Can the Patriotic Front learn from the pitfalls of Movement for Multiparty Democracy in handling the state of the nation on the issues of good governance and economic aspirations of the citizens?
By Nyalubinge Ngwende
It is one year and exactly two months now since the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) lost its stay in government to the Patriotic Front (PF) after 20 years managing or mismanaging the affairs of Zambia.
It is not bad for Zambia to change a political party in power and ushering in another. In fact, it is great test of democracy and a healthy sign that Zambians can exercise their right to choose who should lead them. It legitimises the authority of those who govern.
That fact is inherent in any open political system like Zambia. At least the lesson in France, Britain, the Netherlands and elsewhere around the world where electorates have changed leadership, testifies to that.
But while this fact was at play, there are also specific policy problems and self destructive tendencies that point to MMD becoming a distasteful political party among electorates and losing that election.
On the policy front, unemployment levels were never going down despite the economic stats showing an improved outlook with a GDP of over 6 percent growth and increased Foreign Direct Investment.
Agriculture was also performing better, but not at its best due to issues in the structures of input distribution and crop marketing. Unless one chooses unnecessary arguments that are personalised as a result of their interests being closed out, the farming inputs support changed the fortunes of a serious rural small scale farmer and contributed remarkably to the country’s food security. The staple food prices were stabilised and as a result kept the country’s inflation at bay.
How the PF performs in this sector, will be the talking point for MMD between the next farming seasons and 2016 elections. If agriculture and the essential food market policies are mishandled, as the end of 2012 has revealed shortages of mealie meal and delayed distribution of inputs, the Patriotic Front should count those as bad assets in its image. The bad image can stick quickly due to unintended mismanagement of the affairs of the country, but they stick for long and hard to pluck out.
Under the MMD, with the amount of business interests taking place in the economy, there was growing concern among civil society and politicians that the government was crossing the path of legal processes or public procedure in awarding contracts and sale of public assets.
Despite the private media—which definitely had fallen on a bad footing with the leaders in government—shouted out in outrage, the government brushed aside the outcry as malice or nonsense.
To make matters worse, no one in the hierarchy of the MMD patronage had time to sit down and analyse the best way to deal with these issues that were in public domain. Instead, in many instances they defended the government actions with shocking ineptness. They started venting their anger on the private newspapers and commercial radio stations. Some responses, given to less qualified presidential press aides—who did not have a team to help analyse deep and give educated responses—only managed to annoy the well informed citizens.
Provocative Baseless Defences
The Patriotic Front government will need to look at this matter. So far the responses from George Chellah, President Sata’s press aide, are less intelligent and just provocative. There is more to spinning for the nation than writing sassy or disrespectful and scandalous articles against Rupiah Banda or an political opponent of a newspaper. This fact Chellah, who was plucked from The Post Newspaper for the services rendered to the Patriotic Front campaigns, must know so well. He must show less arrogance in his responses by avoiding lines and tones that are ludicrous, thereby making people who seek to provide checks and balances to President appear stupid, too. Government spokesperson Kennedy Sakeni has not been helping the situation; he speaks as though government is overseeing a bunch of passive villagers who can hardly read between the lines.
In the heat of things during MMD there were attempted, but ill constructed and un-sustained efforts to try and pursue the wrongs to do with the tax obligation and other private business dealings of the media owners like that of Fred M’membe of The Post Newspaper. As a result enmity grew between government and The Post. Non tax payment of institutions must be discussed at business level, concerned government institutions and the line minister bringing to the table such issues than use them as weapons to discredit the perceived enemies.
MMD did not read the times, even if The Post Newspaper could have been largely fault seeking for the purposes of expanding the liking for the Patriotic Front and Michael Sata among electorates, that battle was not supposed to be fought against the newspaper. This is because opportunities for the private media to take MMD to the cleaners as a dirty party that had mismanaged the affairs and resources of the country provided themselves. Cases of RP Capital and Zamtel sale, the Lusaka International (Now KK) Airport and the Finance Bank saga, all were issues to wash down the MMD.
These cases genuinely raised eye brows and begged for genuine explanation from government to show that nothing was wrong. Instead of coming out with clear satisfying answers, the spin team of the MMD did not do any good job, leaving huge room for speculation. The quick nature and tone of response from government just left many citizens wondering and annoyed.
By 2011, Zambia’s economy had a lot of brighter colours, but those did not translate in all the people having equal opportunities to realise their benefits. Those few who were well connected to the government, even in villages seemed to have been the only ones who benefited from all the big and small contracts. The majority who were left out believed the MMD mismanagement theory.
The bulk of negative assets that were accruing against MMD popularity were left unattended to. The MMD leadership chose to be casual and treat those who expressed dissent as thoughtless enemies. The MMD was ignored the wisdom of receptiveness to such matters; an ingredient that makes electorates feel part of the politics and government processes because they are listened to. The pride and aspirations of citizens are radiated more when leaders take the path of their opinion in instances that are critical, like when leaders cannot provide a convincing answer and are pushed to their back foot.
These problems have not gone out from the former ruling party. They do not sit to weigh value of situations and the value of members who may seem to be disobedient. The MMD leadership is quick at taking severe punishment against its members in a one way communication style, without even seeking room to censure these erring members so that they remain in the fold.
While occasionally the MMD tries to be democratic by electing its leaders at national level, the party has less mechanisms of addressing its problems and resolve them other than the shorter and fastest one of expelling its members.
Empty Public Media Praises
Inefficiencies in the health delivery system, like a pregnant woman giving birth on the floor due to lack of an ambulance, and financial problems in institutions of higher learning that led to student protests provided media with enough arsenal against the MMD government.
The opposition made political fodder out of the ineptness and what they saw as decisions meant to benefit individuals from government contracts, while service delivery remained rudimentary and youth unemployment continued to rise.
This increased people’s annoyance. The citizens thought leaders were eating off their heads. The school leavers and graduates from universities and colleges who could not get employed blamed nobody, but the MMD.
Poor safety and slave wages in businesses, especially those run by the Chinese were public knowledge or maybe exaggerated, but government leaders remained mute. This compounded the belief of government being corrupt in the public eyes.
On the other hand Public Media, as per tradition, was tuned to singing praises. Even if reporters in public media found a story to scream against government, they sought to seek government or MMD spokesperson to provide rebuttal. With or without any strong intelligent reaction, the ruling party stories took over the pages and air waves. It was about “government denies this or that”, completely on the defensive or on the run from the truth.
If not, it was about singing the successes of government or ridiculing the PF leader Michael Sata’s past acts and utterances. Unfortunately, electorates were concerned not about what Sata did or said in the past. The electorates bought in his message of low taxes and more money in people’s pocket, youth employment and ending the many problems in 90 Days.
The Patriotic Front must therefore be the first to know this and not run a government that defends its unmet promises by blaming the Movement for Multiparty Democracy. This is why people voted for the Patriotic Front, to address the inadequacies of the previous government. People would love to know why their current government has not been able to create jobs for many youths who are disillusioned about their university qualifications. They need to know why up to now the country cannot create wealth for most of its people out of the abundant natural resources that are being extracted and sold to enrich multinationals and countries of destinations.
These things will not be realised with President Sata and his administration attacking and feeding the nation on rhetoric about failures of Rupiah Banda. Instead the President needs to accept that the challenges that lie ahead are ‘about me and my government’ to surmount as the country heads to 2016 elections.
Elections are never won by imagination or negative attacks on the opponents. A leader to win an election must find out what the whole election is all about. Not even the amount of negative media can override people's interests—jobs, education, health and being able to meet the necessities of life. Messages must be found that will win people's hearts about these issues. That won PF the 9/20 election in 2011.
Vice President Guy Scot knows that unemployment is a time bomb to the ruling party and that simply means the PF has its focus on job creation. Unless PF chooses to sidestep on this very fact, the opposition might have nothing better to offer. If PF is going to start creating jobs, Nevers Mumba or whichever opposition leader will need to tell the people how as leader will make MMD do it even better than the reality PF is living with. This also applies to health and education delivery system.
Further, the Patriotic Front has no problem with the media, but has turned to questionable deportations of business people and influential leaders of the community they believe could be sympathetic to its opponents. Directors of Zambezi Portland from Italy were all deported over allegations that they were not paying the Zambian employees properly. These are far reaching decisions that surpass what meets the eye or national interest.
One day someone will have to genuinely account for these actions, and it will have to be the Patriotic Front and the business friends for whom they have taken these unpopular actions for. Edgar Lungu, Home Affairs Minister, is not still convincing up-to-date over these actions.
The deported Italians were at the centre of controversy over the ownership of Zambezi Portland Cement, a company on which a prominent businessman Rajan Mathani—a known Patriotic Front friend—had also put claims and the matter is in court.
Lungu was forced to reverse the deportation of a Rwandese priest working the Lundazi district of eastern Zambia, but later sent another Rwandese who had spent over 40 years in the country packing for allegedly financing an opposition political party.