Today marks an important milestone since Zambia’s fifth Republican president Michael Chilufya Sata took the oath of office on 23rd September 2011. For years, he has kept telling us how he would bring fundamental change within “ninety days”. As much as I believe that a serious president can accomplish a lot within 90 days, I have always been a huge sceptic that Mr Sata could do it as I tend to have a long memory with Zambian politicians.
I have been against him from the beginning as I could tell from his days as Lusaka District Governer that there was something seriously amiss. His ten year stint in the ruling MMD confirmed my suspicions and when he branched out on his own in 2001, my opinion was cemented. I never expected him to win this year, but I congratulated his supporters and watched patiently and things went pretty much as I expected. People were excited, claiming they were voting for change but this election might turn out very similar to Barack Obama’s 2008 election when he promised change but has failed miserably.
After 90 days of the Sata government, I see a lot of cosmetic changes, especially in the composition of government (many of them are former MMD members) but in terms of the quality of decisions made so far, I would put Sata below average. Perhaps the only concrete positive things he has done is to widen the tax-free bracket for income tax by raising the threshold to K2 million (about US$400), not reintroducing Windfall Tax (I support tax reductions for everyone including corporations), being friendly to investors (including the Chinese) and making a strong stand against corruption (which remains to be seen in practice since even second president Frederick JT Chiluba said the same thing and we all know how that went down).
I cannot shake the feeling that we are not going to experience anytime soon the good economic growth Sata promised (“More money in your pockets” can only work if there is robust growth). He is basically a Socialist like all the presidents before him (Rupiah Banda was a bit more Capitalist than the rest) and his lack of understanding of free markets will be a liability.
He has made a number of decisions which appear to be an excercise in vanity. Looking at some of his first acts as president, was it really necessary to rename airports, create a new province and move a provincial capital? Apart from creating an unnecessary administrative cost, how does it improve the life of the ordinary Zambian? I would expect a man with a “ninety days” promise to be busy creating the right conditions for people to do business, thereby growing the economy and creating employment. Instead he introduced a new regulation requiring people that export goods to get clearance from Bank of Zambia. Needless to say, Zambia experienced an economic slump during the short period the regulation was in effect and it could have only created new avenues for corruption.
Then there are the outright bad decisions. He appointed ten members of parliament, despite being part of the group that effected a reduction to eight during Chiluba’s presidency. He appointed questionable people into important government positions and in the case of former Intelligence chief Xavier Chungu, was forced to backtrack, as was the case over the two extra appointed MPs.
He asked for a report within 30 days over the suspicious sale of Finance Bank to First National Bank of South Africa and hardly a week had gone by and he ordered the sale reversed, ignoring his own earlier instruction. One cannot help but wonder how far the Mahtani-Sata connection goes.
He has appointed endless commissions of enquiry that are a drain on tax payer money. Again I cannot help but be cynical and see this as another way to reward his supporters. Whatever the outcome of the investigations, I bet any money recovered (if at all) will be miniscule compared to what will be spent on the commissions (remember the millions spent prosecuting Chiluba).
The thing that has really got me ticked off was his recent directive that street vendors should be left alone. Town center within a few weeks is now an eyesore. Corridors have hardly any space for walking, trash is piling up and since there are no toilets (unlike in markets), vendors are helping themselves in the street alleys between the main roads. The stench is so unbearable in some places that it can give a skunk a run for its money.
The stalls in the markets will inevitably empty out as traders move into the more lucrative streets. All this is a sure recipe for airborne diseases. For a president that is going after people in the previous regime (claiming he is following the rule of law), this is a prime example of double standards because he is endorsing lawlessness and overriding all the council regulations and ordinances that date back to colonial times. From here, it can only be downhill since the president apparently only upholds the law when it suits him. Is this the change Zambians voted for?
Mr Sata is by nature a forceful person which is great to get things done but can be fatal when the wrong ideas are pursued. I really fear he may consolidate his power in the next five years and become increasingly tyrannical like Banda before him. If you think this is way off the mark, remember that Robert Gabriel Mugabe is one of his heroes (the “Patriotic Front” name for his party comes from ZANU-PF as pointed out by Chanda Chisala in an article years ago). He has renamed the Lusaka International Airport after Kenneth Kaunda our first president and is cultivating a cosy relationship with him (KK).
Those of us who remember our history know that Sata vehemently opposed and trashed Kaunda in 1991 when UNIP was thrown out of power. Kaunda, the only president to have turned Zambia into a dictatorship (see below) is now suddenly an angel in Sata’s books. This is the kind of revisionist history that unfortunately plagues the nation (we are not unique in this since Franklin D Roosevelt is revered as a great president in America up to now but history says otherwise about him).
At this point, I am almost depressed because it seems we just never get a president that knows what he is doing. As controversial as this may be, perhaps we deserve to be called the “Dark Continent”.
“A dictatorship is a country that does not recognize individual rights, whose government holds total, unlimited power over men. There are four characteristics which brand a country unmistakably as a dictatorship: one-party rule—executions without trial or with a mock trial, for political offenses—the nationalization or expropriation of private property—and censorship. A country guilty of these outrages forfeits any moral prerogatives, any claim to national rights or sovereignty, and becomes an outlaw.” — Ayn Rand, philosopher and author