AMONG several factors that led to the destruction of the Patriotic Front is a governance pitfall called State Capture. When we say State Capture, some politicians picture a scenario where criminals come with offensive weapons, guns and ropes to tie down government leaders so that they don’t operate freely. That is not State Capture, that is a coup. State Capture is rather complicated and in many cases, it happens stealthily. Victims of State Capture don’t notice when they are being captured because they are usually close friends and allies of the captors. They don’t see it coming until it is too late to act.
Although there are several other ways in which state capture occurs, we have picked on five common entry points that are very practical to the Zambian political set up. These pitfalls are also close to home and people can easily relate because we saw this happen under the defeated Patriotic Front.
It is said that no political party wins elections without support from the business community. This is true and there is no way the UPND can claim that they pulled their campaign without getting money from people of vested interests within Zambia and outside. But there are two types of business owners who fund campaigns. There are those who do so in order to create a conducive environment for their businesses to grow and flourish. Usually this group of funders seek a change of tax and investment policies. They know that good policies bring about increased profit. We don’t mind such funders of campaigns.
But there are those who fund campaigns in order to monopolize government contracts when the party they support wins elections. These are the main actors of State Capture and usually they have direct access to the President in State House. They use various means and words to express their demands, but the message is the same: “we want our money back”. When you have a weak president in State House, as we had under Mr Edgar Lungu, the campaign funders literally take over the running of government affairs. You cannot fire or appoint ministers or heads of state owned enterprises without their consent. When you start taking advice from them, they will overrule your Cabinet decisions and demand that you do as they say. They do this because they want their own user-friendly people to run key government institutions which they intend to syphon. Be careful with campaign funders!
Investors, mine owners, contractors
When a new party forms government, there is always pressure to create jobs by bringing in as much foreign direct investment as possible. During campaigns, President Hakainde Hichilema had been accused of promising to give our natural resources to his friends who wish to invest in Zambia. It is time for Mr Hichilema to prove that he will not yield to pressure from his friends globally to take undue advantage of his presidency. Not all investors mean well, some are heartless and they don’t care about the people in the jurisdictions where they operate. Such investors have a tendency of arm-twisting the government in order to get what they want. They take advantage of loopholes in the labour laws, tax policies and investment guidelines to get away with illegalities. As you heard from the Chinese, some investors are convinced that politicians are cheap, poor idiots whose only motivation for joining politics is to get rich. Those are not investors but predators preying on state captives, look out for them and keep a safe distance.
Family meddling into State business
Mr Hichilema ‘successfully succeeded’ to keep his family out of politics throughout his 15 years of a campaign bid to become the President of this country. There are very few Zambians who have seen Mr Hichilema’s children. Some people don’t even know that he has children of age. Even his wife, it is only now that some people have come to see her in public and active on social media. We recall that some years back, former president Rupiah Banda even made a bad joke about this when he said “umufisilanji mkazi wako, ni mwenye? (meaning, why do you hide your wife from the public as if she is Indian Muslim?). This joke backfired as it was not received well by the Indian community, prompting him to apologise. But the point we are trying to make is that all these happened because the UPND leader tried his best to separate his family from politics.
Criminals like using the President’s family to institute State Capture. There is always that one relative who diverts businessmen from the government tender boards and directs them to State House. If Mr Hichilema wants to have a smooth presidency, he must continue to keep his family away from State business. The people of Zambia voted for him not his children, nephews, nieces, uncles and aunties. We don’t want to see the President’s relatives starting to call civil servants and giving orders in the name of the President.
When you talk to Patrick Mwanawasa, he tells a very touching story about family meddling into state affairs. He says if there is one slap that he will never forget in his life, it is the one that his late father Levy Mwanawasa gave him, for merely ATTEMPTING to get involved in a supply contract at the Ministry of Defence. Levy called his oldest son to his office, asked a few questions and ended the meeting by landing a good one on his boy’s cheek. Patrick recalls that this was the angriest he had ever seen his father get, and adds that the slap was so painful that he could neither turn the other side nor get involved in any government tender issues again. That is the presidency that we want to see under Mr Hichilema. If you don’t slap those cocky relatives, Zambians will slap you out of State House.
Advisors, Ministers and MPs
Some of the people who formed the advisory council to President Edgar Lungu are close friends of ours whom we hold dearly to our hearts. Therefore we speak without malice when we say that Mr Lungu relinquished his presidential powers to his advisors in State House. When the nation expects the president to make a decision but he does not, a special assistant steps in; when the nation expects the President to address the public but he does not, a special assistant steps in. Every president has friends and Mr Hichilema is not an exception. It is expected that in the next few days, he will appoint some of his friends in key government positions to help him run public affairs. Among those friends, there will be that advisor, that minister, that member of parliament who will want more power than what will be given to them.
Left to do as they please, advisors can make a president very popular. Some of the people retired in national interest under President Lungu were punished without the President even knowing. The advisors usurp the President’s powers to cause all sorts of irreparable destruction. State Capture is not only when it involves businessmen and people outside government. Sometimes it’s the overzealous presidential appointees and advisors. If Mr Hichilema fails to tame his friends whom he will appoint in government positions, he will quickly become unpopular for sins committed by his own people.
Greed and self interest
All the above governance pitfalls have one common ingredient – greed! When campaign funders push to get all the government contract, they are motivated by greed and selfishness; when the First Family gets it’s fingers into the public coffers, they have succumbed to greed and selfishness; when ministers, MPs and State House advisors start pushing the president to make wrong decisions, it speaks of greed and selfish interests; when investors start to threaten of shut downs and job cuts with the aim of arm-twisting government , know that greed has gotten the best of them.
It is practically impossible for a party to form a government and rule for five years or more without any scandal. It is impossible to expect that all government positions under the UPND will be filled with people of integrity. No matter how much due diligence is done, criminals and corrupt leaders will be there in the new government, and some will be worse than those whom the people voted out under the Patriotic Front. Some may not necessarily be hardcore criminals, but they will be weak and with no firm moral standing. These will be the targets for state capture.
Just like wisdom, good advice is useless if someone keeps it to himself. We are warning the UPND leadership to be very careful with the decisions they make. We ask them to take the tips illustrated above very seriously if they want to serve diligently and to stay in power. For Mr Hichilema, we want to forewarn him that the people he will keep in his inner circle will be the ones to watch even more closely. These are the same people who shield the President from hearing the voice of the citizens, they feed him with false intelligence and make him believe that the people are happy with his leadership.
President Lungu failed to avoid all the above governance pitfalls and he fell into state capture. When the man was saying, I am confident that I will win the elections so that I can hand over power to myself, he was basing that from the information given to him by the people around him. That was the voice of a clueless captured President.
This is our humble advice to the UPND: A wise man learns from the mistakes of others, knowing well that he cannot live long enough to make all the mistakes by himself. The people of Zambia can be seen to be docile and gullible, but we have all seen that they are the most ‘lethal’ voters on earth!