This is a blog about me and the things that make me laugh, smile, hurt or cry!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What Kind of Change Do Zambians Really Want?

Naturally, with all roads leading to 20th September, we are all living and breathing the coming elections.
On Facebook, in conversations over coffee, in the queue at the supermarket etc, everyone is talking about how we want change and Zambians want to see a new government.

I wonder what this change really is.

Do we want a new government because we have a desire to see our country run in a different (and hopefully better) way? And, do we have a realistic and feasible idea of what that looks like? How will be know it when we see it? What are the steps our political leaders should take in order for us to know that real and lasting change is taking place.

Perhaps we want a new government because we are tired of seeing the same people plundering our resources? We know that mainly people seek election to public office so that they can take advantage of our weak governance and accountability structures and siphon public resources into their own and their families' pockets.  As a result, we feel that it is time 'they' shared and gave someone else a chance to 'eat'.

Or, we believe that there is a remnant of Zambians who are willing and able to make good decisions for this country, who are willing to put aside their own interests and those of their hangers on (ecosystem of friends relatives and associates hoping to get rich or die trying) in order to develop Zambia.

The Zambia that I Want:

Firstly, this country requires a new Constitution. One that will stand the test of time; one that is developed for my children's children and NOT in response to the current political climate or conditions. There is no need for another round of consultations, a constituent assembly or an NCC. All that is required is 8 to 10 knowledgeable people to draw it up and submit it to referendum or Parliament for ratification. If, as predicted, our next parliament will be a real example of multi-partyism, it would be a perfect time to adopt a Constitution for ALL Zambians and not just a few.

I also want to see a Zambia that values education and is willing to invest in our children from early childhood through to university level. We need our universities and colleges fully funded so that we can innovate and create our own solutions to our development problems. I want an education system that is closely aligned with industry and which rewards independent thinking instead of the current rote memorisation (how can this STILL be the way to pass at tertiary level)?

A national development plan or strategy that is backed up by legislation, policy, education/training and investment in key sectors. It is all very well to go around the country consulting people (and this is important), but hard and strategic decisions must be made about what we as a nation would like to focus on for our own development's sake. Some of these discussions and plans are already there, they just need more attention to make them happen well.

As a communication specialist by education and practice, I would like to see an end to state controlled media and instead, the rise of public interest broadcasting and newspapers. If our editors and journalists thought less about how to make the government and party look good, they might write more insightful and analytical articles. Despite what some people think, tabloid journalism exists in all countries (developed or otherwise), so some of the crap that is written/aired is not because it is Zambia, but on account of the deplorable state of journalism ethics and standards in the world today. However, in other countries, they have high quality journalism too, to balance things out. They have options, something which we lack in this country. NB: I note that we have independent and community media who are trying -- emphasis on trying.

We need to get more serious about fighting corruption. I definitely think that we have made a lot of positive strides in the last few years, but so much more needs to be done at all levels. So long as small-time crooks and petty corruption at village and community level continues unabated, how can we expect to stamp out corruption where hundreds of thousands of dollars are exchanged.

I think that we could do with a comprehensive transport and communication network. If the whole country was opened up for people to travel and communicate freely, so much more development could take place as the many development and investment opportunities could be more easily exploited.

We need to take maintenance seriously. I come from Chingola, once the cleanest town in Zambia. What we had was pretty good. If we valued prevention over cure, my hometown would still be a beautiful place. Once things become dilapidated and run-down, it is very expensive to fix them. But, if maintenance was something we valued, we would spend a lot less money trying to get stuff fixed and replaced.

Lastly, we need more accountability in all spheres. The Auditor General's report comes to mind here. Such exercises (important baby steps toward accountability), must count for something more than just being published. We must be seen to take clear and firm action regarding what is highlighted in the report. I know that the powers that be have taken some actions, but citizens want to see tangible evidence. This is what gives us confidence that our systems and institutions are working. So this one is probably a better PR issue. I actually think that people would be surprised just how much the government actually does that is good, we just never get to hear about it. Perhaps, we announce and publicise the wrong things. My point is that there should be no need for public outcries or donor pressure in order for decisive action that promotes transparency and accountability to taken. Members of Parliament, Councilors etc must be accountable to the people that elect them.

Related to the above point, I would similarly like to see a Zambia where ordinary citizens take a more active role in their own governance. So long as we allow leaders to get away with doing very little for four and half years, they will continue to do so. It is not for a benevolent leader to grant us effective and transparent governance but for we the people to demand it.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In Case Of Unrest... Election Day Survival Strategies

Last week, I was at my regular beauty salon and observed a sign posted on the door and counter that read something like this:

"We will be closed on Tuesday 20th Septmber for the elections and on Wednseday 21st September. The rest of the days in the week will depend on unrest."

As we gear up for elections, some observers have noted that Zambia is fortunate precisely because we don't know what the outcome of the election will be. In other African countries, everyone knows and election day is just a formality. Either people are intimidated into voting for the ruling party or the elections will be rigged regardless of what citizens, NGOs and donors say. Happily for Zambia, that apparently is not the case here.

There are those who firmly believe the ruling party will remain just that; and there are also those who are confident that Zambians are ready for change and will say so at the polls.

Others maintain that Zambia is in a good place because our young democracy has grown enough in the last few years to make rigging a lot more difficult than it was a decade ago. Technology of voting tools, training and awareness of election staff, monitors etc and the knowledge of the general public about the rules and procedures has advanced dramatically since the second and third republics.

Whatever the case, my visit to the beauty salon reminded me of the cold hard facts. We may be slightly better off than some other countries (whatever that means), but the reality is that in the Africa that we live in, civil and political unrest remains a reality. What does everyone do in the days leading up to an election? We fall back on the basic survival strategies that are tried and true:

1. You fuel up your car and make sure you have a full tank because you don't know what will happen to the fuel supply system, prices etc
2. You make sure your freezer and pantry are stocked with basic food supplies
3. You also ensure that there is enough bottled water to drink and that the drums and containers are also filled up in case the water supply is affected
4. You buy enough candles, kerosene/paraffin and charcoal, just in case the load shedding becomes 3 days instead of 3 hours
5. You make sure you have enough airtime in your phone in case it is not safe to go outside to top-up.
6. You even pull out your old radio that you haven't used in ages. This is just so that you can tune in to BBC at the appropriate time. Depending on how the results go, you can't be too sure if the local news outlets can be trusted
7. Lastly, but not least, you put your important papers and documents in order, in the event that you and your family must flee.

The way I see it, we cannot ever have free and fair elections until as Zambians we no longer feel the need (openly or privately), to resort to the above default strategies whenever election time rolls up. I strongly feel this will only happen when the citizens of this country have enough confidence in our governance institutions to know that justice will be administered no matter who you are or what you have done.