth Kaunda (MHSRIP) casting him as a thief that had stashed billions in offshore accounts – only for the truth to emerge later that KK left state house penniless with only a guitar and books in hand.
But the damage had already been done to his reputation. As if not enough, the MMD under the watchful eye of a pedestrian media forced him into exile. On return, he was jailed and sent to Mukobeko prison simply because his moral authority posed an existential threat to MMD rule.
At the turn of Micheal Sata’s rule in 2011, PF’s then Secretary-General Wynter Kabimba who also served as Justice Minister and was for a while Zambia’s de-facto President, aptly perfected this art of distraction, except he added another facet – deception. Urged on by Kabimba’s dog-whistling antics, PF succeed in stripping Rupiah Banda’s immunity.
And scandals such as the K2 billion buried and later retrieved at a farm owned by former Labour Minister in the MMD regime, Austin Liato only hastened MMD’s demise. As Kabimba and team danced on MMD’s grave, civil society, a captured Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) including the media looked the other way and focused their gaze on Rupiah Banda’s court appearances while ignoring the PF’s first corruption Tsunami – the Trafigura oil gate. Could this be the playbook that UPND is scripting?
Back to reality
All that Zambians need are jobs. Their only clamor is to be restored to a position of decency in which they can afford at least 1 if not 2 meals per day. They want to live in a society in which decent education is affordable but not a preserve of the elite. They want a fair shot at opportunities in which the best entrepreneurial minds regardless of tribe, creed and political affiliation can benefit from economic opportunities.
And HH and his government has the best opportunity to write a new economic script and change the status quo. The only way he will be able to silence the likes of Sean Tembo, Raphael Nakachinda, Edith Nawakwi, Wynter Kabimba, Chishimba Kambwili and Given Lubinda and other self-anointed puritans is to at least deliver the barest minimum of the UPND’s promises. Not discounting the need to fight corruption, the opposition’s ranting will seem like mere political noises if UPND can achieve even a modicum of success.
Any quick fixes? The new government needs to urgently focus on resuscitating Zambia’s mining as well as the manufacturing industry both of which have been hollowed by unfavourable and uncompetitive policies. Fifty-seven years after independence, does it make sense that Zambia’s manufacturing industry only has one company, Trade Kings to show for innovation?
How is it possible that the Copperbelt Province which is home to almost 0.6% of the world’s copper ore reserves is battling such high levels of unemployment and poverty? The mining supply chain which for long has been the main stay of the Province’s Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SMEs) has been decimated and opportunities are now a preserve of cadre-owned enterprises.
The new government barely has time to waste in untangling the bogus scheme disguised as a debt-financed nationalization of Mopani Copper Mines (MCM). This was just an election gimmick that has only served to erode the country’s narrow and already shrinking tax base. It is a fact that the drop in mining output is having a knock-on effect on the economy and Zambia is missing out on a commodity boom due to this recklessness. Against the political noises, UPND should go for the jugular and partially privatise MCM.
It can seek a primary listing of this entity on the Lusaka Stock Exchange (LSE) to give the public some partial ownership of this asset. This could be a fair and transparent way to mollifying privatisation naysayers. Perhaps, same needs to be done to Copperbelt Energy Company (CEC).
Typical of PF’s wobbly mentality, it deliberately ran CEC to ground in the hope that it would close UPND’s source of funding by punishing the late Hanson Sindowe (that astute entrepreneur) and Charles Milupi – both of whom were directors in the company and were known to be sympathetic to HH. All sorts of flimsy excuses were presented for strangling this business, but fact is this was a classic case of someone chopping their nose to spite their face.
And KCM? It’s only a matter of time before the truth emerges about the real reasons for placing this mining behemoth into provisional liquidation. But here is the point in all this. The overwhelming mandate that the Copperbelt electorate gave UPND is a repudiation of PF’s ruinous policies.
In addition, the government needs to break the self-serving cartels in the oil, safari hunting and fertilizer distribution business in a systematic manner and open these markets to competition. This must be done in a transparent manner to avoid emergence or creation of a new but UPND aligned oligarchs. Doesn’t it make sence to boost Nitrogen Chemicals of Zambia’s (NCZ) production capacity instead of importing fertilizer? Why not create local rather than import jobs?
Considering the low bar set by the previous dispensation, trying new ideas shouldn’t be an onerous task. Just some thoughts.
The author is an avid reader of political history and philosophy. He has since stopped eating game meat and become a vegetarian. The only thing he supports is Kabwe Warriors and Liverpool. For feedback, contact [email protected]