By Sean Tembo – PeP President
1. Over the past couple of decades, management gurus have tried to distinguish between a leader and a manager. But l see the distinction as pure semantics. I mean, how can you manage the people if you can’t lead them? Similarly, how can you lead the people if you can’t manage them? Others try to argue that leading is strategic whereas managing is operational, but l see it as splitting hairs.
2. Anyway, it has been almost 9 months now since the new dawn ascended to power arising from the 12th August 2021 general elections, amidst much pomp and fare. To say that President Hakainde Hichilema’s momentum for reforms has stalled like the Russian invasion of Ukraine, would be an underestimation. The education grant is released on television and yet on the ground, there is no money. CDF is released on TV and yet on the ground, there is nothing. Political cadres are said to be eradicated on television and yet in the markets and bus stations across the country, they are thriving collecting illegal taxes. The much talked about IMF loan is said to be on the way, and yet it is nowhere to be seen. The rule of law is said to have been restored and yet the President calls press conferences to discuss cases which are activated before the courts and convicts the accused even before the trial begins. His legal advisers cut deals with the allegedly corrupt and then make a u-turn thereby losing credibility in the eyes of the Zambian people. Key production inputs such as fuel and electricity are increased at unprecedented rates thereby driving the cost of living through the roof, and yet the Zambian people voted them into office on the ticket or a lower cost of living.
3. The natural question which arises is why Hakainde Hichilema’s presidency is unravelling at such a fast pace? Everything seems to crumble. Even the general mood of the people out there in the streets is extremely negative, especially given the fact that HH won the last election with such a huge landslide. There is no debate that every presidency eventually unravels and runs afoul to the expectations of the people, but it is supposed to take time before people get fatigued. But in the case of President Hichilema however, it has barely been a year. So again the question is why?
4. Different people will attribute President Hichilema’s fast-dwindling political fortunes to different factors. Others say it is because he over-promised during his campaigns and is now failing to keep his promises. Others say it is because he decided to lean toward the western powers at the expense of China, which has been a major driver of Zambia’s economy in the past few decades. Others say it is because he was not ready to govern and was instead prepared for an election petition. Others say he accumulated a huge amount of liabilities from the people that funded his prolonged stay in opposition and that now he needs to prioritize paying them back before he can think of delivering anything to the Zambian people. Yet still, others say he is not as brilliant a leader as he falsely portrayed himself during his days in opposition.
5. I think all the above factors have contributed to President Hichilema’s dismal performance in the past 9 months, but still cannot explain why he is missing the goal by so wide a margin. On the contrary, l think the President’s biggest undoing is the team that he chose to surround himself with. The travesty of life is that those who have the brawl usually don’t have the brains, and those who have the brains usually don’t have the brawl. Loosely translated in the context of opposition politics, this means that those who have the courage to stand with you throughout your trials and tribulations as an opposition leader will rarely have the brains necessary to constitute your mission-critical team that is needed if you are going to deliver to the expectations of the people, once you ascend to power.
6. But of course morality demands that you repay the debt to those who stood by you when no one else could. And l believe that it is this moral burden that compelled President Hichilema to surround himself with nincompoops, all in the name of repaying their debt of loyalty. These nincompoops shape the President’s policy and approach to the economy, governance, politics, etcetera, despite the fact that the majority lack any ounce of competence in them, let alone statecraft. For instance, the President ended up with a political advisor who speaks about squeezing a political opponent on an unsecured line and even refers to and implicates the President and his Vice by name. Surely, what kind of sound political advice can such a novice offer the President?
7. The President’s legal team is another total disaster, starting from the Minister of Justice all the way to the Attorney General, Solicitor General and legal advisor. The majority of these people were personal lawyers to the President and ate off his palm. What sound objective advice can such a team give to the President apart from tilted opinions and shallow schemes that will make the President happy. Lately they decided to soak the President in the Milingo sewer, leaving him very smelly. And the President cannot see all this because he is blinded by past glory of a dream team of lawyers that managed to keep him out of prison. But is that the team that he really needs if he is going to successfully deliver on his presidency?
8. The President’s economic team is another disaster. But on this front, unlike the legal front, it is a well documented fact that the current shambolic economic policies are the President’s idea and not that of his economic team. Therefore, his economic team is only guilty of failing to advise the President against his grandiose ideas of how to turn around the Zambian economy. For instance, the President has been fixated on an IMF bailout loan as the key to turning around the Zambian economy for almost half a decade now, since the days of the Opposition Alliance when l used to interact with him. Firstly he used to argue that the almost zero-interest IMF loan money will be used to replace the expensive commercial debt that the country has, such as the Eurobond. Then when we told him that such refinancing is not possible due to IMF guidelines, he changed his argument and started saying that getting an IMF bailout loan will give confidence to our creditors that we are fiscally disciplined and therefore make the creditors develop an appetite to restructure our loans.
But of late, however, the President has changed his argument and is now saying that the creditors need to agree to restructure our debt before the IMF can give us a bailout loan. Clearly, President Hichilema is fixated on an IMF bailout loan, despite the hardship that IMF conditionalities will bring on the masses such as the removal of subsidies on fuel and electricity, despite the fact that our major export earner; copper is selling at record high prices on the world market, despite all the available evidence that we do not need an IMF bailout loan. And of course, his economic team is unable to advise their all-knowing boss. Much to the detriment of the Zambian people. What a wasted presidency indeed.