Fahamu (Oxford)

Zambia in Free Fall Under the Wand of Michael Sata

opinion

The economy of Zambia is in bad shape under the helm of President Michael Sata. Sata's liability is not in the fact that he is too old, or some of his ministers are ancient, his deficiency is in the fact that he lacks an economic vision for the country

The Zambian currency, the Kwacha, has now been ranked the worst performing currency in Africa already in 2014. This is not a palatable diagnosis and I am at odds to reconcile what I am stating with what is going on in my mind. In 2011, I published a book, 'Zambia - Struggles of My People.' And in this book, I have rather presciently predicted that Zambia is inherently democratic, but also offered a caveat that, no matter how well-intended, democracies are political creatures. At the moment the political animal driving the cruise known as Zambia on an African ocean is Michael Sata and his Patriotic Party (PF).

In a small sequel I wrote titled, 'King Cobra Has Struck: My Letter to President Michael C. Sata,' I analyzed the meteoric rise of the incumbent and offered nuggets that would institute democracy in Zambia as well as creating conditions that would both reduce poverty and grow the economy. In both books, the issue of performance vis-à-vis reduction and ending of poverty in Zambia are rife. This is not accidental; the die had been cast, Zambia's elephant in the room has always been the preservation of the young democracy while driving the economy towards growth and sustainability. Any president of Zambia, at any time, will be evaluated based on these two.

At the economic front, fiscal and monetary policies of this government continue to slide the country down into doldrums. Some have even suggested that the current Finance Minister and his Bank Governor are too ancient to manage the country's economy in the current dispensation of fast-paced communication and technological effusion. Sata's liability is not, however, in the fact that he is too old or some of his ministers are ancient, his deficiency is in the fact that he lacks an economic vision for the country. Under Sata's regime, it is as if things are left to outwork themselves. And worse still, where controls are imposed (which itself is an oxymoron as modern economic trajectory are tilted more towards free-market economics than to commandist purviews to which Sata's impressions seem to be moving) the currency has fallen beyond acceptable limits. As similarly-situated commentators and authors like me have noted, the success or failure of a president cannot be measured within the three years of the mandate. For the PF, however, it can be construed as if they are failing already. This is because, despite the accusations labelled against the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), the party the PF defeated in the 2011 elections, the PF has not done anything differently, nor has it helped to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots. If anything, poverty and disillusionment have exacerbated under its regime.

For Africa, and Zambia in particular, economic indicators need not be consistent with the IMF or World Bank's or the so-called cartel or an oligopoly of powerful international banks, all they need is informed and intelligent management. For one, all the nations of the world subscribe in principle to indicators of exchange rates determined by market forces. For another, exchange rates in Zambia, for example, cannot be said not to be determined by the banking system through their interbank lending arrangements. Most post-colonial economies are apron-tied to their former colonial masters. However, it cannot be entirely true that meaningful Zambian banks participation is an antidote to Zambia's economic and currency malaise. It is simply a minor factor. It may serve as a long-term cure, but not as a dependable fixture for current, and previous, economic and poverty embarrassments.

When Zambian politicians have run out of ideas, and for the most part, they have never won elections premised on new and progressive ideas but on character assassinations and blame-blending, they have glorified the failures of the previous administrations. The United National Independence Party (UNIP) blamed the colonial regime for over twenty years; MMD blamed UNIP for a substantial period of its mandate; and now the PF continues to peg its mounds of failure on the MMD. Meanwhile, as this blame-game is ongoing, the masses, the poor continue to wallow into abject poverty and social indicators continue to deteriorate. It is a policy of political management that incumbents inherit their predecessors' state of the economy, but not dwell on it for too long. But without an economic vision, as is the case with the PF government, Zambia will wake up worse economically speaking than it was under the MMD. It does not matter if the PF succeeds, that is presumed. It matters if they fail, as they are currently failing, because it is an abrogation of a social contract and a denial of the people's economic right. People have a right to dignity and economic prosperity. Poverty is the worst aspect of shame a people can endure; it is even more dangerous than HIV/AIDS or cancer. Sata and his economic managers have no economic vision; annual budgets are not the same as a national economic vision.

At the political front DEMOCRACY is waning in Zambia. It is worrisome that Sata's PF is willing to play the undemocratic tricks of the Second Republic. One would think that Cicero's philosophical conception of alter-ego or a second self, a trusted friend, of Kenneth Kaunda's style of government is emerging yet again in Zambia. And this is a grave mistake for which generations to come will have to pay for heavily. The Second Republic imputed upon Zambia a One-Party State in which UNIP was Kaunda's conveyor belt for his whims and caprices. Where opposition is wiped out or weakened, the ruling party remains a dominant dog, able to unilaterally and arbitrarily dictate its wishes upon the governed. Where opposition leaders are arrested, youth meetings are banned, political rallies are blocked by riot police, and where there are persistent allegations of judicial interference and ministerial corruption, and coupled with smear campaigns in government media and threats and lawsuits against journalists and key politicians, it does not take rocket science to understand that Zambia is at the brink of a democratic demise.

Just what has happened to the Rule of Law under the PF? No-one should quibble over internal government reshuffles drummed up by the incumbent. Masebo, Sebastian Zulu, Given Lubinda, Effron Lungu, and Geoffrey Mwamba, may just be numbers in the latest shuffle drama, but what change do these reshuffles bring. In Canada recently, Jim Flaherty, a Conservative MP and former Minister of Finance resigned and had been in that position since Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed him in 2006. He is considered one of the very best, navigating the 2008 global melt down with impeccable proficiency. He had to resign, because the West, as a good tradition, has learned to protect those who serve them well. In Zambia, incumbents seem to shuffle their Ministers as a game, a poor and uncalculated game for that matter. Frequency in shuffles of government show two things: lack of good judgment in the appointing authority; and the nature and type of people who surround the incumbent. And that has always been the African Achilles' heel; the fact that appointees are stalwarts, not people who are competent and skilled. And even where the incumbent were to cross party-lines, it has always been to weaken the opposition or to bring internal divisions therein. What this has managed to achieve is a fragmented opposition and a buoying ruling party with a free-riding to decide whatever it deems right without popular consensus.

It is not archaism where we falter, Africa, it is in developmental models, in ingenious and sophisticated mindsets able to navigate the complexities of modern trade, ecommerce, technology and intelligent national leadership. Where we return the likes of Southern Province Patriotic Front chairman Daniel Munkombwe, and insist that the concepts and ideas that worked in the 1970s and 1980s are relevant today, we castrate developmental sanity and crucify innovation and eclecticism which are able to answer to modern and complicated challenges.

Fortunately for Zambia, it is not possible for anyone in power to perpetuate undemocratic tendencies for long. Zambia, historically, has never lacked in changing its leaders via a ballot. What Zambia has lacked, however, are the right people to stand for election, especially for the highest office. That search may not be too far-fetched in the near future. Right people are getting positioned, and will be revealed, in future and they will put the house in order. Meanwhile, and if possible, Zambians, especially those in the Diaspora, must consider returning home to effect change. If they don't, expertise and experiences they have acquired which are necessary to the development of the countries in which they have settled will be wasted. President Sata knows this, and that is why he is trying to retract from perfecting the new constitution because it allows for such parameters as 50 plus one and Dual Citizenship. The PF may be attempting to delay the process in order to give them chance of some success in the next elections. Change, however, will be elusive and difficult to attain, even when Michael Sata does not participate in the next election, if credible, visionary and intelligent leaders to be elected to the presidency do not position themselves for election. Unless the current crop of opposition leaders in Zambia become more focused and assertive, I see none of them capable of changing the economic and democratic face of Zambia for good. But whatever Zambia does, whether the opposition continues to be weakened or not, whether all the major media in Zambia align themselves with, and, in fact, become stooges of the PF, or whether there is no sound analytical political minds in Zambia anymore, President Michael Sata should not be given a chance to be a dictator or to rule without the Rule of Law!

Charles Mwewa is author of 'Zambia - Struggles of My People' and lives in Toronto, Canada

 THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM

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