DEVELOPMENT analyst Charity Musamba has advised President Edgar Lungu to listen to the utupuba he referred to when he commissioned the Arcades flyover last month and save Zambia from a development catastrophe.
Dr Musamba, a development studies lecturer at the University of Zambia, said President Lungu castigated the critics of his government as “utupuba” when he commissioned the flyover on October 30.
“This bridge has been constructed using borrowed resources and this is where the Head of State placed his lamentation regarding these ‘utupuba’ for failing to see the developmental outcomes of his government’s ‘borrowing.’ Indeed, it is important to acknowledge from the onset that not all ‘critics’ deserve attention, nor do critics always place their points within the correct radar,” she said. “However, a close look at the record of the consistent ‘critics’ of the President’s government reveals very important observations – ones if correctly perceived and understood would actually serve a great purpose not only for the leadership but the country as a whole.”
Dr Musamba said a check on the “utupuba” who had been consistent with keeping track of this country’s common development and governance imperatives shows that “these citizens are pre-occupied with the following worries – which in the leadership’s eyes are summed up as criticism”.
“The first concern of these critics is that we need to strengthen the country’s democratic governance system. It is common knowledge that Zambia’s democracy is still ‘evolving’. Until of recent, the wider perception was that this democracy was ‘evolving’ towards ‘consolidation’. But the utupuba have noticed that to the contrary, Zambia’s democracy has started sliding backwards and in some cases is stuck in tracks! The shrinking of democratic space in the form of repression of dissent voices, selective application of the law and the lack of accountability among public office bearers constitute the evidence for this claim,” she said. “The second complaint of these utupuba is that Zambia’s development process is failing – economically, politically and socially. It is now obvious that our economy has collapsed – low productivity worsened by the COVID-19 crisis and other natural calamities, dwindling national reserves only covering a 2.5 month period instead of the standard six months, high and unsustainable debts now increasing characterised by defaults in servicing, debt to GDP ratio running up to 109 per cent instead of the recommended 45 threshold per cent, high unemployment levels especially among the youth, sprawling but income strapped large informal sector – harboring millions of women and young people and persistence of large scale subsistence farming at a time when other countries in similar circumstances are displaying spectacular changes in this regard – pick Malawi in this regard.”
Dr Musamba said in the eyes of the’ utupuba’, the politics in Zambia was not speaking to common development and national interests.
“Our politics is hijacked to serve the interests of only a few – particularly those welding economic, financial and political power,” she said.
Dr Musamba said instead of uniting the people to compete and jostle to lead for development, political contestation had been reduced to a “scramble for access to public resources” and those that make it then set up “connections” to take care of those who “pushed them” through.
She said this unhealthy disjoint between the political and development arena was contributing to relentless surge in the abuse of public power and resources, weakening and capture of state institutions, unconstraint behaviour among some social and political groupings as well as unconstitutional behaviour.
These acts, she said, are unwanted by this group of “utupuba.”
“But when looked at closely, one notices that these are the same catalogue of development and governance challenges that every regime in Zambia has pledged to overcome. Check out the 7NDP (Seventh National Development Plan), various political party manifestoes and the Constitution of Zambia! With regard to racking of public financial resources – simply run through the reports from government’s own Auditor General’s office,” she said.
Dr Musamba said this was a total departure from the Zambia that people wanted in 1990.
She said masses called for a Zambia that would guarantee – with responsibility – freedoms of speech, assembly, mobility and perhaps more importantly, a polity that would put at its centre socio-economic justice – the type of justice that would ensure equality and equity for all in accessing developmental goods and services, equal access to services in the judiciary sector as well as political and social development.
“In the view of these utupuba, Zambia has become socially divisive as a result of the failing and unequal economy and the polarized politics described above,” she said. “The third point of dispute of the utupuba is that the governance system of Zambia has remained highly centralised and exclusive. Instead of seeing a hastened process veering into a robustly decentralised way of managing our national affairs, this country is still steered using the old tactics with only a few areas – that conventionally require a decentralised way of management – such as education, health and agriculture and local government witnessing some level of devolution.”
Dr Musamba said according to the utupuba, the insistence to continue governing Zambia using a primarily central approach was robbing the citizens of their right to participate actively in the development process of the country.
She said the decentralised system was also widening the distance between the governors and governed thereby making public accountability and monitoring of behaviour of public office bearers a nightmare.
Dr Musamba said more worrisome, the current system was essentially serving the purpose of leaving millions of Zambia behind.
“So the utupuba are calling for a more and faster process of decentralisation. Thus if taken seriously, instead of trivialising the views of the critics-cum-utupuba for pointing out the truth on what is going on wrongly, the Head of State and the national management could consider undertaking a critical reflection of the utupuba’s list of views – scarf off the needless but accommodate the hurting but necessarily ones,” said Dr Musamba. “Such criticism is an essential necessity for both the leadership and nation at large. In fact, based on government’s own records, these critics are in fact in the right and not in the wrong.”