We are living in a time when female politicians are joining their male counterparts in acting as if they are paid bonuses to disappoint the nation. Currently, there are no serious female contenders for the republican presidency in Zambia. The only one whom we had been counting on, Edith Nawakwi, stopped counting herself in, without telling us. We just woke up and she was gone – we do not know where.
Even worse is that our first holder of high office, our incumbent vice-president, Inonge Wina, has decided to be an absentee running mate or rather governing mate. She is as good as retired already and so far, the jostling among Cabinet Ministers to replace her doesn’t seem to have any serious female participation.
This means, from the political point of view, our women, both inside and outside government, don’t seem to be a viable replacement for those in power. Maybe they are trying, but as usual they are being suppressed. After all, according to a review of political party systems and structures conducted by Panos Institute Southern Africa, women who aspire for positions of political influence are often subjected to unwanted sexual advances and are also expected to perform sexual favours to men, in order to be considered. Those who are already in some form of influential political positions have to stomach the lunacy from hired mercenaries; like was the case between Chief Government Spokesperson, Dora Siliya, and a PF cadre called Munir Zulu recently. In other words, there is no fair treatment for our women in politics.
Whatever the reason, the truth is that women in politics in Zambia right now are as uninspiring as the men.
But we can’t all be in political leadership. In fact, in every given society, there are more alternative leadership positions than those affiliated to political office. But at the same time, staying out of politics does not mean not caring about politics. We must all be involved in politics without necessarily being partisan.
That is why today we have elected to appreciate the role that a group of women in Zambia are playing to keep the politicians in check without a motive to succeed the leadership that they are condemning. This is a group of brave women who have revived civil society and are showing us the kind of courageous and selfless activism we had almost forgotten was possible.
Because of the spirited fight that these women have put up against the Patriotic front government, the civil society in Zambia is fast reclaiming its influential position. They have organised public protests and heated public discussions that have been missing from the scene for years now.
The women who have caught our attention and most certainly the attention of the nation are: Alliance for Community Action executive director Laura Miti, Civil society Constitution Agenda (CiSCA) and long time governance activist Pamela Chisanga, ActionAid executive director Nalucha Ziba, NGOCC Executive Director Engwase Mwale, board chairperson Sara Longwe and programmes manager Chilufya Siwale.
Other women who have made an impact are former Law Asociation of Zambia Chairperson Linda Kasonde, the Financial Intelligence Centre Director Mary Tshuma, and private citizens like Zarina Geloo, Mika Mwambazi and Andrea Mwalula to mention but a few.
These women have not only gone the safe route of issuing statements from their offices. Rather, they have walked right into the battlefront to demand for accountability of public resources, democratic rights, freedom of expression and assembly. Above all, they have loudly demanded an end to the looting of public resources.
We have seen, over time, that countries that have the best economic growth are those that have good governance, and good governance comes from transparency and upholding of human rights. It comes from ending corruption. It comes from a populace that can go online and say, ‘this politician is corrupt, this judge, or this public official is corrupt.’ Zambians have for years been quiet while looting happens. Our women leaders are saying no more. Kwatha, as ordinary women have taught us to say.
What we have seen is that our women have realised that this government cares more about elections and power than governance and development. They have seen and expressed worry about the public silence over this bad governance. They have refused to sit back and accept that those in power will have free access to public money for their own self-enrichment. They have understood that such unaccountability and imprudent use of public resources means that all citizens must live in a destroyed country. It means that Zambians must accept bad roads, no medicine, poor schools, stunted children and cholera every year while public money is used corruptly to retain power by those not doing any good to the country.
Our brave women have seen the dishonesty among political leaders. The dishonesty is so much that those within the ruling party are even beginning to point fingers at each other as to who is the bigger thief and who cares less for Zambia. The plunder is so bad that thieves are openly fighting in the street over stolen loot without caring that the owners are watching. With this going on, money being wasted on unnecessary trips, politicians acquiring unexplainable wealth, the women in civil society have decided they cannot sit idle and watch their children’s national heritance disappear into private offshore accounts.
Do not think we are praising the women without reason. We have looked around to find a group of men outside politics, that has fearlessly challenged the PF administration like these women have. Yes, we have found a few individuals like Lewis Mwape, Fr Emmanuel Chikoya, Trevor Simumba and Pilato doing good work but we have to admit that it is the women who have taken activism to higher heights! It is because of the way these women are changing civil society that the PF is not sleeping. They are proving to be a nuisance to their freedom to steal. The PF does not like them!
What we find very impressive about this team of formidable women is how they have managed to cooperate and defeat their fear. They have shown that the much-repeated adage that women cannot work together is not true. Here we have women who pull off impressively coordinated and very intelligent plans. They speak with one voice. They clearly have found a sisterhood in their shared love for this country. They are willing to sacrifice. It is a combination of courage, determination and willingness to face a government that is increasingly dictatorial that this country has not seen in a long time. We are saying what women are doing in this country should encourage all of us who are watching.
We all understand that these brave women have practically put their lives at risk, placed the lives of their family members in danger and they have chosen to sacrifice their own personal leisure and private interests.
Again, we say that take note that there is none among these women who is vying for political office. They just want to secure what is best for Zambia. It is the kind of selfless leadership that we have been searching for. When we go to the meetings civil society organises these days, we do not hear the leaders telling us about themselves. We hear about us. We hear our problems articulated. They are telling us how we can use our power to make Zambia different, better for all of us. That is refreshing. Therefore, we believe that their cause is worth the support of every citizen. In fact, they deserve international support and solidarity today before they are silenced tomorrow.
We should not wait until a disgruntled trigger-happy police officer opens fire on anyone of these brave women before we can praise them as our fallen heroes. We must salute them now, so that they know Zambia appreciates their efforts. Even more important is that we must join them. We must not leave them alone.
While our youths are sharpening their pangas at the instructions of the political leaders and while our men are jostling for government contracts and plotting against each other’s downfall, our mothers have emerged to lead the way for those who truly care about Zambia. We applaud our women. Maybe, through them, Zambia can come out of this dark period of widespread poverty that is killing children while a few politicians and their friends enjoy the cream of the land.
Long live girl power!!