Our country has been caught napping by the Coronavirus pandemic. Our leadership was in slumber! With billions of dollars to pay in external and domestic debt, we have been hit by a calamity with no recovery plan. This is a stark reminder of why a country needs visionary leadership.

Every year, governments of every country of good repute engage in civil contingencies. Civil contingencies are those things that any government will do to plan for any eventuality, whether it is a contagion, pandemic, an outbreak or whatever you call it. It could be an accident, a train derails and overturns, toxic chemicals spilling over a resourceful river, anything. When dealing with such civil contingencies, a government plans ahead by putting constraints on expenditure.

Here in Zambia, it is clear that we do not have this initiative. We have talked and talked about a sinking fund for public debt, but we have failed to walk the talk. Our treasury is empty. We have made declarations and pronouncements over austerity measures, but they have yielded nothing. Without private sector donations towards this pandemic, one would wonder where we would have found ourselves. In fact, it’s safe to say that here in Zambia, it will be by the Grace of God that we will survive this current health crisis.

But governance should never be left to chance. Leadership is not a gamble which you get into and hope that during your reign, there will be no disasters such as the prevailing crisis. The first responsibility of any government is to protect its citizens by making basic needs available. A sober leadership invests in the health system and budgets for the recruitment of healthcare givers. That preparedness saves you from employing under duress without a line budget.

Look at how much money has been going towards defence in Zambia! We have have seen massive procurement of military armoured tanks and heavy artillery being transported to various bases across the country. Millions of dollars have gone towards the defence budget, but it is the poor, neglected nurse today who has to stand up as the last line of defence for this country’s citizens. After millions of dollars poured into military preparedness, only to be saved by a poor nurse who gets peanuts at the monthend. What a shame!

For a long time, the civil society in this country has been questioning the surge in budgetary allocations towards defence and a sharp drop in funding towards the health and education sector. Who are we at war with? The President has spent over US$130 million on himself to buy the so-called anti-missile “Ferrari in the sky”, while the country is bleeding from unprecedented debt. who can feel pity for a leadership that has such lopsided reasoning?

Imagine how many doctors and nurses would have been employed out of this ill-timed military investment. Imagine how many health facilities would have been built from the money spent on presidential jets? The Minister of Health wouldn’t be begging hotel owners for quarantine space. There would be enough ventilators to cover a good number of COVID-19 patients. This all comes with good leadership that puts the interests of the people first and sets priorities right.

This is a wakeup call! We should not, as citizens, relegate the debate around the leadership of this country to social media jokes and memes. We have to sit down and do some hard talk about the future of Zambia. Leaders take their followers where they want to be taken; if citizens of Zambia show happiness with this kind of leadership, those in power will have no reason for changing the status quo. But if they walk on the streets, open the newspapers, turn on the TV and see discontent from the people, they will know that they have failed. They will wake up and start working.

Zambia is in this state because the people have tolerated mediocrity from government leaders. We have accepted it as a new normal for those in government to steal with impunity, without thinking about the future. We have accepted that corruption is the normal way for getting rich once you hold public office. We have accepted that those with state power can abuse it as long as they want, and can only be made to account if they leave office.

We need to have a sober conversation around our national leadership. We are where we are because we have accepted to be dumped here. The stupidity of the elected reflects the foolishness of the electors. Zikomo!