Bishop John Mambo this week expressed sadness with what he has termed "government’s poor approach to social problems". In the quote below, he offers a litany of hopelessness :
"We have an economy that can’t create jobs for our college and university graduates. Our state institutions are paralysed because politics have taken centre stage in everything. Our civil service is demoralised in every sense, and we wonder what is left for us to have confidence in. We can cite so many examples of crippled institutions: the judiciary, parastatals, the executive, and everywhere. This is not healthy for a normal society. Our civil service operates at 30 per cent because there is nothing to motivate them. And now we have also messed up our constitution making process. The National Constitutional Conference is saying that giving people a right to food and water is a joke. Now, if you have a situation where you don’t hope for anything, what do you do? I hope that the voters will reflect on this and do the right thing when it comes to voting next year.”These thoughts have been echoed in the past by others. It is difficult to disagree with the diagnosis. But just how do we rescue this hopeless generation? Bishop Mambo's hope is "that voters will reflect on this and do the right thing when it comes to voting next year" . I fear that may not materialise. For one thing, the problems Bishop Mambo's alludes to are not new. In fact in the main article he suggests that Zambia has been
in perpetual poverty for the last 35 years and during that period only experience one change of government (the rest being changes in administration). So why should voters reflect now? We should also have reason to question the logic underlying Bishop Mambo's hope - don't voters already reflect? I believe Zambian voters have appropriately been reflecting just fine. The problem is not the voter as such, neither is the problem "information" available to voters. Each voter is perfectly capable of assessing how much MMD has contributed to his personal welfare and what the other parties are offering as an alternative.
I hold the view that the problem nothing has changed electorally in the last 35 years is the electoral system perpetuates incumbency. The first past the post (FPTP) systems requires the reach and depth of organisation and electoral platform that is frankly beyond many of the opposition parties, especially given the MMD political elite has only been too eager to use government resources to keep hold on power. See In rich Zambians' palm where I touch on this.
Some will say, there's no ideological differentiation! But that is a proximate argument. Ideological differentiation' among political parties is actually a product of contestable electoral systems. Asking parties to be 'ideologically different', as seems to be the call often misses the point . What is the point of inventing new policies, at some financial cost to the organisation (its not cheap inventing policy platforms!) which are different from the incumbent if your policies will never see light of day ? I believe correctly understood, the lack of ideological differentiation is simply an attempt by opposition parties to manage their costs down, in face of low expectations of getting into power - mimicking other policies keeps the financial costs down. So those who want more ideological differentiation should push for making the system more competitive. Innovation always comes through competition - whether in product markets or in the political marketplace. For the avoidance of doubt I don't believe the route to more political competition is through political funding - see Sakism and When hichilenomics met sakism...