Dambisa Moyo writes in the Financial Times on the "soft bigotry of low expectations" among our people :
A senior economist at one of the leading donor agencies in Washington DC had told me that out of 50-odd states in sub-Saharan Africa, his organisation would be comfortable leaving only two countries (your guess is as good as mine) to write their own economic strategy document. All the rest, he said, depend on outside agencies to do this for them. This, some 50 years after many of these countries attained their independence. According to him, this had little to do with the lack of skills and capability of African citizens and more to do with an ingrained attitude at the highest levels of many African governments; that, as someone in the aid agencies would do it, why should they bother at all?There's much truth in this observation but I would put it differently. The attitude described is due to a combination of factors. Top of the pile is incompetence. Who can forget Edith Nawakwi's pitiful quote regarding the sell of the mines? The "devil made me do it" was the war cry! The leaders may genuinely pursue good objectives with high expectations but incompetence stands in the way. The other problem is lack of self - esteem. When Magande was looking to reform the mining fiscal regime, he didn't ask local economists. He hired a foreign consultant! Our government does not realise these so called foreign experts actually work for many Zambians abroad! I have seen and read about many highly qualified Zambians in the most prominent institutions. Many of them speak of the frustration they face to get heard, whilst government pays enormous attention to young graduates working for an NGO and other self declared "development experts". My friend whose a football expert reminds me that this phenomenon is not restricted to development issues. We see it in football as well, where a group of foreign coaches run from one African team to next with equally dismal reasons. A sort of foreign cartel of mediocre foreign coaches.
But here is the painful truth. We all have the governments we deserve and to some extent our government is incompetent because it reflects our society. Economic historians have for some time been puzzled on why Portugal, so prosperous in the 15th century began to decline from thereafter. A lot of reasons can be put forward, but one common and unmistakable reason was the decline in the trade of ideas. In Francis Parry's 1670 observations, "the people are so little curious that no man knows more than what is merely necessary for him". A view echoed by the 18th Century visitor to Portugal, Mary Brearley, "the bulk of the people were disinclined to independence of thought and, in all but few instances, too much averse for intellectual activity to question what they have learned".
I fear the same can be said on why our government continues to rely on donor written strategies. Zambians trade very little in ideas. We are not doing enough to step out of the confines of our daily preoccupation and use our individual gifts to extend Zambian intellectual thought and challenge those in government to think differently. You don't have to be in academia or government to do this - all of us have something meaningful to say! If you are into IT, elevate the debate on IT in Zambia! If you are an artist, speak out on how Zambian art can be promoted abroad! If you are an historian, blog about Zambian history and show us what history has to teach. The list goes on.... Through this intellectual exchange we will go on to build a better and new Zambia. Through this process, we can network and somehow challenge those who are incompetent and lacking self esteem. If we can do that perhaps we will begin to demand better from those in power. In time we shall elect leaders that look first to their people before they look abroad for experts.