Calling a spade, a spade, is time tested, old fashion true wisdom. Calling a spade, a large spoon, fools no one other than the person who is lying. Recognising a problem for what it is, a problem, is a good starting point to solving the problem. Pretending the problem does not exist does not disappear the problem. Why is it so hard for the UPND leadership to adopt a strategy that is based on recognising and acknowledging the ugly punishing national hunger and poverty which are the conditions of the majority of Zambians?
Capitalist politics of elections are very competitive, for the vote. In extremely poor countries like Zambia, the competition for the votes is ruthless, and extremely expensive. To win national elections one needs foreign funding as Zambians are incapable of footing the bill for participating in elections and sustaining a political party. Zambia is a low wage, high unemployment hungry poor country: it is impossible to squeeze money from such a population to run a political party and to meaningfully contest elections.
Over the years, intensifying after our 1991 multiparty elections, Zambian voters and those who participate in politics have learnt that one needs to “eat” with the politicians, lie to them about how popular they are in your area, and do everything possible to extract as much money as you can from the politicians, before they occupy government office and become remote, disappear from you; only to appear again during the next vote buying season when elections are due. This means that our politics are now directly controlled and influenced by money: you need a bottomless pocket of money to sustain a political party and to participate meaningfully in vote buying.
All our politicians and their political parties, without exception, when in opposition lurch onto our widespread excruciating hunger, mass deep poverty, massive unemployment and extreme inequalities as the reasons why they are in politics: they claim they have the answers to manufacture and implement solutions to these chronic problems Zambia suffers from. The competition among our politicians, therefore, is simply reduced to the matter of how convincing, like any successful trader, they are at lying to us about how much they know and appreciate our all-round poverty and how convincing their proposed solutions are stated, to us.
The UPND, in opposition for more than 20 hard and brutal years, had more than enough time to study, learn and formulate solutions to our incredible all-round poverty and backwardness. They in fact introduced several innovations in the art of lying to us, when proposing their versions of solutions to our deep rooted and incredibly complex crises, challenges and problems: they would use simple arithmetic to confirm to us that not only could they count, but they could demonstrate how easy it would be for them, once elected into government, to lower our cost of living and reduce our poverty. Zambians will never forget the incredible “fuel mathematics” of the UPND about how they would cut out middle men and drastically lower the cost of our imported fuels.
Today, in government, of course we all know that the UPND lied about their fake fuel arithmetic: things are far much more complex than their levels of fuel mathematical illiteracy! Incredibly, rather than simply accept the bitter truth that their arithmetic antics on fuel prices were election pranks and move on, the UPND insists they were right and fuel prices actually have come down, because inflation has come down and prices of fuel would have been steeper if inflation was as high as they found it! They do not account for the fact that actually fuel was cheaper with the high inflation of the PF government!
It is none other than the World Bank which has degraded Zambia into the extremely humiliating ranks of a low-income country, for a country saturated with natural resources and a very youthful labour force, and at a time, in fact, when copper prices are riding high! We are among the world’s top five most hungry countries. We have failed, 58 years after independence, to nutritiously feed the majority of Zambians. Our continued over dependence on rainfed agriculture means Mother Nature still controls our main food supplies. It is virtually impossible to accurately estimate our unemployment rate, but no one doubts how dangerously high and serious unemployment is, in Zambia, even as we are a low wage economy.
We are so indebted we are defaulting on our payments. Much of government productive economic activities have been put on hold because the IMF and those we owe must agree on how to manage our debts payment schedules. In 12 months of the UPND government, our many crises have not just suddenly disappeared into thin air. In fact, in so many ways, many of these crises have worsened, including the general cost of sustaining human life. Zambia is a hungry, poor country saddled with dangerously explosive levels of unemployment and inequalities. All our politicians know these facts and, when in opposition, compete with each other at offering us their versions of illusory possible solutions.
It is none other than the Vice President of Zambia and of the UPND, Mutale Nalumango, who is on record saying Zambians are not as poor they are painted to be, especially by the opposition. The minister of finance, Situmbeko Musokotwane, has pioneered the dubious explanation that Zambians would be suffering higher prices of the things they need in life and business, had the UPND government not drastically lowered inflation. Situmbeko is essentially saying the same thing Nalumango is saying: Zambians are better off nowthan they were before the UPND got into government.
The official UPND party position, authoritatively announced by the spokesperson of the UPND, Cornelius Mweetwa (who is also a government minister) is that the people who are propagating the idea that things are bad in Zambia are those who were used to getting free money without working. Mweetwa insists people must work, and he uses his example as a villager who works up at 04:00 to go to work. The UPND is convinced that because they have shut the sources of free money, the people who were benefiting from these free largesse are the ones complaining!
The full implications of Cornelius Mweetwa’s explanation and official UPND party position for the desperate hunger and poverty status of the majority of Zambians include the fact that the UPND government does not consider Zambians as desperately impoverished, and needing urgent solutions to the crippling poverty that diminishes their lives and sends them to an early grave. The UPND, obviously because the majority of Zambians are not doing what Sri Lankans have done to their insensitive government, are fine, just fine, with hunger and poverty in Zambia.
It is impossible to reasonably expect any urgent and radical measures to address the situation of desperate hunger and extreme poverty currently killing the majority of Zambians, in the 2023 National Budget, from the UPND government. The UPND, now in government, suddenly regards the mass hunger and poverty situation which in fact they traded on to win elections, no longer an urgent crisis in Zambia. The UPND is advising Zambians to be patient with it, as they in fact have been patient all along, as it addresses the challenge of our national debt and tutelage by the International Monetary Fund.
True, “free” education has been announced, and is currently being applied to primary and secondary schools. More than 30,000 teachers have been announced as recruited, inflation is down, there is progress on stabilising the exchange rate, public sector pensioners are being paid, government has begun to meet our capitalists to organise how best they can plunder our natural resources and exploit our cheap labour, there is less violence in our politics and “free speech” has exploded and several other similar positive changes are well under way. Zambians from all walks of life are grateful for these positive changes.
Hunger dehumanises, absolute hunger dehumanises absolutely. Poverty diminishes human life. The UPND must not underplay and ignore these ugly realities they rode to get into government. Millions of Zambians need government intervention to stay alive. The 2023 National Budget is a good place to show the UPND government understands the forces which won it elections. Will the UPND hear the cries of the hungry and impoverished Zambians, and not mock them? We shall see.
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