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Why are we so good at choosing bad leaders?

Editor’s Note: This article was first published on December 18, 2017 and is being republished here only as a flashback.

Why is the Zambian society, as constituted today, so docile and so unquestioning? Why are we Zambians so good at choosing bad leaders? How does a country end up with Edgar Lungu as President – a man who consistently professed to have no vision for Zambia, who persistently continues to expose both his inability to preside over anyone and his obstinate conventionality and fear of being led down any path that might disturb his rather simple, partisan view of things? What has Hakainde Hichilema done to deserve the frontrunner slot as our best alternative – a terribly incompetent and ineffective politician who lacks a clear strategy on how best to challenge the ruling Patriotic Front and reveal Lungu’s manifold inadequacies, who leads a party without any ideological and coherent policy opposition to the government, and who, since his release from prison, appears to possess a new found timidity that has left him unable to express an outage required by Zambia’s present situation? What does it say about us as a people when a man like Chishimba Kambwili stands up to declare not just his suitability for the presidency but his confidence of winning it? Kambwili is an ambitious firebrand whose political agenda remains uncertain, who appears to seek power for power’s own sake, who defended Lungu’s rule to sycophantic levels not long ago and consequently represents a shameful example of politicians who only rediscover their principles after losing their closeness to the levers of power. Today, this is a man we are seriously considering for presidential office?

How come the case on the eligibility of President Lungu to stand in the 2021 elections, currently before the Constitutional Court, is being decided ahead of other cases that were filed much earlier, before the same court? When will the ConCourt pronounce itself on whether President Lungu should have stepped down and handed over executive power to the Speaker of the National Assembly once a petition was filed against his election in August 2016? Given that there are relatively few cases before it, what explains the delay by the ConCourt in determining the election appeal cases involving MPs for Lusaka Central and Munali constituencies? And when will the High Court decide on the case relating to Hichilema’s and Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba’s claim that their right to be heard as stipulated in Article 18 of the Constitution was violated by the Constitutional Court when it disposed of their petition against Lungu’s election without hearing it, as required by Article 101 (5)? What should we make of the recent appointment of judge Martin Musaluke, a man with specialised training in international business law, to the ConCourt, which had an even number of six judges prior to his arrival, at this crucial time when the nation is waiting for a ruling on Lungu’s eligibility to seek another presidential term in 2021? Is it not a breach of the law for a constitutional office holder like the President to suggest changes to a Republican Constitution (such as the proposal that a presidential term of office should be ten years) that he swore to uphold, protect and defend?

Most importantly, what is our national plan, our long term-vision? Who is responsible for strategic planning in our country? How do we craft a unifying strategy and vision, given the divisive nature of our politics, for nation building? What are the leadership qualities that are needed for the resolution of our complex national challenges today and the construction of an ideology for nationhood that is underpinned by respect for one another’s humanity? How do we breed the sort of journalism that prods a politician’s deeper thoughts and fears, that identifies the key issues of the day and how to deal with or address them? How is it possible that we (the citizens and our national leaders) are hardly troubled by the fact that: we are now ranked number 139 on the world Human Development Index (HDI) of 187 countries (remember the HDI measures longevity and healthy life, access to knowledge and decent standard of living); less than three per cent of Zambia’s population is expected to grow older than 65 years with the rest of us condemned to very short miserable lives at a time in human history when some countries have a problem of too many old people; of our national population that is able and willing to work, 53 years into our “independence”, 86 per cent still rely on some agricultural activity to survive, only 6 per cent have an industrial job, and a mere 9 per cent are employed in services; we are quite capable of carrying a high unemployment rate, especially among the youth, and somehow pray and hope that miracle will cure our social ills; at a time when others elsewhere are talking about a “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, we are regressing into some of the most backward, primitive and irrational modes of thought, beliefs and practices?

What can we do, as citizens, to reject the mediocrity of our lives and leadership? How can we move from simply knowing how bad things are to taking action? Why does Zambia’s “educated class”, knowing so well the weaknesses and backwardness of the Kenneth Kaundas, Frederick Chilubas, Rupiah Bandas, Michael Satas and Edgar Lungus, and fully aware of the sorry state of the mass of our people still do virtually nothing about both the conditions of our life and leadership? Are we such a pathological parasitic educated middle class that we are completely paralysed and are incapable of the necessary and essential political activity required to overturn our national plight? Are we an impotent social class incapable of fulfilling its historic and social responsibility, always blaming others for our sorry state of affairs in the country? (…Bad politicians, illiterate population, backward rural dwellers, etc. – running away from the answer to our problems which is all the time staring us straight in the face, using our very own eyes: us!) Have we, as a people, become so debased and dehumanised that we have effectively ceased to hold ourselves in high regard, began the downward spiral of lower and lower expectations for ourselves and our kith and kin, and effectively commuted our very existence to spirits, viewing the battles or challenges that confront us as not physical?

As major global powers intensify their efforts to pillage and grab what is left of Africa, how best can we, as a country, prepare ourselves and respond in an effective way to avoid falling for this new Scramble of Africa a second time, especially that deals for resources were the precursor to political control previously? What has really created what appears to be a readymade set of corruptible leaders, who pawn off the country for a few trinkets, who accumulate through brazen theft of public resources and massive sale of Zambian asserts to so-called investors, and who strut around with self-importance when they are nothing but disposable playthings of even bigger global kleptocrats? Why are our leaders in government betraying us and future generations to unsustainable public debt and foreign commercial interests with reckless abandon as if there would be no tomorrow? Why are they allowing to develop a situation where every prominent piece of the country will be owned by foreign powers, multinational corporations or foreigners, wherever they maybe coming from? How much ‘Zambia’ is left?

What quality of citizens are we who tolerate a Chiluba, a Banda, a Sata, a Lungu, for a national leader, who accept to be reduced to the subhuman status our current situation confines most of us to?  Aaah, aikona man! We must rebel against our sub-human existence. Then, in our many millions of personal activities, we must transmit this rebellion to others. So far, the main platform for criticism of our lives is in the media, and largely confined to the deplorable social and economic conditions we now suffer. It need not be confined to this terrain. Ethically, morally, spiritually, intellectually, culturally, and yes, ultimately, philosophically, we must also wage a war against influences in these spheres that define and confine us to subhuman existence. To be who we are is a reflection of inferior qualities in us of all the human essences I have listed. We must question everything and everyone, fearlessly, especially if they are leading us or making claims to want to lead us.

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