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Sunday, 9 November 2008

A memo to President Banda

Congratulations President Banda. You ran a spirited and issues based campaign that I am sure has earned the admiration of the Zambian people. As you no doubt know, your journey has just begun, even as the campaign road has just ended. Over the next few months and years, you will face many challenges. The world is going through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and while Zambia may be far geographically from the financial turmoil engulfing Europe and the USA, in an ever globalised world we are not immune. We are already feeling the effects through tightening remittances, slowdown in commodity prices and the inevitable reduction in overseas development aid. Not to mention the potential negative impacts on our emerging tourism industry. To make matters worse, you have assumed the Presidency at a time of great uncertainty in our region. The Zimbabwean political situation remains volatile and war is resuming in the DRC. Our own economy which has grown in the last five years, with minimal dent on poverty, is still growing slower than many of regional our competitors such as Angola and Mozambique, and to confound things inflation appears to be spiralling out of control. Our human and physical infrastructure is broken and more than 70% of our people live on less than $1-2 a day. Its within this context that I write you this short memo with four broad pieces of advice as you chart the way forward :

Listen to your economic instincts and select a good group of economic advisers. The nation is most fortunate that for the first time we have a President who has an economic background and understand how the economy works. We now look to you to apply what you learnt in school to the greatest issues facing our nation. But in doing this recognise that no man knows everything. Zambia is blessed with many economists at home and abroad. You must now do what you can to put together a brilliant group of economists, that will provide you the very best advice in the core areas - finance, mining, transport, education and health. You can no longer follow the course of your predecessors who appeared to rely solely on advice from the IMF and World Bank. Always remember that real and effective solutions are home grown.

Recognise you have a small mandate. Mr President you won the vote with 2% more than your closest rival, with many of our people voting against you rather than for you. I am sure its also not lost on you that the majority of registered voters (55%) stayed at home rather than walk down the voting booth, surely a loud signal of the lack of confidence and trust that Zambians have in our current electoral and political systems. This calls for humility and the need for you to start off a new conversation with the Zambian people. Although you have many Parliamentarians its quite obvious many of our people felt a new direction was necessary. Its therefore imperative that you reach across the aisle and bring in people from the opposition who during the campaign offered some innovative ideas that are certainly worth considering. Your party will undoubtedly resist more close working with the opposition, but you are the President and through consensus politics you have a chance to redefine our politics and find real answers to the many challenges we are facing.

Recognise your past mistakes. I recognise that you assumed the Acting Presidency under very trying circumstances. By and large you have done exceptionally well and have respected the rule of law. Understandably you have had to pander to your constituency to get elected. But now you are our President, and therefore it will be necessary to take a more cautious approach on the way forward.

First, the current situation of mining companies not paying their obligated taxes under the new fiscal regime is not acceptable. Its not right that a certain constituency is able to sit down and negotiate on stated legislation, while ordinary Zambians quietly obey the laws and pay their taxes accordingly.

Second, you started off your inauguration speech with emphasis on foreign investors and the need for more of their money. FDI is important and this every Zambian understands. But there was little in your speech that recognised that Zambia has a diaspora that if properly tapped into can do much to help. We hope that you will do more in this area, and certainly we hope that there's no return to the attitudes of your predecessor who hurled insults at the diaspora, often calling them "lazy" and "unpatriotic".

Thirdly, we saw some worrying signs of "food based corruption" in the early days of campaign. Mr President please understand that not only was it ironic that you would distribute food to recipients under an effective "cash based programme", it also sent a wrong message that our people are there to be bought. We recognise that this may have been done inadvertently, but if you to steer the course against corruption, it is imperative that you always be seen to be above it.

Finally, and most importantly, it is my hope that you wont continue the sort of profligate spending that we saw in the campaign. We all understand the need for you to act swiftly and respond to queries from specific groups. However, it is important to first recognise that the national budget is not different from household budgets. If money is spent on something, adjustments would have to made elsewhere. This calls for careful planning to underpin your spending decisions, and most importantly explaining to the Zambian public how those trade-offs are being made. A case in point is the removal of taxes on fuel and your recent increase in budgetary support to farmers. Its not that it was bad to help farmers or urban commuters, what was bad was the rash way in which things were done, and the perceived continuous pandering to constituencies just to be popular or win an election. Zambia has a limited pot of funds, and therefore we need to use it wisely and timely. We cannot afford to run up our external debts again after going through a painful process. Its therefore important that early on in your presidency you are clear on what government can and cannot do, and where its priorities should be. This will allow debate and input from the general public on your general direction. Again, your economic instincts and those of your economic advisers will become handy here.

Do not be obsessed with power. During the campaign you reminded us that you were "called to power" and did not ask for it. You happily retired from politics until the late President called on you. I hope that now that you have tasted power, you will not go the way of previous Presidents who amassed power for themselves and were too insecure to relinquish control. You can show you are different in simple but effective ways. First, it is the hope of every Zambian therefore that you take serious steps to ensure that the National Constitution Conference has all the stakeholders on board, and a new constitution is delivered mid next year. The NCC is proving to be very expensive to the tax payer, and we cannot afford to see this expensive exercise drag on forever. Secondly, relinquish government control of the government over the press. Finally, it is important to build a much leaner government focused on the essentials and not just create posts to reward those that helped you get elected. This calls for an urgent review of which ministries and foreign missions to mantain, and in terms of delivery, which parastals are worth letting go for the private Zambians in partnership with foreign investors to run. Again, we have little money to spend and therefore we need to use the little we have wisely.


  1. Good initiative. If I may add one thing, I'd like to emphasise that the President should keep in mind take very seriously the fact that there are issues which are above partisan politics. One such case is the National Constitution Conference which the entire nation is hoping will deliver a constitution that we shall all rely upon for many many years to come.

  2. Mention must be made of the ‘informal’ settlements which surround our cities. These unplanned and unserviced settlements with no proper roads or drainage, no piped water, no sanitation, no electricity, no schools, no recreational areas are an abomination. No wonder that most urban inhabitants voted for the opposition. They will support any politician who offers hope of CHANGE.

    The new government must not follow its predecessors by ignoring this disgraceful situation. It must act urgently to reform local authorities, and must empower them to tackle this problem. A government which continues to ignore it will not deserve our votes in 2011.

  3. This is a present for my president from his times, perhaps to get the message:


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