“Zambians tell me they are sick of the political-party cadres, corruption, and the daily political attacks – from all sides. I would say this regardless of who is in power. Zambian people want politicians and leaders to be more responsive to the needs of all citizens, and to focus less on constant campaigning, and narrow political and economic interests of connected individuals. We all want our governments to be transparent and accountable. People can’t freely participate when governments are not open about their affairs. Non-transparent contracting and debt acquisition are imposing problematic debt, fuelling corruption, and limiting the options for citizens to determine their futures.
Zambia has every right to maintain diplomatic and commercial relationships with any country. Many Zambians believe, however, that their country should be careful about becoming beholden to autocratic nations that act chiefly in their own interests, limit fundamental freedoms and human rights, censor information available to their people, persecute religious minorities, and muzzle the media in their own countries. Also, we are all aware of instances of budgeted funds, not to mention donor assistance diverted for corrupt, personal or political use. I constantly receive requests to help attract more American money to Zambia. To invest, American businesses require stability, predictability, and a clean, level playing. They face grave US legal consequences for ‘donations’ or bribery to expedite deals often creating competitive disadvantages,” Ambassador Foote said.
Ambassador Foote does not mean any malice to the Zambian government and its leaders. Had his cocerns been aired by anyone else, the people who advise the President would have told him not to pay attention, they would have said it is politicking and would have quickly dismissed this wise counsel. The US envoy is not a political opponent for PF, yet his observations and views accurately represent the views of the wider community of Zambians. What he is saying is the same thing that Zambians have been saying in their individual lone voices. What the American Envoy is doing is simply to amplify that voice.
But that does not mean he doesn’t personally believe what he is saying. When he says budgeted money and donor aid is being misappropriated by corrupt people and being spent on political activities, he is speaking from a very well informed position. He knows what he has seen and he doesn’t believe that it is the right way to govern a people.
The Ambassador is also telling our government that American companies are very willing to bring money to Zambia through various partnerships, but their country’s laws don’t allow them to engage in corrupt activities in order to push for deals. The U.S envoy is further warning Zambians to guard their interests against dictatorial countries, which have no regard for human rights, democracy or a free press.
A listening government would pay serious attention to this free advice and conduct self-introspection. Are we in bed with any autocratic nation that acts in its own interest, abuses human rights, persecutes religious minorities, and muzzles the media? What is our relationship with China, are they good role model for our young democracy?
By nature Zambians are very welcoming people but as good as it is to be welcoming, our leaders should remember that the future of this country is in their hands, they have to protect it. If we welcome and choose to do business with people who have bad practices in their countries, their practices will rub off on our current and future generations. Unless we want to head in that direction, we should guard ourselves. That is what Ambassador Foote is saying.
Sadly, our government leaders don’t take kindly to candid advice. Whoever tells our politicians the truth declares himself or herself an enemy of the regime. The Patriotic Front hates the truth and the truth hurts them so much that in the past we have seen them summon a diplomat to rebuke him for saying there is too much corruption in this country. Thankfully, the victim in that instance who happens to be the British Envoy, wasn’t moved by the intimidation and he responded with a firm stance that saw all bilateral aid from his country frozen, until accountability is guaranteed.
Today, the American Envoy has taken over the microphone to speak on behalf of the deprived people of Zambian and the American taxpayers. He is saying when you campaign and win elections, it is time to settle down and work for the people, he is saying this because he has observed that there is a consistent campaign mode going on in Zambia. Development is campaign based, and so is the distribution of national wealth. That’s not how to govern a country.
It says a lot when diplomats start calling out our leaders in public for corruption and poor leadership. Normally, they would let leave that talk to the citizens but the situation in Zambia is far from normal. Our leaders are proudly corrupt, they do not bother to hide it.
Our appeal to Dr President Lungu is that he must not pay a deaf ear to what Ambassador Foote is saying because many Zambians agree with his observations. Dr President Lungu must halt all PF campaigns so that ministers can go back to work. The people of Zambia are fatigued with campaign activities, which don’t even solve their real problems.
Anyway, those who have ears have heard, and thank you Ambassador Foote for showing your Zambian friends that you too are not a Yes Bwana diplomat!