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Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A Repressive State (Guest Blog)

During the 1960s, we harbored very high and somewhat unrealistic expectations about the socio-economic prospects of our beloved country, Zambia. Equating independence with not only self-rule, but also with genuine democracy and prosperity, we strongly believed that the transfer of political power from colonial to Zambian hands would create greater opportunities for us to enhance our socio-economic well-being.

Unfortunately, political freedom could not deliver its promises, and disappointment soon ensued. The early euphoria, therefore faded within a few years of political freedom when, in 1972, UNIP imposed a one-party political system on the people. As could be expected, the single-party system could not tolerate dissent or criticism, which could have been essential in moderating the behavior of political actors. (It is perhaps important to note here that current MMD leaders and hooligans are equally and perhaps more dangerously averse to criticism and dissent.)

Stuck at a political, social and economic cul-de-sac, Zambia seemed to be heading to calamity when the ripples of democratization and freedom from Eastern Europe reached the country. Taking advantage of the new wind of change, the resilient Zambian civil society got out of hibernation and implored the UNIP administration to liberalize the country’s political system. Again, Zambians reconnected with expectations in 1991 when they voted for the MMD to rule the country.

But, once again, the renewed sense of hope has been waning rapidly over the years due to the realization that it takes more than a multi-party system to redress decades of socio-economic decay and backwardness.

But how could a country that is endowed with abundant natural and human resources find itself in a predicament whereby 64% of its citizens are wallowing in abject poverty? Te answer lies in what may be referred to as the “leadership problematique.” The need for a new cadre of leaders in Zambia is, therefore, overdue—leaders who understand the Gordian knot of the country’s plight and are in a hurry to move it forward in huge strides in order to change its current trajectory.

Let us consider a classification of nation-states paraphrased from a multitude of literary sources to determine Zambia’s current status. The sources include: Amoako, K.Y., “Governance for a Progressing Africa: Opening Statement at the Second Africa Governance Forum,” Accra, Ghana, June 25, 1998; and Kyambalesa, H., “The 27th Ordinary Summit of SADC,” a Press Release prepared for Heads of State and Government who attended the 27th Ordinary Summit of SADC in Lusaka, Zambia between August 10 and 18, 2007.

(a) The Patrimonial State: A nation-state in which government leaders treat the state as their own piece of property.
(b) The Predatory State: A nation-state in which government officials look upon the citizenry as prey for their rapacious greed.
(c) The Shadow State: A nation-state that is generally characterized by informal political networks and a shadow national economy.
(d) The Collapsed State: A nation-state in which common people are generally left to their own devices while government officials revel in conspicuous, state-financed luxury.
(e) The Repressive State: A nation-state where leaders impose sufficient repression to keep their opponents weak and maintain their own power, while adhering to enough democratic formalities that they might just pass themselves off as democrats. And
(f) The Criminal State: A nation-state where the government is oblivious to crimes committed by government leaders and the elite, individuals with criminal records are appointed to positions of authority, and/or government leaders and the elite are engaged in criminal activities, such as money laundering, drug trafficking, human trafficking, or corrupt practices.

Zambia is predominantly a “repressive state,” and mildly portrays some elements of the other kinds of nation-states. What do other Zambians think?

The challenge for the Zambian government is to create what I may refer to as the “propitious state,” that is, a nation-state whose government embraces the following elements of good governance in both word and deed: accountability, transparency, rule of law, citizen participation, and a free press.

By the way, it is meaningless to talk about Zambia becoming “the hub of Africa” as though such a status can be achieved merely through abracadabra without making massive investments in education and training, public health and sanitation, agriculture and food security, public infrastructure, and so forth.

In fact, there is a need to periodically reduce taxes and interest rates in order to stimulate economic activity and job creation. Government revenue that would be lost through lower income and value-added taxes could be recouped through to be paid by ,new workers, and by abolishing the positions of Deputy Minister, District Commissioner and other locally based sinecures, as well as sinecures in foreign missions.

Henry Kyambalesa
(Guest Blogger)

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