By Kalima Nkonde
- The change in power in Zambia has brightened the nation’s economic prospects. Zambia’s new president, Hakainde Hichilema, is turning the nation’s economic fortunes around. (Bloomberg News)
- The unending finger pointing by HH to fail past leadership whilst self-praising is irritating and immature. We want to see results. (Chishala Kateka, Opposition New Heritage Party President)
- Patriotic Front lost partly because of the violent cadres – HH has managed to sort that out. Zambians have discovered their new freedoms. Most people wanted the return to law and order. (Laura Miti, Civil Rights Activist and Political Commentator)
- HH’s weakness is time keeping. Hakainde was never on time for a press briefing during his time in opposition. He has religiously kept his work ethic as if he’s still a private citizen. He needs to change this bad work ethic.(MAST Newspaper editorial)
- They treated this man like trash and they are having to live under his rule. They are in hurry to demonise the President out of spite. Whenever, President Hichilema speaks, these haters look out for words which they can use to influence public hatred towards him (News Diggers Newspaper editorial)
- We need to give the UPND time to settle down. It might take three or six months to start seeing fruits. That is when we can make a fair comment on the UPND’s performance (Dr. Nevers Mumba, Opposition MMD President)
- Democracy lives on in the young people of Zambia, who harnessed the power of the vote, turning out in record numbers to denounce corruption and chart a new path for their country.( US, President Joe Biden)
- All we hear from UPND Ministers are complaints, we need solutions. Load shedding has increased all over Zambia. We need new team at Zesco.(Trevor Simumba, Economist)
On August 12, 2021, Zambians voted against all vices associated with the PF regime. They voted against violence, arrogance, cadrerism, economic ruin, democratic desecration and all manner of criminality. It has been rather shocking and disingenuous to hear intelligent PF leaders like Mr. Given Lubinda wondering why they lost. He even claimed that they were no signs of wind of change like in 1991 and 2011, when their administration shut down almost all avenues for people to express themselves. People were terrified to express themselves to the extent that the Youths had to demonstrate in the bush! The Opposition, especially the main Opposition leader, Mr. Hakainde Hichilema was prevented from freely campaigning and holding rallies. How did they expect to see the wind of change in such an environment? It is a shocking denial of the reality. The election was swung mostly by “disgruntled” youths and independents who PF ignored to listen to.
This week, on the 2nd December, 2021, it will be exactly 100 days from 24 August, 2021 when President HH was sworn in as the 7th President of the Republic of Zambia. There is, therefore, a need for an objective evaluation of how he has performed. The purpose of the evaluation is simply to give him a feedback on his performance. He should get credit where it is due, while at the same time pointing out his short comings so that he could work on them by making some improvements for the benefit of the country and the people.This is an Op-Ed based on facts..
DEMOCRACY AND CIVIL LIBERTIES
The first important performance indicator for President HH is the status of Zambian democracy, human rights and rule of law. During the ten year rule of the PF, there were numerous complaints of the curtailment of press freedom, reduction in the civil liberties and human rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and the deterioration in the rule of law. The complainants were very diverse. They included the general citizenry, Opposition Parties, the Church mother bodies, Media owners, Western diplomats, Academics and Non-government organisations .The respected “Varieties of Democracy Project” which is based at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden – which is believed by many experts as one of the most trusted sources of information on indicators of democratic progress or regression – reported in its 2020 report that Zambia was one of the fastest eroding democracies in the world. There is no shadow of doubt that President HH has restored some normalcy in the Zambian society in as far as democracy, human rights and rule of law. Freedom of speech and the press have been restored, and even those who did not allow others to express themselves are now able to do so. There is just a general air of freedom and the lack of fear among Zambians today. It is undeniable that the HH’s New Dawn administration has performed well in this area so far.
IMPROVED ECONOMIC PROSPECTS
It is a fact that the Zambian economy was mismanaged in the ten years from 2011 to 2021. Although it is far too early to rate HH‘s economic performance, it is not too early to evaluate the current economic trajectory. Since the HH’s New Dawn administration took over, the economic trajectory for Zambia has been, generally positive, both in intangible and tangible terms. In terms of intangibles, both local and foreign investors’ sentiment and confidence in the Zambian economy has gone up. In terms of a few economic metrics, the exchange rate of the kwacha has improved from a high of K23 to K17/18 to a US dollar. The rate of inflation has dropped from 24.4% to 19.3% in November, 2021.The prices of essential commodities have stabilized, and some have even started dropping. The new administration is also on the verge of clinching a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) within four months of taking over power; when the previous administration failed to do so in 7 years. The deal with the IMF is key to Zambia’s economic recovery because both the Western and Chinese creditors have put it as condition for debt restructuring. Zambia’s foreign debt is so excessive that without the IMF deal, the country will not have much access to international finance, and the economy will be doomed. It is that plain and simple.
The 2022 budget has been hailed as a master stroke. It has been well received by the majority of the public, mainly due to the decentralization policy through the increased Constituency Development Fund (CDF), the creation of the necessary government jobs for teachers of 30,000 and medical personnel of 11,200 respectively, free education, increased allocation to health (8%) and the promotion of the agriculture sector. The budget has generally fulfilled the election promises in agriculture, education, health and promotion of entrepreneurship in order to create jobs.
Since the swearing in of President Hichilema, the country appears to be more at peace with itself than it was before the elections. The tension in the country has drastically reduced. Zambia is slowly becoming more united, and there is relative peace and tranquillity than before. One of the major reasons for this, is the fact that President HH has shocked his critics due to his lack of vindictiveness towards his political rivals. The President’s cabinet appointments have also won him accolades from independent people as it has generally been tribally balanced unlike in the recent past of the Patriotic Front.
President HH’s belief in reporting to Zambians through regular direct communication using various media, is a breath of fresh air. He realises that he is accountable to the Zambian people. Whereas President Lungu neither held press any conferences, nor gave interviews to both local media or international media like CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and others in his seven years, and he rarely addressed the nation – even when the nation was in a crisis like during the gassing episode and the burning of markets -HH has been different. He has held a press conference already. He has also hosted an unprecedented two hour phone in radio programme. He regularly communicates with the public through the social media, with content written by himself, and not others.
There are other small positives or achievements that President Hakainde has scored like being prudent in the use of public resources and not being too wasteful, making many merit appointments to public office, the improvement of Zambia’s international image whereby the country is now more respected than before. Under the PF, the country was receiving bad publicity due to the deterioration in democracy and human rights, the collapsing economy which resulted in being the only African country to default on its debt post Covid-19, and Zambia’s lop sided relationship with China with cynics labelling Zambia as China’s poster child in Africa or Zambians calling it “ Chimbia”.
FAILURES AND WEAKNESSES OF THE HH ADMNISTRATION
Although President HH has scored a number of successes in the first 100 days, he has also recorded a number of failures mainly due to the high expectations that he set for the Zambian people. One of the President’s glaring failures according to many analysts is that the President has been indecisive and slow in making decisions. This has been attributed to HH’s lack of experience in State craft and his alleged stubbornness and unwillingness to consult and learn from those who have the experience in public office and know better how government operates.
The lack of government experience and skills required in politics, such as consultation and compromise, have exposed HH’s in adequacy to manage a mammoth and complex bureaucracy like government. This has clearly been demonstrated by his hesitancy and slow decision making process.
“But if you do not have the experience and you are not willing to learn because you knew it all, such is where we stand as a country today and I am certain more shock waves are still on the way.” Winter Kabimba the former Justice Minister said referring to State House Public announcement of the appointment of the Director General of Intelligence and his Deputy as a security risk.
There is also a current public perception that President HH’s management style is one that is highly centralized. It appears that everything revolves around him under the mantra “Barry will fix it”. President HH appears to want to control everything – he is accused of being a control freak. He appears to do very limited consultation and delegation. Most critics believe that the claim by him of being methodical is just an excuse for being overwhelmed by the complexity of the government machinery, which he is wrongly try to run like a corporation.
The other failure has been the noticeable increase in both petty and violent crime under President Hakainde’s watch in the first 100 days. The Police service have acknowledged this fact. The former Lusaka Province Minister and senior member of the ruling UPND Party, Obvious Mwaliteta and Opposition Leader Chishala Kateka have both appealed to Government to take decisive action before this gets out of control. PF armed its cadres with guns. The speculation is that PF cadres have no source of income since their Party lost power. They have no deals, no contracts and no illegal income from markets and bus stops and so it is being alleged that it is them who are the main source of the escalating crime and armed robberies.
Another major failure of the New Dawn government in the first 100 days is its lack of sensitivity to Gender balance unlike the Patriotic Front. President HH has appointed very few women to positions of responsibility. Numbers do not lie. The analysis of the composition of Cabinet Ministers, Provincial Ministers, District Commissioners, and Permanent Secretaries clearly show that the new administration has done very badly with Gender balance.
President HH raised so much expectations with regard to the fight against corruption, especially that corruption in the Lungu administration was alleged to be of Olympic standards and very conspicuous. He promised the establishment of fast track courts which excited many Zambians but the President does even talk about it. There are many who believe that the fight has been slow. This has even emboldened the alleged corrupt officials to challenge the administration to investigate or carry out forensic audits on them, as it seems like they have already covered their tracks in the three months. It is being argued that in its corruption fight, the New Dawn administration will be closing the stable after the horse has bolted. They will simply not find the evidence.
YOUTH JOB CREATION ROADMAP NON-EXISTENT
One of the major failures of the New Dawn government in the first 100 days is its failure to address the Youth unemployment problem by communicating its roadmap to job creation given that the Youth put them in power. The minimum that the Youth expected was, to be given hope by an announcement of a clear, practical and differentiated Youth employment creation strategy. But when the President was asked about job creation, his answer was he needed to fix the economy first, because jobs do not grow on rocks. The statement clearly showed that the President had no short term solution to job creation. The lack of youth unemployment strategy; which most experts believe could be rolled out in parallel to “fixing the economy”, is frustrating the youth. The minimum the President should do now is to challenge the new Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises together with the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Art, to come up with practical innovative short to medium job creation strategies. President Hakainde needs to change his mind-set of thinking it is him alone who has solutions to Zambia’s problems. It is his government machinery and the Citizens of Zambia including the private sector.
Another weakness and failure of the President, is his bad time keeping. It is very apparent from the beginning that President HH is a bad time keeper and does not seem to be very conscious of time, and is never in a hurry to do things, even those that are urgent. If he continues on this trajectory, he will soon find that he is in 2026 and due for re-election, and most of his programs will still be work in progress. He is well advised to consider learning the US 34th President Dwight Eisenhower time management matrix – the Eisenhower Matrix.
Although the budget was generally hailed as good, there is a substantial section of the Zambian community who were not happy about the Mining Royalty tax being made tax deductible especially that government was to remove fuel and electricity subsidies for Zambians. The Mines have effectively been relieved from paying income tax while Zambians will be required to pay more for fuel and power. This is certainly a failure of the first 100 days. There are many critics of Finance Minister Dr. Musokotwane who believe that he is too cosy to the West and the Mining houses for some unknown reasons. This is because he is the same person who removed Windfall tax in 2009, which the late President Mwanawasa fought bravely to impose on the mines for Zambia’s benefit and the Mines complied.
The New dawn administration’s 100 days has been a mixed bag, as demonstrated in this article. President Hakainde Hichilema has not utilized his political capital efficiently and effectively in the first 100 days due to his inexperience in public office. He has tried to run the country as a Corporation which is a grave mistake. And if he continues on this trajectory, he is destined to fail because running a government is more complex than running even the biggest and a trillion Dollar Corporation. There are just too many moving parts in running a government and so there is need for more delegation. In the over 200 years of USA history, only six presidents have been recorded as failures; with five of them being one term Presidents, including Donald Trump recently. Guess what, all of them were business people. President HH needs to learn quickly the principles or skills required in public office. And if he is not careful, he may be like Trump or the other failed businessmen US Presidents, who ended up as one term Presidents.
In the coming days and weeks, President HH is advised to prioritise the following: provide an innovative roadmap for youth job creation, delegate more and challenge ministers to perform by implementing the UPND manifesto through innovative programs, announce fast track corruption courts and amnesty guidelines, state the way forward for KCM and Mopani Copper Mines, accelerate payment of arrears to Zambian suppliers by issuing a government bond ,enforce the 20% sub contracting by foreign contractors to create jobs, address the issue of escalating crime, and review the government communication strategy and messaging, which is all over the place at the moment.
In conclusion, my overall verdict of President HH’s 100 days in office is that he has done fairly well, and so I will award him 7 out 10. Admittedly, this mark is due to the fact that we are coming from a very low base. Zambia had really sunk to its lowest level since independence in so many key areas: collapsed economy, divided country on tribal lines, democracy in peril, collapsed rule of law, compromised institutions like Police, Judiciary, Electoral Commission of Zambia etc and the destruction of Zambians’ human and civil liberties. And so any alternative to the PF rule was going to be better for many independents unless one was a grateful beneficiary of the old system.