[By Tuesday Bwalya]
The year 2019 has been full of activities, mostly negative ones.
It has been a hard year economically, politically and also in terms of governance and human rights. The happenings in 2019 certainly have left a clot on Zambia’s democratic and economic credentials.
I wish to highlight some of the events of 2019.
The economy of our country shrank to unprecedented levels; the economy definitely grew below 1.5 per cent. This has been due to many reasons which include poor management style of the Patriotic Front (PF) government which has manifested in senseless borrowing by the State and misappropriation of public resources and corruption by state actors.
Further, the economy shrank also due to the monstrous load shedding implemented by our power utility, Zesco, stemming from poor rainfall pattern and poor planning on the part of the company and the State. I call it monstrous because in some areas load shedding has been lasting for more than 15 hours every day.
In 2019, our currency, the kwacha lost value to the USD$ dollar and other currencies, resulting in the increase of fuel prices. Further, inflation breached the 10 per cent threshold projected by government, resulting in a sharp rise in the prices of goods and services.
More importantly, the price of a 25 kilogram bag of mealie-meal reached ZMW 180 and 200 in some areas. This unimaginable increase was exacerbated by government’s earlier decision in the year to allow the exportation of maize against the advice of the leader of main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), Mr Hakainde Hichilema not to do so. As I write this article, the price of a 25 kg bag of mealie-meal is still high.
Further, our government in 2019 continued to struggle to pay both external and internal debt that has ballooned to not less than USD$ 17 billion. The huge debt the country is carrying has resulted in the failure by government to fund some state agencies such as councils, museums and public universities. In this regard, workers in these organisations have struggled to get their salaries. If the salary had to come, workers had to go on strike first.
On the political front, the county witnessed high levels of political violence, as political party cadres especially from the PF caused havoc and the Zambia police service did little to stop the lawlessness.
In February of 2019, during a parliamentary by-election in Sesheke, Western Province, PF thugs who wanted to cause violence were beaten by alert police officers. This displeased the Minister of Home Affairs and the PF leadership, resulting in some senior police officers losing their jobs. However, the by-election result went in favour of the UPND.
In April, 2019, during a parliamentary by-election in Roan constituency in Luanshya on the Copperbelt, PF thugs from Lusaka were transported there and caused mayhem. They attacked opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) party members in the quest for their party’s candidate to win the by-election, but he lost. The violence resulted in the death of a Mr Obert Kasongo, and the murderers have never been arrested.
In October 2019, during the Kaoma council chairperson by election, PF cadres caused violence resulting in the killing of a UPND cadre, Lawrence Banda, popularly known as Gaddafi among his colleagues. Again, the assassins have never been arrested.
In November the same year, leader of the opposition Patriots for Economic Progress (PEP), Mr Sean Tembo was physically attacked by PF thugs just for demonstrating against the purchase of the 1996 model fire engines at a cost of USD$ 1 million each. The 42 fire tenders were purchased in 2017 using public funds. Again, these known criminals have never been arrested simply because they belong to the ruling party.
On human rights and freedom of assembly, 2019 saw Zambia sliding back. All the meaningful opposition parties such as UPND, NDC and the Democratic Party (DP) had their mobilisation activities canceled by government using police under the guise of the Public Order Act. Meanwhile, the PF continued to freely hold their meetings with its leader professing to be a Christian when violating other parties’ rights to hold meetings and mobilise support.
Further, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had a tough time this year in carrying out their activities. Leaders of NGOs such as Chama Fumba, popularly known as Pilato, and civil rights activist Laura Miti have been on the receiving end of PF brutality. They have been arrested a number of times, the latest being in Livingstone early this week.
In terms of governance, the country has retrogressed. It has gone into a reverse gear, a fulfillment of the 2016 PF campaign song Dununa reverse. The Executive wing of the government has compromised two other arms of government, the Judiciary and Legislature. There is little independence remaining in these arms of government, if any.
With regard to the rule of law, the government has failed lamentably. PF supporters such as former political advisor to the President, Kaizar Zulu, were above the law. Further, government has paid lip service to the fight against corruption. Many corruption cases involving state actors and PF inclined persons were either not investigated or poorly prosecuted, resulting in acquittals.
Still on governance, government wished to change the constitution despite many voices opposing the methodology adopted and contents of the now infamous Bill 10. They attempted to bulldoze the process, but later differed the bill to February next year, as it failed to get the numbers needed in parliament to pass it.
On international relations, government quarreled with many diplomats. The first one was the British High Commissioner who questioned the government’s commitment to fighting corruption. This attracted attacks from government officials. Further, the Germany Ambassador was attacked by government officials for commenting on the sharing of the Lusaka water recharge zone by government officials.
The latest diplomat to attract government’s attack is the American Ambassador, Mr Daniel Foote who questioned the 15-year jail sentence slapped on a gay couple by the Kabwe High Court. The government, with its supporter, wanted Ambassador Foote withdrawn immediately, but the American government seemed not to agree. It was only on Tuesday this week that the American government recalled Ambassador Foote for his personal security.
Really, 2019 has been a bad year for the country. I wish, however, to say that it is not the year which has been bad but the people charged with the responsibility to govern us; our governors lacked focus and vision. They concentrated on their personal gains and staying in office longer. Our leaders seemed to have had narrow interests; they just pushed partisan agenda such as Bill 10.
2020 may turn out to be worse than this year because the PF party, government and their supporters will become more desperate to cling on to power as we draw closer to 2021.
I urge all Zambians to stand up and say no to misrule, visionless leadership, mismanagement of our economy and resources. Let us also say no political violence perpetrated by the PF and its cadres, or else we will not enjoy the coming year. God bless Zambia in 2020, and complements of the season to all my readers!
The author is a lecturer at the university of Zambia, department of Library and Information Science.