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There is something that I like about politics – not the dirty, power-hungry, corrupt side of it, but the side where change really happens. Decisions that affect people’s lives are made every day and the back doors of power operate in ways that we can only imagine.
Zambia has its third party in power since we gain independence way back in 1964. After 20 years in power, the MMD passed the mantle on to the Patriotic Front. Some people jumped for joy, others held their breath in fear, and others still, said ‘we’ll see’.
I have to admit I was one of them holding my breath in fear. I thought that while PF had great ideas that the people wanted to see, there wasn’t really a realistic plan or way that I could see how this could be done and what that would mean for the development that the country was enjoying. Would his leadership take us forward or set us back? Was he playing to the crowd or truly believed what he was selling? And I’m not by any means an expert when it comes to politics or running a country, it’s just an interest of mine and some of the people I know. I enjoyed the conversations leading up to the elections when we would discuss politics and what the various parties were bringing to the table. There was definitely a party that stood out for most, but everyone said, not yet, his time will come in 2016. So it was left to debate the two biggest parties, and its fiercest rivals.
Coming from a family where the head has been involved in politics since pre-independence means that we have quite a lot of conversations around politics, as my dad gets older he discusses more, telling us of how the machines of power works behind closed doors. But what I get from him is how little of how politics works and what the constitution says that people know.
In the last few days that PF have been in power and President Sata has been in office, there have been some astounding decisions made, that for me seem worrying, and now I can fully understand why there is need to change the constitution. A president that is supposed to work for the people should never have absolute power.
People, especially the die hard PF supporters, are quick to brush off these concerns, saying that the ultimate decisions are good so what’s the problem. This used to be my belief too, I was all about the machiavellian principle of the end justifies the means, but now that I see this being done by the person who is leading my country, I’m not so sure.
And what are going to be the consequences of these decisions? To reverse the sale of a bank, to start investigating the sale of our telecommunications company – which by the way is working a lot better than it ever did when government owned it. How will this affect foreign investment? As much as I’d love Zambia to own its own companies, and its economy, the reality is that for us to develop, we do need foreign investors. Those investors should come in on our terms but we can’t scare them off just yet!
I think it’s great that the government wants to do as the people want, but appeasing people now should not be done at the expense of development in 5-10 years time. Same with this MMD/Rupiah Banda witch hunt, to what purpose? When I think about it, corruption that may have been happening in those upper echelons might have meant that we were less likely to find drugs in the hospitals, but so what, there weren’t drugs in there before RB’s government anyway! The corruption that affects me is of the police officers at roadblocks who use intimidation and fear to get you to pay them a bribe, or to get a job that you should be able to get on your own merit you have to pay someone a kick-back, that our processes are rife with inefficiencies that you pay someone to make whatever you need happen. Those are the areas that I want to see addressed. You get rid of the man at the top – i.e. the Inspector General – but no organisational-wide investigation or restructure, so what? And then you dissolve our Energy Regulation Board, and put together a commission to investigate it and its corruption and put someone on said commission who has ties to an oil company? hmmm ok.
And all of this is done before you’ve even had your cabinent or parliament sit and advise you? So why bother have a cabinent or parliament if you’re going to do whatever you want anyway?
I would answer those questions, but I have to admit that I have seen that there seems to be a vibe that suggests that people are scared to ask, let alone answer those questions. But that also begs me to ask, but why? This is the party the masses so desperately wanted, yet no one is asking the hard questions, they are probably talking about them amongst themselves but I haven’t seen any of these questions asked in the media. Not that our media is anything to go by really, nothing is particularly objective.
Anyway, I don’t want to be the negative one in all of this, I am being cautiously optimistic, but at the end of the day, if the country is being run by a bunch of septuagenarians who served not only in the previous government but the one from independence, how much change can we really expect?
Though I kind of went off topic, I really wanted to focus on how stimulating and refreshing our after dinner talks are with my father as he shares his political wisdom and views with us. And also some of the history of the country, history you can’t find in books anywhere. I’m inspired by my friend for sharing his blog on a part of our history that many younger kids don’t even know about, from the perspective of the impact on his life when his dad was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the attempted coup. I worry that if we don’t start capturing this history it will be lost, and while my dad won’t write a book (problem with being in intelligence and serving so closely to a president I guess), I do want to start recording these talks so that one day, we can share them and keep our history alive. The independence boys – the septuagenarians – are soon not going to be here to share this, and when they go, who will share our independence and rich history with the generations to come?
I don’t think that anyone can ever doubt that I was ever a PF supporter, Michael Sata as a president didn’t really speak to me, and less so when I found out that he wanted to build underground trains (in a country with a questionable road network). It’s not personal, in fact Joel Sata, his son, is someone I’ve known for a long time and who I thought of as a friend.
The last two days have been really tense, marked with some violence, as the election results had been trickling through. Sata was in the lead from the start, but people remembered all too well this same lead from 2008, when things drastically changed to give MMD a win. But not this time. Sata remained in the lead until the early hours of yesterday morning when he was declared the winner by more than 200,000 lead over incumbent MMD president Rupiah Banda.
Today, well actually since about 1am, there has been celebrations on the street, with people hooting and honking their car horns, waving flags, dancing in the streets and joyous shouts. It really looked like a country that had just been liberated.
I’m still not sure about PF as a party or President Sata to really take this country forward and develop the nation in a way that benefits all the people, but I’m willing to give him a chance – though the next 90 days will be crucial for him as he did campaign that change would happen in 90 days.
Change. That was what this election boiled down to. People wanted change. However, despite there being 10 presidential candidates, the fight for the presidential crown was fought between two candidates – PF’s Michael Sata and MMD’s Rupiah Banda. But what exactly was the change that people wanted? I asked a few PF supporters and all they could say to answer my question was change.
Turns out that they (and I’m being specific about the ones I spoke to, not all PF supporters) were more concerned with getting MMD out at all costs, and that was change. Not necessarily better education, better healthcare, increase employment opportunities, decreased tax and other issues that elections should be concerned with. In fact when further pressed it turned out that they hadn’t even read PF’s manifesto, so not even sure they know what they’re getting themselves into.
To be fair, I haven’t read PF’s manifesto, so it could be really great. I did hear – and I must verify it – that they want to build underground trains, I know I keep going on about this, but it really does bother me that that should be in a party’s manifesto with only one five-year term to prove themselves!
But three things in this election have really stood out for me that I’m really proud of:
1) The amazing amount of people that turned out to vote. We had 80% of all eligible voters registered to vote, making it around 5 million people that were registered to vote (there are about a total of 6.5million eligible voters in Zambia). Unfortunately, it ended up being only about 35 or 40% of those that actually voted. But still a huge number compared to previous years – let’s not forget RB came in to power with over 800,000 votes. Sata received over 1.5million votes! And that only represents 43% of the votes cast, counted and verified. (later found out that actually more people came out to vote in 2006 then in this year, despite increased registration of eligible voters)
2) The new comer, Elias Chipimo and his NAREP party, first time in the race came in 5th among all the 10 contenders. Huge feat for someone so young and relatively unknown.
3) RB conceded defeat and even showed up for President Sata’s inauguration. This is a marked change from many other leaders in Africa, look at our neighbours in Zimbabwe, and more recently what happened in Cote D’voire. It really showed RB’s leadership qualities – despite the many faults he’s had in office, as well as how democracy can work in Africa (ok I have my reservations on that one, maybe I should qualify a type of democracy!)
So I might not be on the streets dancing with jubilation, and I still stand by the fact that President Sata is yet again in power with the minority vote (not sure why people can’t see that actually more people voted against him than for him, so we should not be saying the masses have spoken – maybe the organised masses!), but he is in power and we want our country to develop so it’s for all of us to step up and hold him accountable. And he too shall be judged in five years, so he needs to make these next five years count!
But since peace in the country is back (not that it was really gone, but it was on the edge), that’s really the most important thing.