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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Broken Zambia

A recent piece from Think Africa Press provides some interesting observations on Zambia's current constitutional impasse :
In the short term, real change won't emerge from the government's legal apparatus. It will have to come from outside. Protesting Zambians have chalked up victories before, as when public demonstrations played a role in dissuading Chiluba from seeking an unconstitutional third term. And if NGOs, beleaguered though they are by looming registration reforms, were to focus their efforts on mobilising not just urban Zambians, but also those people living in undeveloped areas, more tangible results could be achieved..."

But it's not just a case of focusing their efforts. It's a case of refocusing them. The fight for a new and improved constitution is certainly a worthy one, but civil society organisations have made a holy grail of constitutional reform, as if delivery will automatically slacken the state's grip on an array of levers it freely abuses, from stacking the judiciary with supporters to deploying waves of violent thugs in by-election campaigns..."
The last point the author makes is an important one. As important as the fight for a new constitution is, it won't immediately deliver tangible change because there are many areas where the 'One Party State' mentality still dominates the country.

The tentacles of the current 'party in government' spreads far, deep and wide. Even journalists struggle to know the distinction between the PF, Government and the State. These words are often used interchangeably. Along the way the masses have become confused about what to expect from whom.

The power of NGOs has been broken as seen by the 2010 NGO Act. They are no longer a force they used to be. Many have become increasingly corrupt to the point of facing criminal charges.

The church has mostly been swallowed up by new "prosperity teaching". Many church leaders are increasingly finding it difficult to oppose politicians on social justice issues because they see their calling as getting out of poverty rather than stand with the poor. Morally many of our leading church figures have lost their authority to extra marital affairs, corruption and other vices plaguing our society.

The chiefs who were once 'guardians of our time' have largely been broken by capitalism and plural politics. The dawn of multiparty politics in the midst of poverty meant that many chiefs have increasingly come to see elections as cash cow for self enrichment. A new constitution is the last thing on their minds. There's a chieftainess in Katuba who spends most of her time doing party politics. When she was recently interviewed by MuviTV she sounded like she works for PF instead of her people. Chiefs who were once so united during the third term debate are now largely party cadres.

The opposition parties are dominated by greedy politicians. Many also have no electoral mandate. NAREP may be loud but who does it really speak for? Same with ABZ and Mulongoti's party. The ones with tangible seats in parliament like MMD and UPND are too preoccupied with selfish interests to the point that even calling for a national conference of opposition party leaders is impossible!

The people are incapacitated because the scale of the problems are too many. And there is no one they can reasonably run to for help.

With everyone divided and impotent, PF faces minimal incentive to effect a new constitution. But even if a new constitution does come soon, a near impossibility, it will have very little effect in altering the behaviour of PF in the next two to three years.

Economics follows power. Right now power is not in the hands of ordinary Zambians. Until that changes, inequality will continue to rise, poverty will remain at 70% and the freedoms many desire will remain beyond their reach.

Chola Mukanga | Economist
Copyright © Zambian Economist 2014


  1. A cry from the heart through the understanding. I think you have being doing this for seven years and that you should continue to do so even although you can see many discouragements and perhaps little progress over what is a long period of time.

    1. I think it is difficult to disagree with the notion that Zambia has retrogressed. Some processes of course appear irreversible (e.g. GDP growth) but in critical areas we have made a mess of a golden opportunity to change Zambia.

  2. Indeed inequality will soar as confusion and power struggle remain the center stage. There is no one to lean on. Chiefs are politicians in disguise instead of custodians of tradition and culture. Nobody fears or respects them as in years gone by. They have been reduced to praise singers of government of the day. At worst they are political appointees as demonstrated by the executive arm of government where he said he does not recognize the chief in question. Many political parties are greedy lone wolves with the sole purpose of living at Plot One "to eat."

    Because they are fragmented they can not stand up as a united force to fight for the release of the Draft Constitution in the hands of PF government. After it feels not obliged to release it so soon since during its campaign they said would come up with the Constitution within 90days but did not mention of releasing it to the people. Like other preceding constitutions, it is likely to go in the archives if nobody champions to wrestle it out from government. What is in this constitution that aches government is probably the 50+1 % issue plus many others. Government has seen that its popularity is slowly waning away, hence the new constitution can have a devastating effect on the party effect in the 2016 general elections.

    It is time people gave it critical thought in the governance of this nation if they do not want to go in the abyss of poverty and economic quagmire.

    1. Well put! The chiefs lack coordination. A think tank or forum is needed to harness their power.

  3. Hi Cho,

    I would like to use this opportunity to bring up the books

    Grassroots Governance? - Chiefs in Africa and the Caribbean, by Donald I. Ray and P.S. Reddy

    What is interesting is that it describes several African traditional systems (mainly Ghana, Botswana, Lesotho and KwaZulu), however it also shows the survival of traditional authority systems in the New World, specifically in Jamaica, which has a long history of Maronage (like the Surinam and Venezuela), and therefore maintained more of their African systems.

    On Maronage, there is the book Maroon Societies - Rebel Slave Communities In The Americas, by Richard Price.

    Then, there is Kalonga Gawa Undi X, a biography of an African chief and nationalist, by Wilima T. Kalusa, published by the Lembani Trust, on the instigation of the late Levy Mwanawasa (I did not know that).

    I would write a review of the Grassroots Governance? book myself, however, I do not have sufficient background in traditional systems of government.


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