Tutu Fellows
Tutu Fellows

Zambia, it’s time for change

By Jacqueline Muna Musiitwa

As a child growing up, I recall the fervour and momentum around Zambia’s first democratic multiparty election which took place in 1991. I remember running in the streets chanting “the time is now … it’s time for change” and other chants focused on the people’s hope for a better future. Little did I understand politics, much less political evolutions or revolutions. In the last 20 years both Zambia and the world have changed, becoming more loosely bound. We continue to witness the globalisation of ideas, politics, economics, social systems, culture, technology and disease. If the Arab Spring has taught us anything, it is that leadership is about responsibility and not power. Failure to be responsible results in removal from power. This year I have witnessed another change of sorts in Zambian politics. In a relatively peaceful election Zambians made it known that once again it was time for change. The election process demonstrated to me Zambians’ choice to hold leadership accountable for its actions.

The one thing that has remained constant in the lives of all Zambians is the desire to make a better life for themselves. The ever-present consensus in African political discourse is that our leaders are the cause of our problems. Although in part true, leaders alone must not take all the blame. As Aldous Huxley said: “People get the government they deserve.”

Considering many African countries’ battle with national self-esteem, questionable degrees of patriotism and nationalism — Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea games have a larger following than parliamentary proceedings — one can only be cautiously optimistic. Based on the assumption that Zambians are committed, inspired and willing to work hard towards national development, it still begs the question, how can “we the people” ensure the leaders are for the people, of the people and guided by values and ethics (including, but not limited to, transparency and accountability)?

The first step is to consider the words of Barack Obama: “We must educate our children to become like young Egyptian people.” This does not mean taking to the streets, it means uniting young people together for a common cause despite existing differences. The days of silent children who are seen and not heard are gone — younger generations now know that they are an influential and growing part of “the people”. It also means understanding and demanding civic rights, obligations and privileges under the law while using the appropriate means to express grievances. People’s rights need to be taught in schools and other community fora. The second step is to foster independent institutions buttressed by a strong civil society, free press and unrestricted access to social media. It is through open debate of the issues that people effectively contribute as active and responsible citizens. People need to express and advocate the views of a diverse cross-section of the population without fear or threat of prosecution. A good example is Rwanda’s “National Dialogue” — a process that invites people to converse with the government through phone calls, text messaging and email (domestically and from the diaspora) about national challenges, successes, lessons learned and future plans.

Often in Africa political leadership is disconnected from the realities of the people. Being surrounded by a convoy of security in a vehicle with tinted windows or a helicopter is hardly a depiction of the people’s reality. President Michael Sata, was in part voted because he appears to be “a man of the people”. In his first 90 days, people have been watching with anxiety the reforms the government is making. So far the new government is demonstrating its commitment to unifying past political fractures — renaming the airports with names of the founding fathers, while demoting military officials that were allegedly unqualified for their posts suggests that a meritocracy could be developing, thus minimising corruption and nepotism in hiring practices. Clearly outlining and enforcing the terms and conditions for investors entering into Zambia, especially the Chinese, thus protecting Zambia’s greatest resource, its people, at the forefront of the agenda demonstrates the government’s commitment to sustainable development.

All of the above are great starts, however, the development agenda, be it Vision 2030 or the Millennium Development Goals, need to be accompanied by an active and realistic plan of how to accomplish them. Such a plan is not yet clear. Additionally, the needs of the people change over time, and the government must take that into consideration while still focusing on such visions. There need to be checks and balances, monitoring and evaluation of leadership performance. And ultimately it is up to the people to gauge when it is time for change and be the necessary agents of change.

Jacqueline Musiitwa is the founder of the Hoja Law Group, a Mo Ibrahim Leadership Fellow, World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and an Archbishop Tutu Fellow.

Article first published in African Arguments

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    • http://www.learnthenews.com Moi

      Good luck, Zambia, you’re a stunning country with awesome people

    • david hurst

      Revolutionary thought in action, in principle. It is clear that with education and now links to much of the world, youth will want a voice, and this is what is happening. Without free speech and awareness of governance, the problems that face Africa and the world will remain the same. What has happened and is happening are issues that are multi-generational, and it is clear that youth now, more than at any time, have the tools to engage with their own minds. Cool, timely article.

    • http://hismastersvoice.wordpress.com/ The Creator

      Yeah, but what kind of change? Obama promised change but delivered nothing. Changing the names of airports isn’t exactly going to bring the Millennium, and China-bashing is cheap politics. What’s the plan?


      This gives me hope. I have worked with Zambians in Zambia for the last 12 years and watched people in leadership put science aside in favour of politics and at the expense of the people.

      I wish Zambia a bountiful harvest of dedicated, young and enlightened leaders, who have good governance at heart. I hope the old-guard in the science field are put out to pasture so the new science leaders can emerge and bring benefits to the people.

    • http://maravi.blogspot.com/ MrK

      ” As a child growing up, I recall the fervour and momentum around Zambia’s first democratic multiparty election which took place in 1991. ”

      To be completely correct, the first multi-party elections were held in 1964. One party rule was introduced in 1972, and re-introduced in 1991, on the urging of the IMF/World Bank, which wanted to get rid of the nationalists and put a neoliberal kleptocracy in power, which they did.

      The first president, Kenneth Kaunda, is also the least corrupt (still alive today and very much respected), and Frederick Chiluba, put in office in 1991, the most corrupt. So little was done under 20 years of neoliberal rule, that the country is still sailing along on the infrastructure put in place under UNIP. UNIP actually cared about the development of the country, unlike the MMD, which wasted the people’s time by ‘letting the markets show what they can do’.

      ” Additionally, the needs of the people change over time, and the government must take that into consideration while still focusing on such visions. ”

      What has to happen concretely, and not only in Zambia, is that the government needs to start taxing the mining industry, not the relatively small middle class.

      And that seems to be the problem – no matter who you vote in, Anglo-American rules and avoids all tax liabilities. This is what is keeping Africans poor – the continued exploitation of the people’s resources by transnational corporations.

    • Makia Efimba

      I read your paper with attention and would like to contribute from the perspective of someone who regularly engages Rwandan leaders using social media like Twitter and facebook and an observer of Zambian events. It is good that there was a peaceful transition with Sata taking over avoiding an Ivorian or Kenyan scenario.
      Sata is regarded as a man of the people but he hardly engages Zambian youth since he took office on social media which is one of the primary ways to communicate these days. He should see what Pres Kagame in Rwanda or Hellen Zille of South Africa are doing on Twitter.
      Another problem is the changes in the Administration. It is easy to fire someone but as you clearly know when termination is perceived to be wrongful it appears as settling political scores and not meritocracy. Furthermore if real steps are not taken to combat corruption by making legislative and judicial changes then it may take a while for the benefits to come thru