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Tuesday, 19 May 2009

When mulongotism met sakism...

Works and Supply Minister Mike Mulongoti has a tendency to make statements that are not thought through. We normally call these "mulongotisms" and  we first encountered them here (many more are littered on this website, just hit the search button!).  But this week, he also combined a bit of sakism. A well known Zambian syndrome we first diagnosed in Sakwiba Sikota. You will spot these two syndromes in the excerpt from Sunday's Post Newspaper
Mulongoti said there should be an Act of Parliament, which stipulates the various qualifications needed for people aspiring for high office such as the Republican presidency. "We can as a principle include in the Constitution that a head of state or President of the Republic must carry a recognised qualification prescribed under the Act of Parliament," he said.

Asked if he would push for the Act since he was also a member of parliament, Mulongoti responded: "Yes, if you look in the region, everybody is moving to university graduates as a president.....It is not discrimination so to speak. It is positive discrimination. That way we will also encourage those aspiring to leadership to begin to dust their certificates, the qualifications they got in the 1960s," said Mulongoti.
For the record, I should point out that it is not necessary to have minimum qualifications for Presidential candidates unless you believe Zambians are not capable of distinguishing a good candidate from a bad one.  Hon Mulongoti should abandon his paranoia and for a minute place trust in the good judgement of the Zambian people. We are not as foolish as he thinks we are. We can tell a good candidate from a bad one.  As for his poor interpretation of affirmative action, I shall not comment. Did he say University graduates? I wonder...


  1. In response to the above post ''Mulongotism / sakism, I beg to differ. I think the man has a point though not rightly put forward.

    I think some level of qualification or rather education is cardinal to becoming a president/ leader of a country. Talk about Zambia's political history since 1964, Our first leader Dr Kaunda had a reasonable level of education and a good track record of team leading which is vital.

    He was then succeeded by Chiluba, whose eduacational level cannot be matched to Kaunda's or his successor Mwanawasa.....

    Dr Kaunda (educated) helped pick up the Zambian economy a great deal, CHiluba (educated??) came and plundered it, Late Pres. Mwanawasa (MHSRIP), did his very best to improve what Chiluba messed up.

    I think its high time we started learning from other successful nationals. America and Britain to name a few, if you look at their political history, almost all their leaders have a sound level of education. In this day and age, am afraid we cant do without education, not necessarily a university degree.

    I would like to acknowledge the fact that yes we as Zambians are not that, yes we do know a good leader when we see one. However, most presidential elections lately don't offer us much choice. I think its high time we had a different pool of young, vibrant, and soundly educated Zambians to stand for future elections. The old folks should jut sit back and advise the young now! Its time for change, times have moved on so we should to and not be stuck in federal type of politics.

    Zambians are very intelligent people that definitely know what they want. Give us the right candidates and we will always make the right decision at the polls.

  2. Anon,

    If your worry is poor choices, your solution is not the answer. The solution to poor choices is a more competitive electoral system.

    It has nothing to do with individuals qualifications.

    So fight for proportional representation or some other forms that eliminates perpetual incumbency.

    Like all markets, the key to improving the quality of the service is to make system more competitive!

  3. I don't know where you get this idea that the US Constitution requires any other qualification for a President other than 35 years of age and natural born citizen. It has been that way for 218 years without amendment. The fact that the voters tend to prefer well educated persons for office is evidence that you propose a solution in search of a problem, unless you find democracy somehow distasteful. I think if you were to suggest this as an amendment to the US Constitution you would find the response to be an overwhelming negative from the electorate. If Zambia's NCC chooses to implement this suggestion, then so be it, but don't try to blame it on Americans.

  4. Cho,

    Well said, ''Like all markets, the key to improving the quality of the service is to make system more competitive!'' But I dont think Zambia politics / elections is anywhere near competitive.

    Point of correction, my worry is not poor choice, because I believe Zambians have actually tried so far we always seem to vote for the best candidate on the panel.

    My worry is the people that come forward to stand for these elections. Thanks to blogging sites like this one, I have come across so many Zambians who sound capable of getting out there into the game of politics. I would really love to see a new breed of politicians in Zambia.

    There is lack of competition, which results in more candidate power over the voting public, because as you said the tougher the competition in the market the higher the chances of public having more power. I hope my statement is clear.


    Talking about the US constitution requirements for presidency. Lets be more realistic. If we compare the US to Zambian education system, that should explain alot of things. An average US citizen cannot be compared to an average Zambian citizen on the level of education obtained. I repeat '' sound level of education not necessarily a qualification''.

    Lookat our Zambian education system, the so called Government run schools are a mess. Thats just another subject all together.

  5. Anonymous,

    Okay, I will quote you, where you say in defense of a constitutional provision that would require all candidates for President to have a formal education, "I think its high time we started learning from other successful nationals. America and Britain to name a few, if you look at their political history, almost all their leaders have a sound level of education. In this day and age, am afraid we cant do without education, not necessarily a university degree." You brought up Americans, not me, I am responding. Nothing requires American Presidents to be educated, nor ever has (I misstated the age of the US Constitution also, it is 228 years old, not 218, apologies). As I said, the Zambian NCC is capable of arriving at the conclusion that an educational requirement is necessary, it just won't get there by using the US as an example.

  6. I think we also need to look at what the political leaders we have in terms of whether they have time to read and understand what the world is offering in terms of new ideas. What Anonymous is saying has some level of truth because I do not see how a mere Sub B would articulate or analyse an issue critically without relying on prescriptive advise which s/he would thereafter just rubber stamp. An example is Chiluba who kept on saying "government has no business in business" and showed that by privatizing every company without a strategic plan. In addition, uneducated as he is, he did not even see the need for human resource development because during his time there was a reduction in further- study programmes while he just encouraged one-month training either in Swaziland or TZ. And that has not yielded any positive result at all. We can also see the impact of lack of "a sound level of education" in some leaders who want to built the nation in 90days with no long term plan- good Lord!

  7. Anon, Not

    We are going round in circles.

    No one said education is not important.

    What I am telling you is that the lack of minimum qualifications requirement is not the reason you have low calibre leaders.

    The reason is that the electoral system is not competitive enough.

    Your solution is half baked. It does not go to the heart of the problem. A half baked solution is bad enough. A discriminatory half baked solution is even worse.

  8. Not,

    I am happy that someone has actually understood my point.

    I hear your point. Yes I brought up America and my point is that regardless of what their constitution says, an average american will still get some decent level of education, unlike our country Zambia.
    Please do try to see some sense in what am talking about here.

    Not's comment actually makes a very good arguement.

  9. I think it is completely unreasonable to expect bloggers to come up with 100% solution to a problem. Zambia's political system is in shambles. There are more than one reason why we have low calibre leaders in our country.

    Cho, Your solution or reasoning too doesn't hold. What makes our electoral system less competitive? There are many reasons and we all know why.

    This is a blogging site. I just aired my views and didn't for once say that my opinion is fully baked. It will be nice if you actually stated the what you think is a fully baked solution, because reading from your post you have only stated a problem and not a solution.

    Please allow us to air our views, be it half baked or not, there is surely some sense in my argument.

  10. Anon,

    I never really respond to anonymous comments.

    I responded to yours because they grossly misconstrued my post.
    To aid others, please at least state your location on your posts. We do get many anon and it becomes confusing distinguishing people.

    You are correct that there are many reasons for low calibre leaders. But if these leaders are genuine choices of the people within a competitive electoral framework, what is wrong with that?

    My contention is that the electoral system does not fully reflect peoples wishes.

    That is how this issue of low calibre leadership becomes important. If these leadersare there through a competitive system I would not bother.

    Now you ask that I explain why I think Zambia's electoral system is not a level playing field. I am happy to do so later to day when I have time. I would have thought it was obvious. We have actually discussed this issue many timeson this website as Yakima would testify.

  11. My sincere apologies for 'grossly misconstruing your post'.
    I shall en devour to read more on the site's archives and get a reasonable insight on current Issues, as well as make myself known.

  12. I find it troubling when people argue for restricting the choices of the electorate. Is the argument that creating this degree requirement will force some the current “low calibre” candidates off the political stage, leaving a gap to be filled with a new breed of well educated leaders? If so, what has been keeping this new breed out of politics, and will the degree requirement also remove that barrier (at the same time as it creates one for most of the populous)?

    Also, there are no degrees in being a president. My masters degree in Mathematics does not equip me in any way to head a nation! Perhaps it demonstrates that I am “high calibre” and “intelligent” - and of course we all want high calibre, intelligent people in high office - but educational attainment is a very crude measure of intelligence. It relies on everyone having broadly similar opportunities to progress, which is clearly not the case in Zambia: Many (and I would not be surprised if it was the majority) of grade 12 leavers do not go to attain a degree, not for lack of ability, but for lack money! Therefore, a degree requirement would exclude a lot of potentially good leaders and also favour the wealthy.

    If we are unhappy with the calibre of current candidates, we need to understand why better candidates are not forthcoming and empower the electorate with the information to distinguish one from the other. Draconian discrimination cannot be the answer until we better understand the problem.

  13. I think we may be all missing the point. The duties of a constituency MP are both too broad and underfunded.

    If budgets were decentralized (50% of national revenues or $550 million in 2004) to the local council level, it would:

    1) Give money and obligations to the local council level, which means it would be allocated by someone living in the council permanently. The number one complaint about MPs seems to be that they pend too much time outside of their constituency - as they should. MPs should solely represent their constituency in parliament, so there can be local input on national policy. This should have nothing to do with getting development to their constituency, which would be much more appropriately handled by someone who is in the constituency on a permanent basis.

    2) Central Government is too large, while virtually all money is spent at the ministerial level. 29 ministries and political positions have bloated the central government, and all these politicians want to think of, is adding more. Like appointing chiefs to parliament.

    This are all syndromes of the fact that there is too much concentration of power in the center/ministries/presidency/capital. We can fight the symptoms forever and without result, until this basic and fundamental issue is dealth with. As usual, it is that if you get the basics right, you have much fewer problems to deal with.

    Replacing donor aid with mine taxes, for the singular objective of diversifying the economy (not keeping 29 ministries running or adding more MPs), is another basic thing that can be done, especially in this time of economic upheaval, when even 'capitalist' economies are nationalizing banks.

  14. To Cho and Yakima,

    I have just read through this link; Sunday's Post Newspaper : I definitely spoke too soon and therefore put my hands up.

    Having read through it I now understand exactly what your argument was all about. I now agree that the man really has a tendency to make statements that are not thought through. The only statement that made sense was and I quote;

    ''Mulongoti said governance was no longer a child's play because the world was becoming complex and technical, saying the appreciation of global issues was beginning to pose a challenge to leadership''.

    Well he had a point there, however guess in a wrong context. I am actually surprised to hear him insist on presidential candidates' need for a degree or qualification however he wants to put it.

    Well, I guess this syndrome can somewhat be contagious because boy, I sounded like one of them earlier didn't I? Almost sucked myself into the Mulongitism/ Sakotism syndrome.

    I would like to commend you guys for this blog. I am pleased to have found it, because it's such a vibrant and up-to-date Zambian blog I have so far come across. Well done guys and please do keep up with the good work. Thanks for the very useful links that you always attach to support your statements. I really like your way of reporting or blogging.

  15. Well said Dominic, am with you....Good food for thought.

  16. I'd like to open with an apology for being somewhat brusque in my recent commentary. While it is not an excuse, I literally collapsed unconscious at work the other day, resulting in some painful bruising all along my left side from head to knee in the uncontrolled fall. I have noticed that I am less patient or charitable when in pain or stressed, which is not fair to people I am voluntarily engaging with. I will try to do better in future.

    Anon-One (if I may be so bold as to temporarily designate you as such to avoid confusion, there is also no need to register a name formally, but if not, then a simple tag in the text at the beginning or end of posts would be helpful (e.g. "by Anon-One")),

    I would like to thank you for that truly gracious retraction, as well as your kind words as to the quality of discourse Cho has engendered on the blog. You are clearly a thoughtful and articulate person, and I look forward to hearing your perspective on other issues.

    On the issue of leadership selection, I think that this is best addressed within political parties themselves, especially given the "strong" character of parties in the Zambian context. For example, in the US context, elected officials are commonly at odds with their own party on certain issues, and can only be loosely controlled by way of financing and endorsement (or lack thereof) in the next election cycle. Given the tight rein under which Zambian MPs operate by contrast, facing as they do the prospect of being de-gazetted by party leadership for acts of "rebellion", the internal party nominating process takes on greater force.

    There is no constitutional requirement that political parties behave in this way that I know of, but rather what I would characterise as the difference between a "Big Tent" approach and a "Big Man" approach. Both have their own pluses and minuses in delivering representation to constituents, and personally I think that it would be interesting if the Zambian political scene offered voters a choice at the ballot box between these contrasting styles of party building.

  17. Yakima,

    Most sorry to hear that.

    I am tempted to order you to rest away from the blog :)

    I sent you an email five minutes ago before reading the blog!

  18. Dominic,

    "If we are unhappy with the calibre of current candidates, we need to understand why better candidates are not forthcoming and empower the electorate with the information to distinguish one from the other."This is the big question!

    At the heart of that question, is also recognition that Zambia has MANY small parties headed by very educated individuals but they do not have a realistic chance of power.

    What is preventing these small parties from having a realistic shot?

    Its certainly not their qualifications.

    Some have said its the lack of "ideology".

    But that can't be true, because many of the 30+ parties have such variety. From the traditional healers party to pan-Africanists! Zambia has enormous variety in political parties.

    But yet, we don't see this variety in the ruling parties. Zambia has been ruled by the same party for nearly 20 years now.

    A number of posts come to mind that have touched on this :
    Good discussion on the relative merits of 50% + 1 compared to other systems.
    Good exchange with Yakima on electoral systems there.
    The comments section runs to 71 comments with Random, MrK et al. Sparked by the supposed death of UNIP.

  19. A very good debate with some very good quality contributions!


    Good analysis. However, as Cho mentioned 'intellectuals' are there in some small as well as meainstream political parties (case in point, Prof. Clive Chirwa int he MMD).

    Part of the reason why intellectuals like him do not have much of a chance against less educated but well connected political opponents, is to do with issues of incumbency.

    Until that is resolved, intellectuals outside that inner-circle, have little chance.

    But why do we have issues of incmubency plaguing the electoral process?

    I think it's partly because the vast majority of the electorate is somewhat brainwashed, uninformed, poor, and thus open to political manipulation. Rent-a-mob type politics, or "Shaky-Shaky" politics (so called because aspiring candidates splash cadres with the named opaque brew), are all reality in Zambian politics.

    So, what's needed is a huge investment in and committment to education of the general populace.

    I also think that given that 35 years of one-party political system could be heavily entrenched in many people's minds, political re-education, i.e democracy, may be necessary.

  20. Yakima, sorry to hear about your fall. Wish you a quick recovery.


    By the way, former British PM John Major hardly had A-Level education!


  21. Zedian,

    I don't think education is a dominant factor, for two reasons. First, it is not clear why that should advantage any party. Secondly, if you look at Britain in the 19th century govt used to change hands all the time. You surely remember the back and forth between between Disraeli and Gladstone. The SYSTEM was the reason.

    I do think there are other factors....corruption of the electoral process and culture or tribalism as we call it. There's a post on this blog somewhere that presents a paper showing Zambians vote on tribal lines.

  22. Zedian,

    A Levels still count as reasonable education!

    Anon - one

  23. Thanks all for your expressions of goodwill, I am recovering nicely and should not experience any lasting ill effects.

    I think that while it may indeed be the case that many voters are uninformed as to the full range of electoral choices available to them, it would seem to me that any centralised system of political education would be unlikely to do anything but reinforce the electability of incumbents. I tend to agree with Cho that increased general education levels would not necessarily favour any particular party at the polls, however a single system of government run political education would seem to logically favour those in the current majority. In practical terms therefore, it would seem necessary for parties and/or candidates to undertake to educate voters as to the policy options each is offering independently.

    Certainly there are a variety of systemic reforms of the electoral process which could increase the relative contestability of presidential or parliamentary positions, however that would still not relieve individual candidates and their parties from their need to convince voters as to their relative merits. Leveling the playing field with regard to corruption in the process or appeals to tribal loyalties would still not necessarily avail all of equal resources with which to disseminate their political positions, again reinforcing the need for independent organization and fund-raising.

    Hopefully any votes that a candidate is able to win over via "Shaky-Shaky" tactics will be balanced by others who find the very use of such tactics as sufficient reason to seek alternatives among those offering more substantive policy platforms. If not, well such is the risk of democracy, for as Alexis De Tocqueville famously remarked, "the American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money," and James Fenimore Cooper said,"The tendency of democracies is, in all things, to mediocrity." Those of us who seek to advance the cause of democracy must be willing to simultaneously undertake to effectively raise the value of the "median".

  24. Yakima,

    I agree with much of your assessment but with one important qualification.

    Information is costly.

    For political parties to invest in educating the electorate the expected return must be greater than the cost. I put to you that for many of our small parties the expected pay offs are minimal because the probability of winning given the existing ELECTORAL SYSTEM is minimal.

    In short I believe contestable electoral systems provide sufficient incentive for parties to invest in educating the electorate. Zambia's current system encourages voting on tribal lines and plethora of meaningless parties with little prospect for power.

  25. Cho,

    Information is indeed costly, I certainly agree and would not want to give the impression otherwise. However costs can be "paid" in a wide variety of ways, and in a world where it can be said that time equals money, a small but committed group can leverage rather considerable powers of organized and coherent publicity through word-of-mouth and door-to-door contacts, or "samizdat" publishing methods (originally pioneered to overcome Soviet-era restrictions on public assembly and "pravda" single-source propaganda). For example, smaller Zambian parties have yet to fully harness the potentials of the proliferation of access to SMS in rally organizing, sloganeering, and other coordinated efforts which can bypass more monetarily expensive traditional forms of media.

    While I too would like to see reforms in the electoral system which decentralize power along more democratic lines, I feel that smaller parties must be prepared to compete more effectively within the current confines of the system rather than bank on any changes which may be implemented working to their advantage. To illustrate a bit what I mean by this, I will draw an example from my observations of two of the smaller parties in the US context, the Greens and the Socialists.

    In the 2000 election season, Ralph Nader mounted a spirited campaign for President, representing the Greens. Nader was quite adamant publicly that he would view any position other than President as insufficiently powerful, even though he would have been competitive in several individual congressional districts. While few Greens truly believed that he had any real chance of winning the oval office, they diverted resources from all areas of the party in hopes of clearing the threshold to qualify for federal "matching funds" in the next campaign (5+% of the popular vote nationwide). Not only did they fail to meet this target, or achieve electoral victory in any of the 435 congressional races, they also provoked lasting resentment from large numbers of voters due to the impression that Nader's candidacy had drawn crucial votes away from Al Gore in the pivotal Florida election.

    By contrast, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Socialist, former four term (2 yrs) mayor of the city of Burlington (he won his first race by just 10 votes), in 1990 won election as the state's at-large member of congress. He won re-election to that seat 7 more times before running for and winning a senate seat in 2006. Now as it turns out with the division of votes and supermajority rules in the senate, Bernie is in possession of a crucial swing vote on every piece of legislation where the Democrats and Republicans vote strictly along party lines. The Socialists therefore have a meaningful voice in national affairs, even with a single office holder, while the Greens remain unrepresented.

    The lesson which I draw from this example is that if you are a smaller party, it pays to concentrate on winning what offices you can, building on the reputation that access to government office provides and using that as a platform for growth, rather than striving to elevate one of your own instantly to the "Big Man" position in a "win big or go home" fashion. What I would like supporters of these smaller parties to ask themselves is whether they would rather have a leader who is a failed presidential candidate seeking what publicity they can get from the media, or one who is a sitting MP entitled to speak and vote on the issues of the day and whose positions and views are always on record in official government archives and publications?

  26. Yakima,

    I certainly agree that in the absence of electoral reform, the question does remain whether the parties are doing their level best to utilise the full mechanisms available which impose "minimal costs". The SMS is a great example because we have seen in Kenya even squatters use it to organise a defence successfully against government authorities who wanted to uproot them!

    As you rightly note, there's not yet significant evidence of smaller or new parties harness these forms to help build a platform. Without doubt it is not just the electorate who are uninformed (due to the lack of information dissemination by the competing parties) but also the parties themselves.

    I suppose as an economist, I struggle to understand this ignorance by the parties. In short why are these parties not adopting these technologies which are relatively free? I take from your assessment the answer is that they have "Big Man" mentality. But surely repeated electoral defeats should have ingrained in them the folly of that approach.

    It is interesting reading the article below in Today's Post. Mr Siulupwa appears to shamefully suggest he was bought :

    MMD has abused me. I suspect the article deserves a full blog on its own!

  27. Cho/Yakima,

    I fully appreciate the need for small parties to use more efficient means to get their message across, which in turn would enahnce our democracy (I think).

    However, given that politicans can get away with just about anything in Zambia, I wouldn't put so much trust in small parties spreading democracy through their own campaigns. I am very skeptical of that.

    I would rather there was a central effort to educate the public in schools, colleges, through community centres, and so on. And this would not be intended for the benefit of any single party, but for democracy as a whole.

    Yakima alluded to the old Soviet propaganda machinery, which I think is not too disimilar to what KK's single party regime had. I think we need to appreciate that quite a lot of people came from that era and almost suddenly found themselves staring at this thing called democracy.

    You see, the main driver for the change from one party system to a multi-party systems was economic and not necessarily the desire to change the style of government. This can be seen in the way that the MMD dealt with the opposition soon after.

    So to me, democracy appears to be an alien concept to a significant proportion of the Zambian electorate and that's perhaps why they're struggling with it. When I hear people like Ronnie Shikapwasha, Tetamashimba, and the like, I'm not surprised at all at their intolerance to opposing views.

    And I'm not surprised either at how they get away with it, because the majority of the people don't see anything wrong with it!

    They say, a nation gets the leadership it deserves, and that stands very true in Zambia's case. We need to raise the value of that 'median' and the way to do that, in my opinion, is to develop a system that will teach the elecorate the fundamentals of the 'new' democratic system.

    Our democracy came by way of revolution rather than evolution, and therefore may take a very long time to take root, as was the case with most other democracies, anyway. But that learning curve can be shortened by way of 're-education'.

  28. Zedian,

    I agree with you on the general thrust of your recommendations. Perhaps it would be helpful if the ECZ were to provide materials on the mechanics of multi-party democracy and the constitutional rights of voters, which can then be disseminated to appropriate audiences through local institutions as you suggest. It would still be necessary of course for individual parties to add distinction between themselves and other parties in the eyes of voters, but they might find a more receptive audience to alternatives if they better understand the process before the campaign season begins. Perhaps the House of Chiefs could act somewhat in a supervisory role, to ensure that distribution of materials is uniform throughout constituencies of all sizes and locales. I do however caution against reliance on mechanisms which rely on centralised sources of content on specific parties, as these are increasingly subject to capture by one or more dominant parties over time. As with any mandate, it is important also to provide a means of funding that will be sufficient and sustainable, as well as independent of political control by any one faction.

  29. Agreed!

    Here's an interesting story on how Ugandans are keeping their MP's on their toes:


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