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Sunday, 13 June 2010

The NAREP delusion

NAREP has now made available its vision announced earlier in the week. You can access via Facebook. Though this has still not made its way to their  main website. The central motif :

The National Restoration Party (NAREP) believes that Zambia’s failure to find solutions to its present problems is really a question of leadership. Not only can Zambia propel itself to greatness; for the sake of the majority of its disadvantaged citizens, it must do so. However, our nation will need to promote the emergence of the type of national leadership that can offer a vision that goes beyond the ordinary. Our nation needs leadership that believes politics should be about people rather than just about power.
Unfortunately this is the widely held delusion we have come to call the "dedicated fellow hypothesis". It states that  no matter how many good policies political parties promise, or how much institutional reform we undertake, character is paramount to delivering development to Zambia.  There’s a false delusion among many Zambian commentators (and would be political saviours) that character and steadfastness is the answer to all our problems. But even if one was to entertain this idea, it suffers from two practical problems.  First, how do you find these 'selfless fellows' who will implement NAREP’s wonder policies? Secondly, and perhaps of crucial importance, how do you get them to be involved in development after investing personal fortune to get into power? Whats is to say they will not follow the class of 1991, who rationally sought a return from state coffers for sacrificing much? Without answering these two fundamental questions, the NAREP leadership model fails to sufficiently address how you get the best from the 'poor bunch'.

Zambia has many good selfless intelligent individuals, the question is how do we first get these individuals to be involved in national leadership, or to put it more starkly, how do we make the good emerge from a large pool of very bad politicians? The obvious answer is that you need good institutions or policies designed to attract them. But this assumption immediately creates a paradox or vicious cycle - you need some initial institutional policies that encourage these selfless individuals to be involved who'll then deliver other development related policies, but to have the initial institutional policies you must have some selfless individuals who make them happen! It is this problem that creates difficulties and one not acknowledged by NAREP and others.

I don't pretend to have an answer to this paradox but I would say we should concentrate our efforts on finding some initial institutional policies because it is a more objective target. We should initially focus on ensuring that the political institutions delivered the right incentives for appropriate individuals to take part in the political governance of the country. One way of doing this is to ensure that you have a strong constitution in place that is culturally self consistent, you create a proper economic consensus that is uniquely Zambian, and most importantly you find ways of engaging people with knowledge in a non-committal way.

When you have the right policies that repair the political institutions, more or less the right individuals will emerge. A good political arena will have the right checks and balances and it won't matter whether a person is selfless or not. The system will ensure they delivered the right policies for the people. So my rallying call to all Zambians is let's get the institutions sorted out (starting with a new constitution, organisations that taps into Zambian expertise abroad, etc) and everything will begin to fall into place. But obviously that very process is not so straightforward given the vicious circularity discussed above. What is clear is that this is where NAREP should focusing their effort not their empty motif.


  1. Cho criticizes NAREP’s ‘dedicated fellow hypothesis’ – that all we need is selfless politicians. But his own hypothesis – first get the right policies and the right institutions, and that will attract the right individuals into politics, is not much different. Both of them
    agree that we need the right government to ‘deliver development’. In other words they both want ‘heavy government’.

    I believe in ‘light government’. The government we need is one which provides the right environment to enable individuals to do their own thing. But the current general attitude is that government must lead the way by building roads, schools, hospitals, markets, supplying fertilizer, buying maize, etc., etc., and that this will produce the ‘development’ we all crave.

    Governments certainly have a role to play in many of these areas. But governments can only spend what they take in taxes, which reduces what is available for creative spending by individuals and businesses. And we all tend to spend our own money much more carefully than ‘public’ money, which is liable to waste and corruption. So we need to look for an enabling government rather than a doing government, a ‘light’ government rather than a ‘heavy’ one.

  2. Cho,

    We are faced with a chicken and egg situation. Without a more dedicated, driven, principled, focussed set of politicians I don't believe we will see the institutional reform.

    Let's take the NCC as an example. Do you believe the current crop of politicians involved in the drafting of the constitution will deliver something that will significantly change the status quo? Without a change in the 'type' of politician those in power will hinder institutional change because it doesn't serve their own selfish reasons.

  3. Murray,

    "Both of them agree that we need the right government to ‘deliver development’. In other words they both want ‘heavy government’"

    My political ideology is no secret. It is certainly no "heavy government".

    Regular readers will know that I hold dear the belief that strong societies are those supported by a TRIPOD of strong markets, strong democratic foundation and religious or cultural institutions.

    The role of government is to facilitate the TRIPOD to strength these three areas. Emphasis on strong. This is my own ideology and I am sure it is different to what is out there. I do not believe in light or heavy government. Just the appropriate role for the TRIPOD to function effectively.

    As it turns out I have already made this point to you in the past on Mercantilism Reconsidered". I note you didn't respond so perhaps you had not seen it :)

  4. Whisper,

    Indeed it is a chicken and egg!

    I definitely agree we cannot make progress without having a leadership that is accountable to the people. You can donate all the books and health material you want. You can support businesses on the ground (like we are doing), but none of this will make a difference with poor and unresponsive leadership. If the head is rotten the body is dead. Change unfortunately needs to start at the top. It is not about money or resources. The debate is how to spark change!

    My view is that we need to have a new institutional realignment that incentivises better and more credible leaders to emerge. Its about getting the fundamentals right. Zambia does not need a cult leader with vision, we need a new institutional architecture that supports the push for the tripod - a society built on : strong democracy; strong markets; and, strong religious and cultural institutions.

    The reason I emphasise start there is that I think it is a more OBJECTIVE target. I believe it is easier to rally behind good institutions than it is to find a good politician. The heart of man is utterly wicked as the scripture says.

    I do believe that poor institutions corrupts good people. Theft is a crime of opportunity. That is the biggest problem we have in Zambia. Corruption is theft.

    The next question of course is what sort of institutional architecture? I believe that there are two sorts :

    First, we need to institutionalise the system of government that diminishes the role of your leaders as rent seekers. Currently many of our leaders govern purely to enlarge their pockets. They have ransacked our treasuries and deposited significant wealth in Europe. Until we introduce processes that prevents them from doing so we will continue to wallow in poverty.

    Secondly, we need to strive to develop systems that are able to kick out incompetent and shallow leaders. This calls for contestable electoral arrangements. Our present leaders have governed for nearly two decades and overseen rampant corruption and the emergence of a vampire state that feeds off its own people. Yet our people have not been able to kick them out. Until the electoral system is more contestable and leaders can be hired and fired easily, corruption and malpractice will continue unabated.

    In short, both issues call for a strong constitution that guarantees freedom of press, strong rule of law, limits the powers of the executive, delivers a majority and more representative leadership, and would stand the test of time. Economic policies only work if you guarantee certain conditions (property rights, certainty in governance, limits to state intrusion, etc) via an institutional reform programme.

  5. Cho,

    In effect this is what NAREP is saying, without a change in the 'type' of politician there won't be any chance to change the institutions. The power to change rests wholly with those in power and they are not ready or willing to release it.

    As mentioned in my post above, if we take the NCC as an example, do we really believe that those sitting will produce a document that will be worth the paper it is written on? The main reason for this is that the majority of those (the ones that matter at least) entrusted with undertaking the exercise are rotten. Even if they understand what change needs to be implemented they are not ready to initiate it.

    It is generally acknowledged that the first step in strengthening the country's institutions needs to be brought about by limiting the powers of the president. Yet are there any areas of the draft constitution which address this or sets out how it might work? If we had a better quality of politician (which is what NAREP are championing) then we might have someone (with a bit of clout) actually bringing these issues up for discussion.


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