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The debt swap joke: what incredible junk bad actors display on stage when their time is fading

[By Michael B Munyimba]

There’s always been great philosophical ingenuity in ancient Nigerian proverbs. So, when one said, “a stubborn fly follows the coffin to the grave”, there was irrefutable truth and sense in it all.

This write-up begins with this legendary proverb because in the final analysis, it shall be pegged upon someone’s shirt-front upon whom it relates; someone once so much dearly loved, respected and adored by all. This is someone whose dwindling dignity and political track record hangs in balance on the very edge of permanent doom; someone upon whom austerity shall fiercely judge for generations to come. But as stated earlier above, this issue will be brought later in this epitaph.

Now, Zambian politics seem to have evolved at bullet-speed since the early 90s, making a dramatic sad and unbelievable somersault back to the stone age as opposed to the way they were at the dawn of multi-partism in 1990. Suddenly, we have a new breed of utterly strange politicians, who have altered the old adage that politics was a dirty game by adding even more disgusting, stinking words to its already marred outlook, thereby instantly making it not just a dirty game here in Zambia, but a faecal-slinging wrestling that even Hulk Hogan would gave adamantly refused to participate in, no matter how high you placed the stakes! And it has not ended on mere faecal-slinging amongst themselves, they have now even gone as far as erroneously taking the people for granted; thinking Zambians are foolish and gullible that they will accept and believe any junk they are told and sell their birthright of a good, decent life for, like Esau, a morsel of temporal food. And as we wanly gallop towards the ballot box next month, we see an even double-triggered momentum of deceit, of hate, of libel and slander and of weird promises to some unsuspecting citizens of a world far fetched; a Disney land that staggers their imagination with sheer excitement.

Those that recall the events of the early 90s when multi-partism was re-introduced will relive the memories, the excitement, the thrilling campaigns that transcended the nation: those compelling adverts that flooded our then only TV and radio station ZNBC, the frenzied roadshows and multitude-filled rallies for both the ruling and opposition parties that were all over. Never in Zambia’s modern history had people witnessed such energetic, vibrant, mature, non-tribal campaign trails and crusades demonstrated on our land; it brought joy and reason to believe in One Zambia One Nation.

We saw an elite, informed bunch of geniuses suddenly mushrooming from our very soil – all from different tribes but acting as one. The Derrick Chitalas, Dean Mun’gomba, Dipak Patel, Edith Nawakwi (some of these characters were still sane and dignified then), Dr Guy Scot; and veterans such as Arthur and Sikota Wina, the famous Vernon Johnson Mwaanga (VJ), ‘King Cobra’ Michael Sata, Ben Mwila (BY) and several others all sprung on the political scene with one voice and changed our course of history.

Even as they strongly differed with their opponents, they tabled their differences, opinions and ideologies with love and respect for each other, with maturity and conscience, knowing that they did not have to lynch each other, to kill those who opposed them because love for one another and respect for life was greater than any public office. It was preposterous for anyone to even think of bringing in tribal remarks when decampaigning others as it stood against our national tenets. Never would you hear stupid remarks such as Chama can’t rule because he eats monkeys too much, or that Mwale is unfit because he digs rats in his backyard; or that Chimuka looked like a cow and therefore could not be president; or because Lubasi comes from Barotseland and eats hopany, he therefore cannot rule this country, no! Everyone stuck to national issues and never down-looked anyone. They all demonstrated love for the other even when they differed in opinion.

Those that were old enough may even remember those hilarious songs those politicians used to compose during election campaigns ati, “Bana Mulenga mpeniko akajinga nsendelepo Sata ishilu, mpeniko akajinga ncitilepo campaign…” And we would joyfully sing during rallies, laughing and dancing with excitement, knowing that those were mere campaign entertainment lullabies that were nothing personal, sheer jokes to trigger frenzy in crowds. Now all that has changed. There was just this atmosphere of love and peace around. And When politicians like the eloquent Fredrick Chiluba spoke, it was with so much diligence, everyone was proud to have him as president, just like Sata. And we had dignified ministers in everything from intellect, maturity, education to honesty and leadership quality. And when someone was called Vice-President, he had the qualities, dignity and integrity.

Which now brings me to my main topic.

You must be privy to the recent ‘calypso’ now being hummed by our politicians in power, that government will arrange a debt-swap for civil servants who owe lending institutions. Recently, the Vice-President, Inonge Wina, was in Kalabo district where she told teachers that government would negotiate a debt-swap between them and financial services so that government can foot their bills for loans they got instead, or part of their bills. There are more than 200,000 civil servants in the country, of which more than 85 per cent are in debt, and 60,000 are teachers. That’s rather strange, isn’t it, coming from the veep herself? We thought just recently there was the issue of government deducting money from civil servants for loans they got, which it was failing to remit to lenders owed?

Which ‘sane’ lending institution will agree to such a deal ahead of a general election, which general election has the potential to either maintain the current government or change it? Everyone now has taken a wait until August 12 general election to get into any meaningful deals with the current government. This government has also been known to be a very bad debtor even on foreign debt repayment, so who will risk getting into negotiations with a government which claims to be broke? If government had such money to voluntarily pay off debts for people who didn’t even solicit for it, why then hasn’t it paid retirees for 30 long years? If government really had a heart to bail out these guys, why did it have to wait till a few weeks before the election? What guarantee do they have that they will still be in power after August 12? Just supposing they could pull such a plug and they lost the election, and the next government nullified it, what happens? Does madam Wina know the risk it would put those lenders into?

Or does she know that what her government is saying about this debt-swap is a non-starter, a non-viable venture but wishes to mask the truth behind that? Because this is just a story of a gun in one hand and bread in the other. They need these civil servants and want to hold them hostage with the ransom being their vote in exchange for the so-called debt swap. We are no longer in a one-party state de-facto and no party should live in false delusions of ruling forever and in their eagerness to cling to power should desist from giving false hope to innocent, suffering civil servants, promising to be brushing their teeth with Mojo and cleaning their shoes with Coca Cola after elections because they might not be around those offices that long.

I started this article with a Nigerian proverb that a stubborn fly follows the coffin to the grave, and I stated that I was going to peg it unto someone. It was madam Wina I meant. It is actually sad and strange that Arthur’s wife could deliberately decide and agree, whether at gun point or not, to voyage on a wrong political path in the horizon of her life. Why would she be crusading the country preaching wrong things just to win votes for her people? Last time she was captured on camera dishing out money to some residents to buy their vote just a few days after she had condemned the same act in parliament saying it were the opposition doing so. But we shall let her off the hook on that one because the possibilities of amnesia at her age are high. My final admonishing to her is this; madam Wina, you are ‘retiring’, according to you. The best you can do is stay home, drink coffee with bread and butter, you can afford, and tell stories of the country’s struggle for independence and refuse to be part of a sinking boat any longer. Don’t destroy your repetition in the last minute. Let that be your disposition and pedestal to good rest in the aftermath of your retirement.

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