Zambia has been in a state of crisis long before we removed Kenneth Kaunda from government in 1991. Kaunda in fact was removed from government because life had become unbearable for most Zambians. In 1991, Zambians retired Kaunda.
In the past 30 years we have gone from the poverty of Kaunda to more intense poverty as foreign private money, largely mining money, has exploited our minerals. We have suffered so called jobless growth which has not made a meaningful dent in our poverty. Meanwhile foreign mine owners have harvested billions of dollars from especially our copper. Some foreign mine owners have even mocked us, apparently, for our stupidity.
The past 10 years, the period of the Patriotic Front (PF), started with the tantalising promise of more money in our pockets and economic empowerment for Zambians but ended up tearing the pockets from our skirts, dresses, trousers and shorts, collapsing the economy and saddling us with a mountain of national debt.
Simultaneous with worsening poverty, and as usually happens, Zambia fast drifted into deeper corruption, theft of public resources and an authoritarian violent PF government to protect itself from democratic accountability and popular control.
By August 2021, it was clear that the PF had become the skunk of Zambia, and rightly so. In fact, without the intervention of Rupiah Bwezani Banda to persuade Edgar Chagwa Lungu to peacefully hand over power, Zambia would be a different country today. Lungu was ready to use the army, to cling on to power.
Members of the PF are fully entitled to their belief in the goodness of the PF and its abstract possibility to bounce back in government. Of course, the supporters and admirers of HH and UPND are also perfectly entitled to their optimism about the leadership qualities of HH and prospects for Zambia, under the UPND.
What cannot be objectively denied, however, are certain hard facts about the campaign promises of the UPND, and the most obvious evidence of failure to honour key promises, in the past 7 months. Incredibly, HH and the UPND in government are fast acquiring very indefensible ways of explaining the deepening and painfully miserable impoverished status of millions of Zambians.
Needless to say, the most obvious disaster is HH and his UPND government’s agreement with the IMF to remove government subsidies from fuels and petroleum products, in order to save money for government to service its debt. This singular act of economic and political folly threatens to eventually bring down HH and his government, as the impact of escalating fuel prices disrupt everything in our country and unleash further waves of poverty and destruction, especially of small businesses.
Rather than manufacturing false excuses for the failure to control the escalating fuel prices, Zambians want their government to control and reduce the price of fuels, that’s all.
Theoretically, politicians are elected and paid by citizens to actually reduce the struggle to survive, expand the possibilities for a fulfilling life for citizens, protect human life and defend the country from internal and external enemies. Elections, therefore, ideally are supposed to be a filter for the best politicians to secure and achieve all these things, for citizens and the country, and all human beings domiciled in such a country.
Sadly, however, elections are a commercial market for political lies – the best political trader with the most sellable lies and the “right political personality at the right time” wins the largest votes, and goes on to form a government having won elections on a platform of lies. This has been our Zambian experience even in the elections leading up to our independence. Kaunda promised Zambians an egg a day, throughout their lives, it never happened! Kaunda went on to rule Zambia for 27 years instead!
It is not true that Zambians elected Fredrick Chiluba to torture Zambians to death with mass unemployment and poverty, because of the IMF programmes. Both the IMF and Chiluba lied to Zambians about the true nature of the causes of our crises during Kaunda – we were told state control of the economy was at the heart of our crises. Lies.
Many Zambians, having experienced Fredrick Chiluba as a defender of jobs, in his struggles to lower the cost of living and doing business for Zambians, trusted him when he erroneously and disastrously pursued the IMF programmes of dismantling our economic sovereignty by cheaply offloading especially our mines back to foreign capitalists.
Since 1991, no Zambian government has had any real influence in the economy because the IMF made the Zambian government to give up the only means available to it to seriously intervene in the economy – greater state participation in an economy such as ours, by state ownership and control of the major means of production.
Then as now, we were told our future would be bright once we brought the national debt down and “the private sector” became the dominant force in the economy. We are there now, with more debt, and I am afraid to say, we are an unmitigated disaster of a people steeped in humiliating poverty, mass unemployment and the destruction of our young people’s lives because we cannot provide for them.
The economy actually “grew” tremendously for some time. This growth, however, was largely as a result of the importation, by foreign firms, of finance into mining, and the importation of equipment and technologies, again largely for mines. It is now an established fact that the privatisation of the mines has been a disaster even from the most extreme liberal economic perspective: we are stuck with deep unresolved crises in our copper mines at a time when massive profit windfalls from copper can be made.
Without full state ownership of the mines as our dominant foreign exchange earner, it is virtually impossible for the government of Zambia to meaningfully intervene in domestic prices, especially for crucial imports such as fuels and petroleum products.
As for petroleum products, at a time in world history when new national protectionism is globally on the rise Zambia has destroyed INDENI, the refinery which would have protected the country from scarcity and price fluctuation of petroleum products on unpredictable global markets. With full investments and modernisation of its plant and correct management, INDENI is needed now more than ever in our economy, as the violent restructuring of the global economy forces countries to assume greater control of vital commodities and their domestic prices, for economic and political stability.
There is something pathetically sad to see a political party that not so long ago, just 7 months ago, won a massive vote, now struggle with “alternative truths” – more lies – to sustain its illusions of popularity and explain away its failure to lower the cost of living and doing business, for the majority of Zambians.
The bitter truth is that the cost of living, which was way too high for the majority of Zambians by August 2021, has now reached explosive high levels. There is nothing more annoying in such circumstances than being told by a political appointee of HH that in fact things are better now, or could be worse.
A most frightening aspect to our situation is that the inability to quickly bridge the gap between reality on one hand, and illusions, lies and incompetence by the UPND in government on the other hand is fast rehabilitating the PF; a still unreformed backward alternative too unpalatable for many Zambians.
A social and economic crisis of huge proportions of more than 30 years in the making cannot be confronted and resolved by political lies, mediocrity and a “methodical and patient” approach. It calls for radical solutions embedded in a clear vision to move the country out of its deadly crises.
The UPND and HH have fast become the best example of how not to sell extreme political lies when in opposition; they will come to haunt you if you win power!
(Comments and suggestions welcome at: email@example.com)