If there is a subject that Zambian politicians have failed to master, it is history. We say so because every other party in government keeps repeating the same mistakes made by others before. Perhaps there is a spirit in State House which makes even seemingly intelligent and good men become coy, naïve and sometimes unnecessarily populist.
When they are campaigning, they try to be themselves, although most of their ideas are visibly copy and paste. They work hard to give an impression that they will be their own person when in power.
That they will not be influenced by external forces when it comes to policies. But when they get into office, the story is totally different. They begin to parrot Western philosophies and ideologies, even when such may not be applicable in our situation – to our circumstances.
Today, the UPND has shamefully taken us on a clear International Monetary Fund (IMF) script, no question about it. We all know that the IMF is a profit-oriented capitalist institution with no regard for the welfare of citizens especially in poor nations.
Most of their economic conditions are tailored on fattening the already fat individuals and institutions, not the common person. In short, IMF conditions have never been pro-poor anywhere in the history of its existence. Zambia has been on an IMF path before, a situation that led to misery among most people.
And Chama North PF member of parliament Yotam Mtayachalo has warned that the new dawn administration risks being unpopular like Frederick Chiluba’s MMD if they depend so much on IMF policies which end up impoverishing people.
Mtayachalo argues that there is no country on earth that removes subsidies completely on fuel and electricity, not even developed ones.
“Further, on removal of fuel subsidies, I strongly feel it should have been done gradually in order to protect citizens from escalating cost of living and doing business in the country than what has been done. And I believe the end results will have negative economic consequences. Let us not be cheated, Zambians.
There is no country which has completely done away with fuel and electricity subsidies. Not even oil exporting countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria and Angola just to mention but a few because the energy sector drives the wheels of production,” says Mtayachalo. “For example, Nigeria spends about $17 billion while Iran spends $26 billion, Saudi Arabia spends $45 billion while Angola spends $3.5 billion annually on fuel subsidies.
Therefore, who are we not to provide subsidies when all countries are doing it in order to protect their citizens and safeguarding jobs? While Angola is contemplating removing fuel subsidies, however, the government is extremely cautious as it will be done in phases in order to minimise the negative impact on the economy and households. Imagine if the price of crude oil continues to skyrocket, for argument’s sake it goes beyond $200 per barrel!
Is government going to fold its arms and leave everything to market forces to determine the price without offering subsidies to protect households and jobs?
If we are not careful, we may end up again similar to what happened during the Chiluba administration which blindly followed IMF economic policies such as liberalisation of the economy and privatisation which led to economic disaster, high poverty and unemployment levels in the country.
Therefore, the new dawn government must be very careful because they risk becoming very unpopular within a shortest period of time because of high cost of living and doing business in the country.”
Yotam is raising very valid facts but this truth rings as negative criticism to the UPND government. They won’t even spend a minute to reflect on it. Those who argue along these lines are seen to be anti-UPND; they don’t understand business and economics!
In case Hakainde Hichilema and his team have forgotten their own history, the UPND performed very well in the 2001 elections because people were dissatisfied with Chiluba’s IMF policies of privatisation and liberalisation which led to largescale industrial collapse and massive job losses.
Our mines were sold for a song and miners got retrenched. Other factories were closed because Chiluba was deceived that the State/ government has no business in business. On top of grand corruption in the MMD regime, IMF/World Bank prescription seriously eroded Zambia’s socio-economic fundamentals.
Equally, Chiluba was told to remove subsidies especially in social sectors and we have not recovered since! Poverty levels have remained high, education and health sectors remain hugely in a quagmire. And agriculture in equal disarray! The rest is history.
And Hakainde is back on that same path. He promised to reduce fuel prices once elected; he further promised to fix this and that. But what has he fixed so far? Nothing! Instead, the first Christmas gift he gave Zambians was to close Indeni Oil Refinery and later remove fuel subsidies.
Next, the nation is expecting him to do the same to electricity and other essentials. As things stand, there is no hope that the country’s economy will give people any hope. Everything is in a shambles. But the new dawn is claiming to be heading out of the woods.
In fact, there are a lot of people who are disappointed with the turn of events so far, including within the UPND ranks. Almost every decision coming of the new dawn administration is making life more difficult for our citizens. This is the same path Chiluba took which made him unpopular.
If the UPND have any wisdom, let them heed Mtayachalo’s warning because the economy is biting. People did not vote UPND to just come and start ‘fixing’ the economy by increasing prices of commodities and formulating unreasonable taxes, including on newspaper sales.
While the UPND are trying hard to please the IMF, before they know it, they will have fallen out of people’s favour. And by the time we reach 2026, it may be too late for them to change course – they risk being a one-term government like Donald Trump unless they seize the moment and change course.
And the worst will be for Hakainde to close his eyes and ears so early. He might deceive himself that he has delivered in the last six months, but the reality is that things have become harder for everyone. There is no delivery per se. It is not about what you know as a leader, it is more about how much you care for your people. Or at least show some care.
As John C. Maxwell advised, “People don’t care how much you know – until they know how much you care.”
William Bridges adds that, “Nothing so undermines organisational change as the failure to think through the losses people face.”