The Perspective, by Edward Bwalya Phiri: political rhetoric, Zambia’s major hindrance to sustainable development

Renowned Satirist, George Orwell, wrote that, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful…and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind.” And former Indian president Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam, who was an aerospace scientist cum politician rightly opined that, “Political rhetoric alone does not build a nation unless it is backed by the power of sacrifice, toil and virtue.”

Meanwhile, former premier of the Soviet Union and political theorist Vladimir Lenin warned that, “False rhetoric and false boastfulness spell moral ruin and lead unfailingly to political extinction.”

On The Perspective today, consideration is on political rhetoric.

The Oxford University press [2007] defines rhetoric as speech or writing that is intended to influence people, but is not completely honest or sincere. Therefore, political rhetoric is speech or writing by politicians, aimed at persuading the electorate, who are the targeted audience of their carefully and tactfully crafted messages.

This article has been necessitated by the statement issued by His Excellency President Edgar Lungu during the commissioning of the Munali Flyover, on Wednesday March 24, 2021, where he said that, “People will tell you that the economy is not booming, yet activities indicate that there is money in the economy and people are living well.”

The statement is a deliberate misrepresentation of facts by the Head of State, who seems to be conflicting himself in his numerous statements. This write-up will bring up some of the conflicting statements, as well as bring out evidence to show that life is becoming more and more difficult for the majority Zambians.

During the launch of the 2020 Economic Recovery Plan [ERP] on Thursday December 17, 2020, President Lungu said that, “for developing nations, like ours, encumbered by huge debts… millions of our people are barely surviving and our economy is at the moment battered and stretched…our resource envelop is thinning by the day.”

It is actually shocking to think that the President can insinuate that Zambians are living well when just 97 days earlier, he reported to the nation that, “Millions of our people are barely surviving and our economy is at the moment battered and stretched… our resource envelop is thinning by the day.” And the very fact that the country launched an Economic Recovery Plan [ERP] shows that the economy is not doing fine.

And according to the ERP report, “…public debt has now exceeded 100 per cent of GDP, far above the sustainability threshold of 35 per cent of GDP.” It further posits that, “…with increased spending pressure, the fiscal space has been narrowing. In 2021 the wage bill and debt service are projected to absorb 100 per cent of the budget’s domestic revenues, thus leaving no room for operational and other priority spending.” What that entails is that, as a country we will mainly depend on grants and further borrowing for our sustenance.

It is not clear what President Lungu meant when he said that people are living well. Perhaps, if we look at it from a different angle, the President may have been right when he said that there is money in the economy, as can be clearly seen from the levels of investments in infrastructural works currently going on in the country, but I am doubtful if that is benefiting the ordinary citizens.

In recent years, we have seen a notable growth of the economy, but without having any positive impact on poverty in the country. The American author and essayist Edward Abbey postulated that, “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” What we need is meaningful growth that will bring in a trickle-down effect so as to benefit the suffering masses.

On December 13, 2020, I wrote that Zambia is among nations with a relatively high poverty rate in the world. Habitat for Humanity reported that, “Despite Zambia having one of the fastest growing economies, it remains one of the world’s poorest countries. Currently, close to 64 per cent of Zambians live under $2 a day and the majority of those who earn more barely make ends-meet. Indeed, over 40 per cent of them are considered to live in extreme poverty [under $1.25 (now $1.9) a day].”

The 2021 World population pegs poverty in Zambia at 54.40 per cent and the United Nations Development [UNDP] 2020 Human Development Report accounts that, “Zambia’s HDI [Human Development Index] value for 2019 is 0.584 – which put the country in the medium human development category – positioning it at 146 out of 189 countries and territories.” This is the picture and statistics don’t lie.

And according to the Zamstats, the national statistics agency, national employment rate stands at 31per cent only. And while salaries of most employees have remained the same, commodity prices have been soaring. The March 2021 monthly bulletin by Zamstats shows that inflation increased to 22.8 per cent and that, “The increase in the annual rate of inflation was mainly attributed to prices increases in both food and non-food items.

Further, the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection’s [JCTR] Basic Needs and Nutrition Basket [BNNB] survey for February 2021, indicates that the cost of living increased to K8,300 [approximately US$377] per month, for a family consisting of five members. This amount is much higher than the income of most employed and self – employed individuals.

On December 13, 2020, I also wrote in this column that, “Truth be told, Zambia has made progress in infrastructure development especially, however, at the expense of the citizens’ living conditions. Priority needs to be put on ameliorating people’s conditions through deliberate and pragmatic programmes. Poverty alleviation must not be a spin-off, or simply a rider of government’s preferred developmental agenda, but the core driver of it.”

The irony of the Zambian economy is that the economic picture is at variance with the reality. Very few people are benefiting from these massive investments. Kelvin fube Bwalya [2019] reported that, “At over 80 percent, the bulk of construction contracts are awarded to foreign companies.” While the majority are drowning at the dead end of poverty, only those close to the corridors of power are benefiting, in terms of contracts and kickbacks from government contracts.

Bwalya further wrote that, “there seem not to be a systematic approach to our infrastructure development to ensure we invest according to what will offer our country the best dividends.” Bwalya also wrote that Zambia seems to be acquiring construction services at highly inflated prices. Going by the funds we have so far committed to infrastructure development, Zambia should be sitting with twice infrastructure.”

Charles Mwewa [2011] wrote that, “The relevance of good governance in the fight against poverty is in the inherent mandate of public administration.” And British-American inspirational speaker and writer, Simon Sinek once postulated that, “Leadership is not about the next elections, it’s about the next generation.”
It is a fact that our current leaders’ preoccupation is to maintain their hold on the reins of power and every effort is aimed at achieving that objective. This is clear even in the statement issued by President Lungu during the commissioning of the Munali Flyover, where he said that, “Let us remain focused on our good works and the Zambian people who mean well will judge us on the 12th of August 2021 [the general elections day].

It must therefore sink in the minds of the current government officials and all those aspiring to be in government that political leadership is more than being elected and maintaining your position. Your role is to ensure that there is sustainable development, your mandate is to guarantee the future of the nation. For today I will end here; it’s Au revoir, from EBP. For comments: elbardogma@yahoo.com

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