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zed decides blog

So much has happened in the last month that it’s almost hard to believe it all happened! Our fifth President, Michael Sata died, and an election date to choose our new president has been set for end of January (you can tell I’ve forgotten the exact date). In between that we had the widely debated issue about having a white acting-president (it was never a problem when he was considered to be Sata’s chola boy i.e. errand boy, but became a massive issue when ‘Zambia returned to colonisation’! – I won’t get people worked up about that phrase again), and now we’re dealing with a fight for power in both PF and MMD. Oh and who could forget the ‘opportunistic’ title given to Dr Kaseba for not mourning her husband when she decided to join the race for the seat of power. (personally i see lots of opportunist, don’t know why they reserved it for her)

It’s all too much like Zambia’s very own Game of Thrones.

I’ve given up trying to keep up with who is suspending who, or who is supporting who, or who isn’t in the cartel, and who is, and other distracting issues. Though occasionally I get amused to see Miles Sampa’s political adverts on TV like he has already won the PF candidacy. But otherwise I’ve stopped trying to read the nonsense in the papers or the reports on ZNBC and yearn for someone in mainstream media to start asking the hard questions that we need answers to ahead of the 2015 by-elections. Side-bar, is MMD isn’t still a contender now that they’ve brought back RB? Is that even confirmed or it’s still wait and see? I have no issue against RB as a person, but there’s a lot of questions I’d ask about what it means to have him back in power – some I won’t ask on here right now.

I’m not a politician, I’m not an economist, I’m really not any sort of analytical professional actually, but I am very passionate about Zambia. So I read with horror some of the ‘campaign’ promises of the presidential aspirants, reminding me of the PF 90 day promises, can we really be hoodwinked again?

I understand the dilemma of being a politician – you want to win, by any means necessary (ok maybe they’ll draw the line at downright illegal behaviour… ehem), so a little lie here and there won’t hurt, after all it worked for PF. But at some point, as the public can’t we also say ‘hold on, exactly how do you plan on doing this?’

Both HH and Elias Chipimo Jnr have said they will lift the public servant wage freeze. More than 50% of our budget goes to salaries, in no way does this make sense, or can be sustainable. I can’t imagine spending that much of my operating budget (as a business) on wages. I’m not an expert but it doesn’t make sense to me, so how can it make sense to HH and Elias who have both run successful and profitable businesses. To life the wage freeze means that another area needs to pay for it – will that be health, education? We can slash the defense budget I suppose – since we’re such a peaceful nation.

Education, as HH promises, will be free up to tertiary level, again, where is the money to pay for this? And why up to tertiary level? We need to invest more in our early grade years, where kids learn literacy, reading and numeracy – key skills needed for development and to compete. We need to train better teachers and focus our energies there.

Reduce tax. As a tax payer nothing more would make me happy! As a concerned citizen, I question where government will get it’s income to pay for all the great free services and public servant wages if not through tax revenue. There is already so few people in the formal sector paying taxes to support the masses – but who would ever dare to suggest a way to tax the informal sector?! The voting populace.

So they are great for campaign messages, but please show me how to make it a reality (and please don’t suggest it will be paid for by all the taxes you’ll get the mine to pay – oh yeah, is any aspirant singing that song?)

Can we have campaign promises that can actually be delivered on? Job creation needs to happen but can realistically only come from the private sector. Where is the campaign promises to help develop businesses more? And I’m not talking about reducing the cost of doing business here (thank you HH, that promise I’m all for, especially if it’ll help the indigenous Zambian and not just the foreign investors as it usually does), but about ensuring that business grow and become sustainable, and that we can encourage people to really be serious about agriculture and mining and help them do that. I’d restructure a whole section of ZDA to be consultants that work with business to build them up – can’t do all, but find promising ones and take them to scale. I’d make the Business Partners International model available to more people – on top of the financing they give you they add 30% more for you to get available training to build your capacity – they want to ensure they get their money back and that means not making your fail!

While we’re at it, ensure that the public servants also have the capacity to do their job – efficiency across all levels. Maybe then they can justify their 50% of our budget (they can’t but at least if they were capable I’d feel more sympathy for them).

Maybe we can have trade-offs. Create understanding that if we keep the wage freeze then we can have more drugs available in hospitals? More clean water in compounds. Whatever we could achieve by government being more fiscally responsible, otherwise won’t we just get into more debt?

But none of this can be done overnight. Which brings me to my next question, why is the opposition even participating in the 2015 elections?

Three years of the PF being in power, how many of the 90 day promises fell by the wayside? So what more an opposition government that has a year to show results before the next election?

Aren’t they spending a lot of money campaigning right now? They should be focussed on 2016 – in my humble opinion – and leverage all their resources for that, because this by-election is considered a term is it not? So if they win, they’ll only have an opportunity to drive development for 6 years as opposed to 10.

And now to address an even more sensitive issue that concerns me about our politicians. All the signs were there that MCS was not going to survive his term – sorry to say it, but it’s true, we all thought it but due to our strange relationship with death (if I suggest to a terminally ill person to have a will, I’m wishing them death… *rolls eyes*), no one said it. For this reason it probably was the right thing to do – keep publicly quiet about it – but behind closed doors you hadn’t thought through a campaign strategy in the off-chance this was going to happen? Or are they just messing with us?

I’m very concerned about choosing a leader who can’t plan ahead. Zambia’s development challenges are not about today, they’re about where the country will be in 5 years, in 10 years. Where are the strategic plans that outline the vision for the future from each of these presidential aspirants?

The time for pipe dreams should be over. But then again, the educated, or middle class, or intelligent ones (not necessarily one and the same person) are in the minority when it comes to the vote that decides the presidency. It shouldn’t stop us from helping our brothers and sisters to ask questions that will help them make the best decision for this country – because that’s what we need, the best decision for the country, not for the individual.

Since working on our 64WD project, I’ve read up a lot about getting the country to independence and it struck me that those people, the first lot (before they got corrupted), did what they did for the people of Zambia, they understood the government worked for the people, not the other way round. Right now, we have a government that acts with impunity. People need to take their rights back and understand the power of their vote.

I can’t vote in this by-election (thanks to the continuous by-elections that meant no new voters could be added to the electoral roll), but that won’t stop me for using my voice to participate in the election, by addressing issues that I care about, that I hope other Zambians will care about it.

I have been at a lost of what to blog about, it’s hard to blog about anything when you’re happy – I’m one of those writers. And for obvious reasons I can’t exactly write about what I’m working on so….

But if you recall in one of my previous blogs I commented on how there seems to be an weird vibe of fear to speak out against the new government and everyone wants to look to be supporting the government, so when I read this blog, I thought, wow, how timely, how relevant. So wanted to share it with you all. The original post can be found at http://www.cliveshamwana.blogspot.com

Fear from the Maddening Crowd

From a very early age I remember being told by mum, never to repeat anything I heard at home to anyone outside the family, because careless talk got you into trouble. Everyone was at pains to avoid giving any kind of political opinion openly, but when you forgot yourself and started to say something ‘controversial’ in public, a good friend would say “Ssh, Bwembya is behind you, he’s a Government informant”. It was commonplace for dad to come home in the evening and over dinner recount a story of how he was called to this Police station or that Prison, to represent a client who had been ‘ picked up ‘ because the opinions he expressed were contrary to those of the party. Whispering in dark corners and big ears straining to overhear conversations, became a part of daily life. ‘Shush, Shush, Shush’ was such a part of everyday speech, that the State Intelligence Services and informants in general became known as ‘ShuShuShu’. The joke became that if you wanted to get a message to KK, you didn’t bother writing a letter to State House, you just spent a couple hours at Lusaka golf club and said your peace. There were enough ‘friends’ and straining ears around eager to report any interesting conversations to State House, hoping to curry favour with KK.

The Mulungushi Reforms and the Matero Declaration was a watershed, after which the State controlled 80% of Zambia’s economy. This meant that ones ability to obtain jobs and promotions depended less and less on merit and more and more on ones blind commitment to the party. With every passing day, the oppressive control by Government began permeating every aspect of the daily lives of Zambians. It soon became necessary to produce your party membership card, your National registration card or your voters card before being allowed access to markets, to board buses or to jump onto trains. My dad remembers that in the colonial days they were required to carry their Chitupa’s (Identification Books), and that they took great pleasure in burning them whenever they could. They burned at the stake of the colonial pyre. How quickly those days were forgotten as, ‘The Party and its Government’ took total control of Zambia, demanding obedience from its citizens. Zambians were left in no doubt that their freedoms and their livelihoods depended on their loyalty to the party. This was just part of KK’s insatiable demand to make everyone become uncompromisingly committed to His objectives. It is no wonder then that as many as one in five Zambians were either directly employed by State Intelligence or they were informers for State Intelligence.

Governments are always looking for someone to blame for their failures and for KK, the One-Party State and State or emergency provided the perfect vehicle with which to bring those that were considered enemies of the state to book. The sky rocketing food prices and resulting riots had to be blamed on someone. Corrruption and bribery was on the increase, and something tangible had to be done to appease the people, who were becoming ever more disenchanted with their lot. Clearly the millers, among others, were all greedy entrepreneurs that had to be investigated. The fact that the Government had removed food subsidies was irrelevant, they took the view that private enterprise should be ‘good Comrades’ and should absorb the additional cost of production themselves, all for the good of the Nation!

In his diaries, my dad recounts a press conference on the 20th February 1988, during which President Kaunda made serious charges of corruption against senior figures, including parastatal chiefs, whom he accused of among other things of aiding and abetting the black marketeers. In what was seen as a serious crackdown on rampant corruption, President Kaunda dismissed four parastatal chiefs ‘ In the national interest ‘, he suspended eleven others, and a further twenty were under investigation. In addition, the Special Investigations Team on Economy and Trade, SITET, was charged with the task of seizing all businesses accused of dealings in the black market. On the first day alone, following these pronouncements, sixty-six businesses were seized and their owners declared Enemies of the State. The President gave instructions that the businesses and all their assets must be seized, that the individuals themselves should have their property confiscated, and that they should be summarily detained if they were Zambians and deported if they were aliens. Police and paramilitary were detailed to guard these business premises while a search was done for cash and hoarded goods. This was all against the background of an earlier scandal at the Central Bank, in which the Deputy Governor among others were accused of various irregularities. They were dismissed and investigations ordered, but ultimately the public was none the wiser and no satisfactory solution resulted. Yes corruption was rife and controls had to be put in place to manage this. SITET had a role to play and indeed had many successes, but in the end it simply became yet another political tool to use against those seen as anti-Government.

What did we really expect? Did we really think that there could be any creativity, freedom of thought and positive exchange of ideas in an atmosphere is distrust, fear and overbearing State control. Party loyalty and not merit were the deciding factors when appointments were being handed out by KK. The solution of appointing preferred government figures, who had no skills to do the jobs they were being asked to do, could only have one result, failure. The appointees were all too aware that Kaunda would replace them without notice, if he decided that their loyalty was waning. So what did many of these parastatal chiefs do in this atmosphere of fear and recrimination? Of course, they made hay whilst the sun was still shining. Inevitably the parastatals ran inefficiently at best, and the substantial business empires that were confiscated from private hands collapsed, and the resulting loss of jobs and revenue was a National disaster.

Press Conferences have become events to be feared by those already in high flying government positions and events to look forward to by those hopeful of an appointment into the higher echelons of power. It is amusing to think that one of the first purchases made by top government officials and parastatal chiefs when they took office, was that of a radio, to be kept in the office in readiness for the dreaded press conference. Dad used to say that even in the prisons, detainees, political prisoners and those on death row were huddled around a radio when there was a press conference, hoping for a pardon or for their sentences to be commuted. It seems times have not changed that much in this regard. Press Conferences today are as much soap operas as they were in KK’s day, and as compelling listening as many of the popular TV soap operas and probably draw more listeners and viewers. I wonder what effect this has on business productivity during these pronouncements, after all life seems to come to a halt as all ears and eyes are glued to TV sets and radios up and down the country.

Are we witnessing the dawn of a new era, or is it just Deja vu?

Ssh…….Don’t Kubeba.