|I’m sorry, its bad news. Three weeks ago I promised to continue our discussion about how to profit from low oil and gas prices this week, but I’m sorry we can’t, because we’re soon approaching the beginning of the last days when we should be taking part in exciting new political events that are starting to occupy everyone’s mind.|
And why not?
That’s what’s topical.
No one cares a ngwee if we can profit from the oil and gas market price drop anymore.
Or who’s running for president this August?
No! Not with that, everyone cares.
All that matters now is that you’ve your grade twelve certificate on hand and you can read at one word per minute in English and be able to articulate national issues at 7th grade level and if you win the government will give you someone who can operate a computer in your office be able to draft and write simple politically appeasing speeches for you. And Hooray! You’re Minister, even of Higher Education.
“The naked truth” is a familiar expression. In reality, truth is always naked, because if it is dressed up, it is no longer truth. That is probably why so many people avoid the truth. They are sorely embarrassed by its nudity.”— Rebbe Eizel of Slonim.
Perhaps it’s the reason potential voters this election, are on a rampage.
They know the naked truth.
If you thought 2015 was an unpredictable political year, if you thought the presidential by-election was rough and tough, wait until you see what August 2016 has in store. The political dynamic that has brought us to this point has been unprecedented, which means the coming 6 months to August 11th will continue to deliver widely unforeseen outcomes.
There’s one thing we do know for sure. Zambian voters are going to do something they haven’t done in a very long time: showing some of the political elite the door…some for good.
Why? I hear you loudly ask… Mr Lubemba…these are pessimistic hard liners!
That’s why I said, I’m sorry, its bad news. Because I seriously don’t see how Hakainde Hichilema, Godfrey Miyanda, Edith Nawakwi, Nevers Mumba, Ludwick Sondashi and even Charles Milupi, can continue in politics if they lose this August. Even if we do consider everything else—they’ll be too old and will have lost too many times going into the next election in 2021.
Whether you’re in a pub with voters who support the PF or UPND or any of the opposition parties, they’re all angry at the state of the nation. But more importantly, they are angry with leaders in both camps who appear more interested in protecting themselves, their interests and each other than advocating for the country’s interests and serving the Zambian people.
Yes, don’t argue—there’s some truth.
They are disgusted with an irresponsible, unresponsive and unaccountable political leadership in both camps that they may be forced to vote into office– that may just end up empowering itself.
The split between the elite and the rest of us is gaping—and it is growing wider every day.
I say, I’m sorry, its bad news— because I don’t want to sugar coat this discussion with untruths. That’s why we believe in Rebbe Eizel of Slonim lines above- when he said: “Truth is always naked, because if it is dressed up, it is no longer truth. That is probably why so many people avoid the truth. They are sorely embarrassed by its nudity.”
So, take it or leave it, the problem with bad news is that you can’t just wish it away. At some point sooner or later, you’ve to face it. We’ve now reached that point in our politics at which all our leaders had better check themselves. It’s the reason former President Rupiah Banda only served three years; most probably he wished the bad news away. And we’re sure he learned his lesson.
I’m sorry, its bad news—in as far as people’s livelihoods is concern, and perhaps for no one’s fault, this has been the weakest economic recovery in our times.
You have a right to disagree. Bad news is never good news. We all don’t like it. But we’ve to learn to face it and devise ways to use bad news to our advantage.
For example Kaunda’s UNIP lost to the MMD because the party was convinced the bad news was due to sour grapes and people especially the women folk were happy with free food coupons (when it was available) and generally a government controlled socialist economy based on “wealth redistribution.”
With an almost free (K10, 000 per house) housing empowerment program, Vendors program, and declaration of Zambia a Christian Nation, Chiluba too thought his third term bid would be plain sailing. Rupiah Banda thought his heavily advertised massive roads and infrastructure programs, the Fitch B+ rating of the economy to become amongst the world’s top 10 best performing would easily win him the 2011 vote.
Even in boom times, any president can expect candidates from the opposition parties to subject his record to pitiless scrutiny. The economy under the PF isn’t exactly filling all voters that it will require to achieve the mandatory 50+1 win with confidence, so it’s not surprising that presidential hopefuls from other political parties are pretty severe in their critique.
It’s not easy to follow balanced news when you live outside the country, but each time I’m back at home I do read the newspapers and listen to the people speak in pubs. Matero, Kabwata, Kanyama, Chawama and Mandevu pubs are good sources of grass roots news. Forget the news and analysis you get from all the Golf Clubs. Besides most folks found there don’t even know how a Zambian voter’s card looks like.
And while in these pubs… just listen to the kinds of things being said as various political party members assure each other and possible voters that they understand how shaky the economy is 4½ years into the promised PF economic recovery.
“Our middle class is shrinking,” one member of the opposition and a potential MP because he has a degree in sociology warned during a debate with his PF colleague. “Our poor families are becoming poorer, and 70 percent of us are earning the same or less than we were 12 years ago. We need new leadership.”
Another potential MP, possibly with an economics degree, scorned the PF administration’s happy talk about unemployment falling to just over 14 percent. “What they forget to tell you,” he told the mostly drunken Kanyama compound audience, is that statistic doesn’t include those people that have given up looking for work, those people who are working part time. Add it all together and real unemployment is over 60 nearly 90 percent.”
I couldn’t check this young chap’s unemployment data. And I don’t believe in the CSO data. I also don’t know where he got his data from. But, politicians will definitely throw data around this election—if only to look and sound learned. The problem is—the majority drunken audience in Kanyama were most likely not up to date with economic data as well. This young potential opposition MP could have been dressing up the untruth to win over the drunken voters.
And Zambian politics being what it is, nobody is surprised when the opposition leaders and their members harshly judge the PF and especially President Edgar Lungu’s handling of the economy. But wait— those economic data quotes above come from the PF members of parliament and Cabinet Ministers themselves. That was a Cabinet Minister visiting a foreign owned company when he angrily blasted the owners of the company about the poor working conditions of workers, he also castigated the company’s casualization policies and he supported the workers’ demands for higher wages with shorter working hours regardless of whether the company made any profits at all. And it was another Cabinet Minister who pointed out how bad the jobless numbers really had become in the country due to low copper prices and the poor performance of the mining industry. With the exception of a District Commissioner in a rural area, who told ZANIS news – filming development projects in her district, she would give President Edgar Lungu the “credit for saving our economy,” and when we consider the recent kwacha devaluation, it doesn’t matter that all our members of parliament across the spectrum have acknowledged how threadbare this economic recovery has been.
I’m sorry, it’s very bad news. Most voters don’t understand and most don’t care what caused the economic slowdown. They want the PF government and Edgar Lungu especially, to do something. It’s all they care. But can members of parliament without a grade twelve certificate and most probably without the understanding of basic Economics 101 articulate the present economic phenomenon? Is it not the reason why, perhaps, a University degree or higher or its equivalent should have been the minimum qualification for an MP in our constitution, especially, if we are to compete in the global economy?
I said I’m sorry, its bad news. Three articles ago on this page we said; did you know that the former Chinese President Hu Jintao was a trained scientist Hydraulic engineer and likewise his premier Wen Jiabao was a geomechanical engineer or in fact that, 8 out of China’s top 9 government officials in Jintao’s cabinet were scientists? And the current President Xi studied Chemical engineering and is a postgrad LLD ? Now compare with the U.S.A., Britain or even Russia. Don’t bother yourself with South Africa, Angola, Zambia, etc.
I’m sorry; it’s been bad news throughout. We can also say that Zambia’s great recession formally ended when Zambia received its first sovereign credit rating of B+ with stable outlook from Fitch ratings agency in March 2011. The bad news is that this was not an investment grade rating, but it is Fitch’s fourth highest non-investment grade rating and was on par with the company’s ratings for Ghana, Kenya and Angola. It’s been 5½ years since these African economies were also amongst the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. But do the voters care?
Fitch describes B-rated countries as those where financial conditions vary noticeably—and for Zambia it reported that:
“Zambia conforms to this largely because of its heavy dependence on copper, which is the largest source of foreign exchange and an important source of revenue and formal-sector employment. The government is trying to promote diversification–the cornerstone of its strategy seems to be to offer generous fiscal incentives to investors in certain “priority sectors”—“but progress is expected to be slow.”
And that’s exactly the point that many Zambians have missed— “but progress is expected to be slow.”
That’s why we see that despite this impressive economic achievement of being amongst the ten fastest growing economies in the world and the massive roads infrastructure that followed with President Rupiah Banda’s MMD government, the MMD still lost the elections six months down the road on 20th September 2011. And if you believe in random polls, they’re for some reason, still repeatedly finding that large swaths of voters believe the Zambian economy is still suffering from recession. They may be wrong on the technical definition. But they aren’t nearly as wrong on the essence of the matter as some of the optimistic PF members, who insist the economy is coming up roses. It ain’t!
“The economy, by every metric, is better than when we came into office,” most optimistic PF members are fond of telling potential voters and bar patrons.
I haven’t been to a political rally since the MMD era in 1990/91, but I loved the sincerity of calling a spade by its name by one prolific speaker, Fredrick Chiluba… “are you prepared to suffer so we can turn round the economy?” He always and sincerely asked his young voters to brace for hard times. Even Kaunda didn’t like it. But I have heard PF MPs say a lot of optimistic things about the economy on Television. “Even street wise vendors, whom no one has ever accused of leaning mainly towards the opposition, would rate their whopper “Mostly False.”
In truth, a depressing array of “metrics” shows a Zambian economy that has yet to get back on its feet, just as the Fitch report said “progress is expected to be slow”—notwithstanding the unprecedented sums spent on infrastructure development and in the form of “stimulus,” bailouts to women market-groups, women’s clubs and gargantuan budget deficits—. That’s the truth…
But I’m sorry, it’s very bad news. The PF has 7 months to this election. That’s a long time to correct the falsehoods and poverty levels and some imbalances in the economy. If only figuratively.
That’s the truth and I’m sorry, its bad news. Median household income (in real kwacha) was no higher at the end of 2015 than at the end of 2011. You can dress this truth up in the most beautiful clothes and economic language. It won’t make it true. Believe it or not, the labour force participation rate—the share of working Zambians who have a job or are looking for one—has sunk to about 90 percent, a level not seen since privatization of state companies under the Chiluba administration. Since the recession ended, which we say was when Zambian economy received a B+ rating with positive outlook, the economy had been projected to begin growing at 7.8 percent and looking to grow to double digits in the years following March 2011. The bad news is that– it has instead grown to about 5.0 percent-again depending on if you believe the numbers. Because– that’s way below the projections. And we’ve to face it…this has been a weak economic recovery ever promised to us.
And yet, it should have been one of the strongest economic recoveries ever!
Why? I hear you ask?
In Zambia, the historical pattern has always been that the deeper the recession, the stronger the recovery that follows. Taking cue from the Chiluba regime example it was one of going from Kaunda’s rugs to Chiluba’s riches for most Zambians. Zambians knew it couldn’t get any worse. We’ve written numerous essays on this example— from the removal of duty and VAT on mini buses, taxis, buses to the housing empowerment program. We saw Zambians purchase and operate Airlines, Banks, Trucking business, Housing and Road construction businesses. When the price of maize meal was increased by greedy private millers Chiluba released the sector to cross-border traders, encouraged and increased competition in the sector and allowed maize meal imports by all Zambians. The petroleum retail and distribution sector was controlled by a cartel of foreign companies, he allowed Zambians to enter the market. When greedy suppliers of meat and fish increased prices, he encouraged and allowed imports of fish and meat to increase supply. When bread prices went up because of greedy suppliers of wheat flour, again he encouraged and allowed imports of flour to increase the supply side of flour-the same for cooking oil, butter, soaps, and detergents and so on. Remember— Zambian Government owned companies were privatized because they were a drain on the treasury. After privatizations, some Zambians had no work and money, so he ensured food prices, transport and all basic necessities were cheaply available using the power of the free market to make them more affordable.
After a severe spending spree and budget deficits like the one Lungu’s PF inherited on 20thJanuary 2015, the economy should have come roaring back faster than usual, quickly regained what had been lost in his predecessor’s 3½ years during which the cartel that wanted the status quo to continue held him hostage.
This isn’t after-the fact wisdom: It is what the PF administration itself predicated at the time in 2011 (more money in our pockets, more jobs and fewer taxes). Far from anticipating the limping slog of the last four years, the PF confidently forecast an economic recovery that would feature robust GDP growth of 7.5% to 8% or more. It never came close.
More Zambians would be working, paychecks would be larger, and public confidence would be studier if the economy had bounced back as vigorously as expected. The PF thought they had a better way to fix an economy. Turns out they had a worse way. The PF are now faced with voters who’ve lived and learned. But Lungu has 7 months left as sure as he can.
Yes, the PF have 7 months to work things out. It’s a lot of time. We hope the PF political analysts know what we mean and what they need to do. We also hope they won’t live to regret the way President Rupiah Banda did. President Banda’s political advisors were lazy, not because they were slow. “Laziness is not necessarily slowness. A lazy person may sometimes act quickly because he is too lazy to think about what he is doing.”
But I’m so sorry; it’s very-very bad news for the opposition too. They’ve not much to gain from the PF’s economic pain going into this election.
The UPND in particular. If they want to win this election, they can’t make much headway by attacking Edgar Lungu on economic issues. They’ve to do something about their voters who are furious at the countless abuses suffered under the hands of president Hichilema himself and his toadies and noodle-kneed MPs who have acquiesced to the UPND groom agenda with nary a peep of protest.
Hichilema is trying to turn Edgar Lungu into Levy Mwanawasa, Rupiah Banda or Michael Sata. So far this effort is failing. Because Edgar Lungu had only 1½ months to campaign leading to January 2015 elections— but he’s also a young man who’s streetwise, whereas Hichilema, though a young man, isn’t. All he’ll try and do is to copy Lungu’s strategy. But it’ll fail.
Hichilema has failed in 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2015 because he has been portrayed as an isolationist. But he says he’s actually a realist who merely wants to limit what he calls reckless government spending. But the description of him as out of step with most Zambians on national issues and economic development policy has stuck. He can’t perform any better.
I also don’t think Lungu will be pushed to the margins of the party the way Hichilema has been. While my liking for young Edgar Lungu may cloud my judgment, I can see several reasons for doubting that the PF voters will conclude he is weak on the economy, foreign policy or national security.
The former Chawama parliamentarian has not allowed any daylight to come between him and the Zambian voters. That’s why his rivals can’t make much headway by attacking him on any of these issues. That’s true of domestic policy as well, as Hichilema is probably discovering.
Zambians will take a lot, but they will not tolerate the continuing destruction of their nation by elites in political parties who believe they are rich and untouchable.
The lesson of 2016 will be that those who’ve got the feelings of the people at heart and intend to blow up the whole corrupt political system in order to restore it to its proper place as honest servants of the people will be rewarded. And those who don’t will face the political guillotine, as so many of them before them already have.
I’m sorry, it’s bad news.
Just a thought,