Zambian political parties always excel at outdoing each other in how many free things they promise Zambians during election campaigns. Free education from grade one to university, free fertilizer, free hospitals, free clinics, free title deeds, free land, free loans, free solar hammer mills; free, free, free.
The late Frederick JT Chiluba was the only president who told us the truth in 1991 when he said there would be hard times ahead and we needed to tighten our belts for the bumpy ride ahead. I still remember his words during the famous Pope Square Rally that I attended as a youth (Of course he then went on a stealing rampage but that isn’t the point here).
That very bumpy ride resulted in 150% inflation by 1993 and thousands of people losing their jobs as the civil service was trimmed, loss-making companies were privatized or liquidated and the economy was liberalized. Yet by 1994, inflation had dropped to 30% and the economy slowly began to recover, especially after the selling of the mines in 2000. Who can deny that the Zambia of today is far better than that of 1991?
Sadly, politicians of today lie and deceive voters with fake unsustainable freebies when there is a huge budget deficit, ballooning debt, weak Copper prices, monolithic economy, devalued Kwacha, escalating inflation, slow economic growth, ad infinitum.
I long for a leader who will tell it like it is. “Keepin’ it real”, as the Americans like to say. A leader who will tell Zambians to forget about free things and brace themselves for cost-reflective electricity tariffs, zero subsidies, a devalued Kwacha and price inflation. Some serious pain for 3 years while a new economic foundation is laid for the future.
This is precisely what will happen whoever takes over in August 2016 after the elections. I am however resigned to the very likely possibility that we shall experience the pain but our populist leaders shall fail to implement the necessary reforms to fix the country.
Excuse my French, but no one has the balls to make and stick with the hard choices.