Find us on Google+

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Zambia : A Leadership Vacuum (Guest Blog)

Zambians have harbored very high expectations about the socio-economic prospects of their country since October 1964 when the country gained political independence from European colonial powers. Equating political independence with not only self-rule, but also with genuine democracy and prosperity, they have continued to believe that the transfer of political power to African hands will eventually create greater opportunities for them to enhance their socio-economic well-being.

Unfortunately, the country has continued to wallow in waves of misfortunes from the time of what has come to be characterized as "nominal" or "flag" independence. It has become equated with a catalogue of unprecedented socio-economic ills – including poverty, malnutrition, disease, ignorance, illiteracy, corruption, widespread unemployment, rampant crime and lawlessness, and homelessness.

But how could a country that was once described by the World Bank as having been one of the richest countries in sub-Saharan Africa at independence in 1964 become one of the poorest 44 years later – with nearly 70% of its people wallowing in abject poverty? How could this happen to a country that was born with a copper spoon in its mouth?

The Achilles’ heel of post-independence Zambia seems to be the lack of competent leaders needed to initiate and successfully implement viable policies designed to tackle the Herculean tasks of the post-colonial era.

In this post, I wish to provide a bird’s-eye view of the contribution poor leadership has made to the country’s socio-economic malaise. It is not intended to be an indictment on MMD or UNIP leadership. Rather, it is an attempt to share my views concerning some of the salient and unbearable effects of incompetent leadership on the well-being of Zambians.

First, our initial failure to diversify economic activities away from the mining industry subjected the national economy to the vagaries of steep decreases in copper prices and production levels. To date, we have continued to give lip-service to the issue of economic diversification from copper mining to manufacturing, tourism, agriculture, and other sectors of the country’s economy.

Second, the creation of the Central Committee (a somewhat parallel structure to the National Assembly) and the position of Prime Minister that followed the introduction of a one-party State in 1972 contributed to the mismanagement of our beloved country’s meager public resources.

Third, socialist policies during the UNIP era barred both local and foreign private investors from certain commercial and industrial sectors of the country’s economy and recommended the creation of state companies to operate in such sectors of the economy from the late 1960s to 1991. The policies (which former president, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, promulgated through his April 1968, August 1969, and November 1970 addresses to the UNIP National Council) ushered in an era of state enterprises.

Naturally, the monopolistic position enjoyed by state companies in the country’s economy culminated in complacence and gross inefficiency because, in the absence of competition, they apparently found it unnecessary to seek innovative ways and means of improving the quality and quantity of their product offerings. The rampant commodity shortages which the country experienced during the UNIP era were largely a direct result of the socialist policies of the government of the day.

Fourth, our country’s postponement of macro-economic adjustment on May 1, 1987 exacerbated the socio-economic problems facing the country. The adjustment would have enabled us to create a competitive and more productive socio-economic system early enough to forestall any further deterioration of the economy.

Fifth, there have been just too many political appointments by Republican presidents that have not seemed to add any value to the resolution of the catalogue of socio-economic woes facing the majority of Zambians. Such appointments to sinecures have apparently become a routine feature of governance! As a result, we have created a nation-state where the common people are generally left to their own devices while the Republican President, the Republican Vice President, Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Ministers, District Commissioners, and other government officials have continued to revel in conspicuous, state-financed luxury.

Recently, Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane was quoted as having said that Zambia will not stop seeking loans because it does not have adequate resources. How then are we going to pay back the loans?

Clearly, the MMD government wants to continue to mortgage our country and the future of our children and grandchildren through such loans. There is no attempt whatsoever to trim the highly bloated government in order to make it live within its means!

There is a need for government leaders to realize that donor countries, like Zambia, do not have unlimited financial and material resources. They have to make do with scarce resources by going through public expenditures line by line, program by program, agency by agency, department by department, and ministry by ministry in order to eliminate unnecessary application of public resources.

We need to start doing the same in order to wean our country from its current addiction to loans, its over-dependence on donor funding, as well as attain economic independence and sustained socio-economic development mostly with our own local resources.

If we had leaders with vision and compass, the strikes and go-slows by teachers, nurses and resident doctors which have currently engulfed the country would have been prevented by planning ahead to improve the conditions of service of employees on government payroll. Unfortunately, we have leaders who would rather buy hearses and plan to secure a US$53 million loan to purchase mobile clinics!

With respect to the US$53 million deal, there is absolutely nothing wrong for President Banda to be stubborn or arrogant if he was planning to spend his personal money to buy the mobile clinics. The initial negative reaction to the deal from various segments of Zambian society was adequate for any wise leader to think twice about the deal.

By the way, the deal is unacceptable for the following reasons:

(a) The following should be prioritized rather than the mobile clinics: provision of free healthcare for all Zambians; construction of more permanent healthcare facilities nationwide; provision of adequate medicines and medical equipment; improvements in facilities at all referral healthcare centers to make it possible for them to accommodate Zambians (including government officials) who are fond of trekking to foreign countries for treatment; research designed to find cures for HIV/AIDS, cancer, tuberculosis, and other deadly diseases; and hiring, retention and training of health personnel.

(b) It would be irresponsible for the authorities to buy mobile health facilities that are likely to last only a few years, given the poor state of roads in rural areas.

(c) There are a lot of rural communities today where there are no motorable roads!

(d) The recurrent costs of maintaining the mobile clinics after spending the US$53 million to seal the 2-year contract would be prohibitive.

(e) It is not clear how the mobile clinics would be used – would they be driven around in rural communities on a regular basis in the hope of finding a sick person?

And what kind of leaders do we have in the MMD who keep trekking to foreign countries for medical treatment without making any meaningful effort to improve healthcare delivery in their own country for every citizen, including them?

Sixth, there is a seemingly unwritten requirement that the Republican president needs to reshuffle his Cabinet occasionally, which has resulted in government ministers being shunted from one ministry to another as though they are jacks of all trades. There seems to be no meaningful purpose for such reshuffles, other than to use them as a means of reminding the Cabinet ministers about who their boss is – the President!

Seventh, the apparent obsession for speedy privatization of state companies by MMD leaders during the 1990s without considering the fact that they were merely shifting the monopolistic positions enjoyed by such companies from government to private hands caused dislocations in the national economy. As could be expected, new private investments were not quickly made in the lines of business involved to provide the necessary competition to the buyers of the companies.

There was a need for a cautious and well-calculated pace of privatization designed to enable the government put in place a sound competition policy, a strong market for securities, and the necessary legislation to enforce contracts, among other things. Also, it was essential for the government to determine whether or not there were some economic sectors in which it would make sense for continued involvement by the government.

The privatization of state companies could not, therefore, yield expected benefits, which would have included the following: stimulation of private investment, economic empowerment of citizens through stock ownership, promotion of competition and efficiency in commerce and industry, beefing up government coffers through the sale of government holdings in state companies, reduced public-sector borrowing and government spending, and easing the financial burden of state companies on the public treasury.

Eighth, the prevalence of both petty corruption and grand corruption in the country has been a clear reflection of poor governance. The situation is likely to get worse with the single-source procurement which President Rupiah Banda’s administration seems to have adopted. Meanwhile, corruption will continue to subvert the political process in our beloved country; it will continue to thwart economic growth and stability; it will continue to undermine honest enterprise; it will continue to discourage foreign direct investment; it will continue to tarnish Zambia’s image; and it will continue to erode the country’s moral fiber.

Ninth, Zambia has lacked leaders who understand the need to make a quick transition from campaigning to governing upon being appointed or elected to positions of authority, and has also lacked leaders who recognize citizens’ right to vote for candidates of their choice without being threatened that their communities will be excluded from the development process if they do not vote for candidates fielded by the ruling political party.

Tenth, the monopoly which the party and its government have continued to maintain over the public news media is a clear reflection of dictatorial tendencies among government leaders. One wonders how public officials gauge the needs and expectations of the citizenry when the Times of Zambia, the Zambia Daily Mail, the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, and the Zambia News and Information Services are maintained mainly for the purpose of showering empty praises on government leaders!

We, therefore, need government leaders who are willing to develop new attitudes, skills and strategies in order to wrestle successfully with the complex and volatile socio-economic conditions of our time. As such, we need leaders who consider themselves as being on job-on-training regardless of the extent of their previous experience in politics and governance. And such leaders should be technocrats, rather than clueless figureheads!

As we get closer to the 2011 general elections, we are going to be continually warned by MMD cadres and supporters that we should not experiment with leadership – somewhat suggesting that the deadwood among our current crop of government leaders hold the key to Zambia’s future!

We are also likely to be bombarded by rehearsed calls from the same folks that the President should be given more time to complete his projects and programs beyond 2011. Such calls are, of course, meaningless because any new Republican president would be obliged to adopt and implement existing projects and programs that are designed to benefit communities nationwide – projects and programs initiated by previous administrations!

One would perhaps do well to conclude this post with the following depiction of the depressing state of affairs obtaining in our country excerpted from a 2004 Social Watch report (cited by Bivan Saluseki in The Post newspaper of July 2, 2004):

"Even though the country has not formally been at war since independence in 1964, prevailing conditions affecting human existence are equivalent to those in a country at war."

Henry Kyambalesa
(Guest Blogger / Agenda for Change)


  1. Interesting and good article. I think it helps touch on a few of the core issues that are at the root of zambia's failure to economically develop into a first world economy in the post-colonial period.

    The problem with the post-colonial period of political leadership in zambia is that the two dominant political parties that have lead the country have never focused their economic development policies on the long term goal of facilitating the emergence of the zambian entrepreneur and industrialist class to lead the private sector wealth creation efforts.

    UNIP party had the right idea of zambian centered economic development. Their wrong idea was their failure to realise that it was not state captalism but primarily zambian private sector centered captalism that would deliver a diversified economy and ultimately a developed economy.

    MMD party has got the right idea that economic liberalization and captalism driven by the private sector is the way to go. Their wrong idea is to ignore UNIP's idea of zambian centered economic development efforts just because UNIP had the wrong idea of state captalism.

    Both UNIP and MMD administrations have had captalist ideologies(state captalism and private sector captalism) that drove their economic policies. However, none of them managed to lead zambia towards increased economic growth because they both ignore a focus on facilitating the emergence of the zambian private sector as the ultimate goal of their policies.

    Both types of parties in UNIP and MMD also exhibit a distinctive feature of post-independence era african leadership elites that took over from the colonialists:

    A propensity to take over what they did not create and divide it among the ruling elites, their lower political cadre patronage networks, and finally to their voting constituents in the population. They then pass this off as economic progress.

    And they are pleasantly surprised when their economies are bankrupt. This pattern can be seen in both UNIP and MMD:

    1. UNIP party nationalists took over colonial economic assets under the justification that zambian workers were used to build them. The nationalists quickly realised that there is a difference between creators who had a vision for the economic assets and people who were just workers that helped build it.

    2. The MMD party reformers took over the UNIP era parastatal company system and divided it among themselves, political patronage networks, foreign investors, and voting population. A good example of this are the council houses President Chiluba gave to ordinary zambians and parastatal companies the current UPND party president Hichilema Hakainde helped sale that have made him alot of money. The foreign investors took a huge chunk of the parastatal system perhaps because of their connections to the politicians.

    A good chunk of the MMD party's economic policy efforts infact involve the sale of UNIP era economic assets and partial sale of a few colonial era assets like ZESCO.

    Finally, the problem of zambian underdevelopment is both a failure of zambian political leadership and a failure of the general population to have the right attitudes and approaches to economic development. Economic development occurs when people want to create not strip assets and pass that off as economic progress. It also happens when people are not expecting handouts(foreign aid) when they have natural resources worth billions of dollars. The problem is not just the politician but it is with all of us zambians and we need to change our attitudes on economic development.

  2. This is another good window into Zambian politics, thank you Prof Kyambalesa.
    How ever I tend to believe there has really never been a vacuum of leadership at any time in Zambia. There is simplify a failure by some political leaders to galvanize popular support for their ideology - which sadly in most cases portrays more the politicians self development interests than a genuine people/national development agenda.
    It is sad that many leaders are quick to apply western ideologies to the Zambian situation without the much needed social and cultural adaptations.
    To begin with, this western view that Zambia was a rich country at independence needs clarifying, it is true that Zambia had rich resources at independence which thank God with still have in good measure but that did not make Zambia rich in terms of educational, health, agricultural and social infrastructure resources. At independence westerners would have had a different perspective had they seen the state of a very number of Zambians in rural areas at the time without access to roads,schools, clinics, clean water or in some cases clothes.If Zambia was rich then , we can send all the vagabonds in the cities to rural areas and measure our GDP against the remaining population with jobs and I believe it would exceed present day south Korea.
    What leaders in your position should do, in addition to your development policies, is to craft a social policy that will engineer a social structure that gives value to the contributions of every Zambian from the villager to the most educated.
    Basic things like city planning, enforcing ordinances,setting and collecting local taxes, approving city budgets, enforcing local government regulations etc should be the cornerstone of civic and local involvement of every able Zambian. Before looking at national government for solutions to every problem, every opportunity in the local environment must be explored to the greatest extent perhaps that way Zambians can again realize we still have abundant natural resources and by extension maybe still be rich.


All contributors should follow the basic principles of a productive dialogue: communicate their perspective, ask, comment, respond,and share information and knowledge, but do all this with a positive approach.

This is a friendly website. However, if you feel compelled to comment 'anonymously', you are strongly encouraged to state your location / adopt a unique nick name so that other commentators/readers do not confuse your comments with other individuals also commenting anonymously.