A tense atmosphere characterised a packed hall at Kapingila House on Tuesday evening when the Oasis Forum hosted a public discussion on the state of affairs in Zambia.
“Is Zambia in a crisis?” was the topic of discussion with political commentator Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa and PF deputy media director Antonio Mwanza as the main speakers.
Supporting speakers were Alliance for Community Action executive director Laura Miti, youth representative Kateule Kasonde, TIZ acting executive director Wesley Chibamba and JCTR executive director Fr Emmanuel Mumba.
Special Assistant to the President for Press and Public Relations Amos Chanda was present at the discussion but made no contribution.
Generally, all the speakers and members of the audience agreed that Zambia was in a crisis citing corruption, inequality and inept leadership among other issues.
But Mwanza, who ceased the opportunity to brand himself as the ruling PF’s staunch defender yet, said the country was on course and President Lungu’s administration was the most committed to fighting corruption.
Mwanza took jabs at civil society organisations, accusing them of syphoning donor money and speaking from the same spreadsheet as the opposition UPND of bitterness and hatred.
He also had a squabble with Twende Education Foundation founder Andrea Mwalula who loudly disagreed with most of his submissions.
Meanwhile, Oasis Forum chairperson and LAZ president Linda Kasonde wrapped up the discussion in an eloquent fashion thanking everyone for their participation whilst stressing that Zambia was facing a leadership crisis.
But it all began with Dr Sishuwa who opened the discussion with an emphasis that Zambia was indeed in a crisis.
“We are in a crisis because 1. The economy of the country is no longer able to sustain the life of the majority of its people who usually are the working class and the rural population who mostly survive on agriculture. The social manifestations of crisis at this level are extreme poverty, widespread national unemployment and by unemployment, we mean structural, systemic and absolute unemployment. There are also extreme inequalities characterised by the situation where a tiny segment of our national population, about 10 per cent gobble up a huge share of the national income. The rest of the population, nearly half are left to fight for the Black Mountain,” Dr Sishuwa said.
He said high levels of debt were also a key feature of a nation in crisis.
Dr Sishuwa observed that key public institutions were rapidly deteriorating.
“The country’s key public institutions are deteriorating very rapidly. We are talking about the Judiciary, there is low public confidence in this vital institution on which democracy so much depends. The civil society has either been corrupted or silenced by the ruling elites…
But also in the political space, huge divisions supported by those in government who are only interested in festering these divisions. In our case, these mainly came from the 2016 elections and the failure by those in power to heal the divide. The people are divided on ethnic, especially on political lines,” he said.
He, however, clarified that the crisis in Zambia could not be blamed entirely on the PF.
“This crisis that I have referred to did not start yesterday or with this administration of PF government or President Edgar Lungu or Michael Sata. The nature of this crisis is something that starts somewhere around the late 90s. What is there today is simply the intensity of that crisis… you have a regime that is acting in unconstitutional behaviour. You have ruling party cadres that are beating police men, these are simply symptoms. If you remove the PF regime and replace them with either UPND or with PeP, if you don’t attend to the causes of that crisis, those symptoms will continue. We can tick around them but when you talk about the causes of crisis, you are talking about the economic structure of that country. We are in a country which Zambians own literally nothing…the social divisions that are emerging now are a consequence of an ineffective and an inept leadership,” said Dr Sishuwa.
Mwanza was next to speak and he disagreed with Dr Sishuwa’s observations that the country was divided on tribal lines.
“He says that the Cabinet of President Edgar Lungu does not include Tongas, and I have a problem with this line of thought where political appointments and professional appointments are viewed with the lenses of tribe because that is extremely wrong, it is against out norms, our values and principles as a nation. When a President is making appointments, he takes into consideration the competence, the experience and the relevance of the skills that an individual who is being given a job has. The President doesn’t look at a tribe of a person when making political appointments,” Mwanza said amidst jeers until the moderator, Dr Charity Musamba asked people to mask their emotions.
Mwanza said President Edgar Lungu had shown willingness to unite the country.
“If someone wants to talk about divisions, those divisions have been created by those that have made it a point that they will fight President Edgar Lungu based on lies, malice and propaganda and we cannot stop them but the record is very clear that this President, this government are committed to the process of dialogue,” he said.
“He (Dr Sishuwa) talked about the civil society, we have civil society in this country. They are free to do what they want. Nobody has gagged anyone, that’s the reason why in the history of this country, we have more civil societies today than at any point in the history of this country. And let me say something about the civil society because I have worked with the civil society for a very long period of time. The civil society thrives on crises because they have to write proposals to the donors and get money and when there is no crisis, there is no proposal to write.”
He charged that some CSOs like the Grand Coalition thrived on crisis situations in order to syphon money from donors.
“I was sitting in the Grand Coalition as leader from the opposition then, it was a consortium of organisations and when the president of this country signed to a constitution which all other presidents have failed to do, and ensured that we had a comprehensive constitutional reform… the civil society changed, the grand coalition died and it changed its name, it started calling itself CiSCA and they are looking for another crisis which they could use to write a project proposal and get donor funding and I don’t know whether the donors are willing to continue to support a man-made crisis in order to fund a few individuals who want to make money out of writing proposals. He talked about the media, if there was a crisis, we wouldn’t have been seated here and debating ideas,” said Mwanza.
In her submissions, Miti said Zambia was facing an accountability crisis adding that this could only change if citizens got angry with how their leaders were utilising resources.
“The citizens have a very flawed understanding of their relationship with power so those in power have become benefactors…what we need in this country is for the general public to become so angry about their everyday lives. Not about who is in power, but about what they are doing in power. Accountability is ‘what are you doing with the power we have given to you?’ Mr Mwanza tried to convince us that life is good in Zambia but I don’t know which side of the world that is. On the side of the world that I live, life is not good,” said Miti.
“The only way those in power will stop talking to us the way Antonio spoke to us today is if the large majority get angry, and I mean angry! Angry enough to say no more. We need to begin to worry about the poor in this country not me, I can jump on a plane and leave.”
Chibamba of TIZ said Zambia was deteriorating in terms of the strength of the fight against corruption as there was no tangible action.
Fr Mumba of JCTR said whilst there were some positives in Zambia, there were some problems which needed to be addressed.
“There are some good things which are happening in Zambia. It would be unfair to say everything is dim, everything is negative. There is a positive aspect in what is happening in Zambia but also, there is an area of concern, an area where we feel the poor are left out. The poor have no say, the face of those who are poor is being defaced. We have facts that there has been economic growth in Zambia… but the cost of living has continued to go up whilst the standards of living have continued to go down. So what good is this growth?” asked Fr Mumba.
The floor was then opened to the audience for contributions and all the people who spoke lamented about the social, economic situation in Zambia.
Others directed their questions at Mwanza, asking him what had changed for him to take a 360 degrees turn by defending the PF.
Meanwhile, a member of CiSCA protested Mwanza’s comments in which he accused them of siphoning money from donors. She challenged him to state exactly where the money came from.
When Mwanza rose to respond to some of the issues raised by other speakers and the audience, he made scathing comments beginning with bashing those who were upset about his defection to the ruling party.
“I exercised my constitutional right, that you also do have, that you can belong to any political party. Mr Muliokela is looking for members, you can join him. It is your constitutional right,” he said.
Mwanza then took a swipe at Miti, branding her a member of the opposition.
“I will begin with madam Laura Miti, and this is exactly what is wrong with the opposition in this country, it is about hatred, bitterness and anger. ‘Let us all be angry, let us all rise us in anger and fight President Edgar Lungu and the PF government’ and that is what is wrong. There is no room for anger. You don’t run a country through emotions, you run a country through properly defined policies that you need to implement. Anger has resulted into wars, anger has resulted into genocide. You don’t use anger to run a country and the PF will not use anger and succumb to tribal hegemony as the basis for running a country. I have already given examples, three Tongas were appointed ministers and they were expelled from their party now you want more to be appointed when you expel them?” Mwanza asked.
On CiSCA, Mwanza insisted that siphoning money was what they were about.
“You received a lot of money. I was there and I will tell you where the money came from. There were thousands of dollars that came from an organisation known as OSISA that were pumped in. And the reason why the Grand Coalition collapsed was because of me. I stood up and said ‘we are not going to allow a situation where you are using project proposals to collect money and also using us as politicians to bring the numbers to demonstrations when you don’t have members. You were asking us to speak for two minutes while you spoke for 15 minutes and you were telling us ‘the people who are funding us don’t want the politicians to be seen’, I was in the thick of things. So you received a lot of money from OSISA and then OSISA stopped funding, the Grand Coalition collapsed and changed the name to CiSCA,” Mwanza charged.
He said there has never been a government that had put practical measures to fight corruption other than the PF.
When Mwanza began to brag about quality health care that the PF was providing, Mwalula whose organisation gives lessons to children at the cancer ward, vehemently opposed his remarks, asking him, “Have you been to UTH?”
But Mwanza tried to shut her up by reminding her that she had only been in the country for three years.
“You have been in Zambia for three years, I have been in Zambia for 40 years, let me just tell you something,” he said.
She responded, “Excuse me, I just asked a question…”
Mwanza interjected, “You just said, you have been in Zambia for three years, you just came back…”
“I can’t listen to your nonsense! Have you been to the villages?” Mwalula asked as the audience signaled its disapproval of the scuffle.
“She is attacking me and if she wants that, we can take it,” Mwanza said but the moderator swept in to calm the situation.
“Don’t talk to us like we are children, don’t talk and treat us like we don’t matter,” Mwalula complained.
Mwanza then walked up to her seat and offered a handshake as a sign of peace and after some resistance, Mwalula accepted it.
Mwanza then apologised to her and the audience before concluding his remarks.
When it was Dr Sishuwa’s time to wind up, he could not resist but to offer some counsel to Mwanza.
“I think the first point for me is just an appeal to my colleague Antonio. As the party in power, you should do a bit of more listening than talking. The frustration and anger you see here suggests that there is a lack of mechanism in which they can talk to you and express themselves. Sometimes it is just the posture, you don’t project an image of yourself to the people as someone above them and talk down to them. I may be judgemental but my appeal to you is that as you go further, do a bit of listening, they put you in power, you derive your power from them,” said Dr Sishuwa.
Kasonde was called upon to unveil the Oasis Forum logo but before doing so, she gave an aggregate of the arguments which were made during the discussion.
“I just wanted to say that I think what has come out, as Laura Miti has been saying is that there is a crisis of accountability but more so a crisis of leadership because without leadership, our leaders will not be held to account. And the statistics show that the development is not reaching the people who need it most. Corruption is rife and I think that I agree with Laura Miti, the people do need to get angry because we are one of the most poorest nations on earth. And I beg to differ with one of the participants in the audience that you need to be educated in order to get angry. You just need to look at our history, our independence struggle, the late 80s food riots that led to multi party democracy, the anti third term bid, even donchi kubeba were led by ordinary Zambians who got angry and did something. They went out on the streets and they demonstrated. I just like to urge our leaders, as people have been saying to listen to the ordinary people because you just have to look over the border, what’s going on in Zimbabwe, the same people who were praising him are the same people who were celebrating in jubilation when he left office so that’s what happens when people get angry enough and no one wants to get to that stage,” said Kasonde.
“It is important to mention that nobody is anti government, we are for Zambia and it is really important that that point comes out. It is not about hating anybody, it is not about having an agenda, it is about what’s best for our people.”