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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

When the party equals the government

A couple of months ago, a long time ally of the Zambian Economist, asked us an important question : ‘Why do you always refer to government as the “PF government?’ We suspected she felt we were inadvertently promoting a one party state. We explained that we use the term pejoratively. We would love to refer to government as the Zambian government. Unfortunately, PF does not draw distinctions between PF and government, so until it does we shall continue to call it the PF government.

That remains our view. However, what we should have also said is that every government since independence has behaved this way. It is wrong to single out PF out. We have had UNIP and MMD governments where the party was equal to government. For example, in 2011 Dora Siliya MP who was serving as an MMD minister said this:

“A lot of people are busy saying the MMD government is abusing ZNBC because ZNBC only covers the MMD government. Yes, ZNBC has to cover us because it shows government developmental projects...Even when Sata comes into power, ZNBC will be covering him alone. THIS IS OUR TIME. Those who want to be feeling bad about themselves when they wake up every day, they should be buying The Post newspapers because it always talks about negative things, saying things are bad in the country when the economy is doing well...”- Dora Siliya (Source : The Post)

Siliya’s argument is that others ate in the past, and now it was MMD's turn to control the levers of power (and eat). We can actually find similar statements from Chiluba, Banda and Mwanawasa. In short whether it is UNIP, PF or MMD all parties once in government believe the party is equal to the government.

This is why we continue to see cadres filling important positions and diminish the effectiveness of government. Government is the party cadres' paradise and the poor peoples' hell. All parties in government are quick to claimnational resources are theirs. They use State positions (especially diplomatic postings) to reward their party cadres (and foreign campaign funders). While this helps the party of the day (at the moment PF) to achieve its political aims it has two serious implications.

First, it puts ordinary citizens in an adversarial position against their government. Consider a NAREP supporter who loves their party but also wants to support their government, as a patriotic citizen, to deliver meaningful development to its people. Unfortunately he / she can't do that because the policeman is now a PF cadre instead of a legitimate government employee. The permanent secretary appointed by President Sata is not a legitimate civil servant but merely a political cadre. How is the PS going to relate to NAREP cadres who in practice are his real employers?

Secondly, it is eliminates the legitimacy of a sitting government. This is the more serious issue. When the party equals government, it essentially means the party in question has usurped state power and using it to reward itself at the expense of the poor. This of course has serious consequences. In some countries it would be considered treason, but in our country it’s the practical effects that are worrying.

Consider the Barotse riots. It was clear that the riots were organised by those aggrieved by "government" actions / statements on the issue. But were they? Or were they grieved by the actions of PF and MMD ( as usurpers of state power)? Was PF acting as a legitimate government or acting as a bunch of cadres with a mindset of "this is our time" to eat in the Dora Siliya mode? When legitimacy is gone it breeds chaos. Equating government with the party is therefore not a way to govern. It breeds violence which disproportionately affects the poor.

The other point to note is that the coalescing of the party with government complicates issues for independent analysts like Zambian Economist. While we aspire to ensure that our take is as non-partisan as it can be, it virtually becomes practically impossible to do so because the party is the same as the government in Zambia. It is this point that the our friends in PF and MMD have always missed when they criticise us.

They should recognise that those of us who stand in defence of the Zambian people will always side with our poor in our critique. We care about their oppressors. In doing that it will most certainly mean that we have no choice but to attack the misguided practices of the party in government because we look for government and we see only the image of PF (as we saw MMD in the past).

Our friends in the Western world have an easier task because in real democracies it is clear where the government ends and the party in government starts. Not so with us. The PF cadre is also the permanent secretary, he is also the police man, he is also the journalist, he is also.....[fill in the blanks].

AUTHOR Chola Mukanga Economist | Consultant | Researcher Copyright © Zambian Economist 2014

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