Today’s article is dedicated to addressing a series of new and old questions posed by readers of my weekly political commentaries in this column. I have deliberately chosen to respond publicly rather than privately because the issues they raise are of wider public interest. Below, I capture the question from a reader and attempt to provide a response to it.
“Do you think the UN will recall its Resident Coordinator in Zambia, Janet Rogan?”
I think Rogan has lost legitimacy and will ultimately go to save the reputation of the United Nations (UN) in Zambia. Surely the UN cannot ignore the severity of the allegations against her now, especially in the wake of her leaked email to the UN Secretariat in New York. The tone and language she deployed in the email, her failure to provide context to the motorcade incident, the decision to disseminate to the UN headquarters the official PF narrative on the event and the failure to locate the violent arrest of Zambia’s main opposition leader within the context of a human rights discourse is a sad indictment on her leadership. By ignoring the growing opposition complaints against its Resident Coordinator, the UN would further compromise its already diminishing credibility in Zambia. That said, I think that Rogan will not leave the country immediately as the UN may not want to be seen to be capitulating to pressure by local non-state actors. Well-placed sources within the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) office disclosed that there was an emergency meeting last week involving UN agencies in Zambia and the security people to discuss the issue as well as the personal risk it poses to staff. I do not think any Zambian can attack Rogan, but the credibility of the international organisation is certainly at stake the longer she is kept here.
The debate surrounding the activities of Rogan in Zambia, when combined with the immediate acceptance of the August 2017 Kenyan election results by Western observers, highlights the need for a broader discussion on the role of external actors in African elections and political campaigns. To recap: Kenya’s presidential election was so flawed that the country’s Supreme Court had to declare the results invalid and order a rerun. Western observers, however, had earlier found no problem with the same results and praised as free and fair the election that gave birth to them. What was their agenda? Similarly, what motivated Rogan to quickly declare as free and fair the results of Zambia’s disputed 2016 election even before any assessment was made? What is her agenda? Or is Rogan simply naïve and under the influence of local governance advisers working within UNDP who possibly have close political leanings to President Edgar Lungu and the ruling Patriotic Front (PF)?
“Minister of Justice Given Lubinda recently said that the Constitutional Amendment Bill would be ready in 3 weeks. What do you see in the coming draft Constitution?”
I see the re-introduction of the position of Deputy Minister as a move to stem the growing internal opposition to President Lungu among ruling-party lawmakers. The removal of that position from the current Constitution imposed greater constraints on the President’s ability to dispense patronage and frustrated the ambitions of MPs seeking upward mobility. Many PF backbenchers, including those suspected to be supporting the opposition’s attempt to impeach the President, are generally unhappy with Lungu not because they are opposed to his ‘no plan’ leadership style, increasing authoritarian tendencies, tragic failure to effectively fight corruption, or his attempts to extend presidential term limits, but mainly because they feel left out from ‘the eating race’ that is taking place among Cabinet ministers. To pacify these disenchanted internal opponents and buy off opposition MPs, whose support is indispensable to meeting the two-thirds majority in Parliament needed for the Constitutional Amendment Bill to pass, the PF may seek to bring back Deputy Ministers, at a huge cost to the already stressed national treasury.
I also see the following: the introduction of a clause that would allow Cabinet ministers to keep their positions after the dissolution of Parliament and enable them to campaign using public resources; the insertion of a clause that would clear the way for President Lungu to seek a further term of office and reduce the case on his eligibility to stand in the 2021 elections, currently before the Constitutional Court, to an academic exercise (I do not see the slow-moving ConCourt disposing of the matter before the next session of Parliament scheduled for June); the removal of the requirement that a winning presidential candidate should secure more than “50 per cent plus 1” of the total votes cast to enhance Lungu’s prospects for re-election, ahead of what is expected to be a strong challenge from the opposition; and the elimination of the provision that requires an incumbent President to hand over executive power to the Speaker of the National Assembly once an election petition is filed against them, if only to undermine the case currently before ConCourt that alleges that Lungu committed treason when he failed to comply with this provision in August 2016. If all this happens, we would, in effect, be back to the 1996 Constitution especially when one considers that the two other provisions that Zambians have long sought – proportional representation and the appointment of Cabinet ministers from outside Parliament – have already been discarded. In my view, the forthcoming constitutional changes do not present a real opportunity to fix the many problems with the rushed 2016 Constitution; they are a PF project being run for the interests of Lungu and those around him aimed at consolidating their power and entrenching their rule. Needless to say that mine are mere forecasts; I would be happy to be proved wrong over time.
“Given the increasing unpopularity of the incumbent, do you think the UPND is the answer to our problems?”
I have previously written on this subject and invite you to search for an article entitled ‘He is not Lungu. But what else does Hichilema offer Zambian voters?’ for a fuller discussion of the issue. Suffice to say I do not think that the United Party for National Development (UPND) offers a radical or truly transformative agenda, if its manifesto or the public pronouncements of its leader Hakainde Hichilema is anything to go by. It may be that the UPND and Hichilema are reluctant to outline a detailed vision for the country for fear that under scrutiny it would reveal that it would do little to make the lives of the majority of poor Zambians better and instead widen the privileges that Western, Chinese and South African multinational corporations already enjoy.
Our feet walk on copper, cobalt, emeralds, coal, gold and other precious metals, yet we remain one of the world’s most impoverished populations, materially and culturally. How is this possible? In this instance, what exactly will Hichilema do to ensure that the country gains from the natural wealth particularly the mineral resources it is mining? Will he increase taxes? Will he decentralise revenue collection from this sector? How will he regulate and address the persistent environmental violations by the mines? What will he do to adequately compensate communities already dispossessed and hurt by mining activity?
What about our agricultural sector, which is dominated by small-scale farmers who risk dispossession from the entry of large agribusinesses? Will he restrict the entry of Monsanto/ Seedco and the like, and prevent them from patenting the innovations that small-scale farmers in the country have been making for generations with their seeds? Will he protect the organic food production of the country’s farmers from the entry of a genetically modified, fertiliser-intensive, monoculture agricultural system? How will he ensure that small-scale rural livestock farmers are not squeezed out by large-scale ranchers such as himself?
Given that we have a health crisis in several yet to control epidemics such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, is Hichilema going to maintain the expansion of private healthcare, or is he, as would be advised in the context of the health crisis faced, going to shift towards publicly accessible health care for all and one that receives the necessary investment to make it a reality? How would he and his party finance this?
What of education? Is the UPND going to maintain the class-biased education system that has emerged, or shift towards public education? What will their strategy and priority be in this sector? How will it fit into the development and sectoral aims of the country? Is this education system going to continue training people for an extractive or productive manufacturing economy? And if it is manufacturing, of what sort, and to serve which markets? So rather than crying alone in the corner over Lungu’s bullying tactics, Hichilema really should be gaining allies by articulating with serious consideration what he has to offer. As far as an increasing number of Zambians are concerned, he has little to offer other than a desire for power, and is bolstered by the multinational corporations who want their man in.
When I asked these and other related questions in the earlier article I mentioned above, all I received from UPND supporters was abuse and even death threats. That does not bother me – I have received even greater threats on my life from PF supporters. Zambia’s political culture has degenerated so much in recent years that such threats are sadly commonplace for anyone who dares to criticise our main political parties or leaders. Those who issue such threats should know that I am ready to embrace a death that is a consequence of my convictions. I do not do what I do to make friends and I can only lose those that lose me. My loyalty is not to personalities or individuals but to ideals. It would worry me the moment I am at peace with those who are at war with truth and justice.
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