Saviour Chishimba
Saviour Chishimba

I was on a campaign trail in Kasama in 2011 when I was nearly lynched and told by a jubilant crowd, “stop criticising! You are just jealous! We know that these ones (MMD) are stealing, but it’s time to change so that others (PF) can also go and steal”. These words have never stopped to echo in my mind.

True to the words of replacing thieves with thieves, we have seen the level of looting which is only comparable to the looting that took place when national assets including the mines were hastily and recklessly sold. It was during this period that public funds at the hands of few thieves started getting moved to tax havens.

Today, over US$15 billion has been looted by a few public thieves between 2009 and 2017 (with bigger looting between 2011 and 2016). Amazingly and shamelessly so, thieves who partnered in crimes against Zambians are now accusing each other of the same most heinous crimes against the poor.

In the Western world, who are referring to our nations as “shithole”, citizens do not vote with a view to replacing thieves with thieves. Voting is a very serious patriotic duty and no wonder voters pay attention to detail and normally choose leaders on the basis of issues. Western voters can swing from one preferred candidate to another purely based on how well the issues have been articulated by candidates during debates.

In our country, an issue-based audio or video can never ever go viral. We are attracted to empty rantings – empty statements and we don’t care about the credentials of alternative leaders.

It is only in Zambia where thieves are celebrated because of their ability to dish out funds that were looted from public coffers.

We forget about all the vitriolic utterances of thieves when they had state power- we forget about how we were being told to go and urinate in the Kariba Dam as a solution to solving the energy crisis; we forget about how civil servants were being told that month end is not necessarily pay day; we forget about all the media crackdowns (The Post Newspaper, MUVI TV, Komboni Radio, Itezhitezhi, etc); we forget about their open statements to the effect that they were in government to eat; we forget about all the public tenders that they awarded to their own companies; and we forget about all the insults against generals and civil servants who wanted to stick to procedure.

I do recall some months before I resigned as MP what one political leader said, “abena Zambia tabakokola kulaba” literally meaning Zambians are quick to forget. I am afraid to note that if we continue to forget, our nation will drift into an irredeemable dungeon of which it will take a century to correct.

Some schools of thought are proposing that it’s time to start educating the people of Zambia on the realities we face and I agree, but what we need is far beyond this because there are many educated Zambians who shockingly fall for the same kind of thieves so long as they change their language and camp! These are thieves who cannot even write a single scholarly article on intricate national issues, but educated Zambians rally behind them. We need to change this culture – yes, it’s a culture to which even the most educated Zambians subscribe. Educated Zambians are even hired for a day’s soup to write manifestos on behalf of thieves.

I fear for a season when every opportunist will say, “Zambians don’t learn, let’s just keep using them”. This is the easiest route in what we have come to sadly accept as the “game of politics in which there are no permanent friends or enemies”. Politics is never and will never ever be a game – it’s about leadership and policies that affect lives. Certainly, this cannot be taken for granted.

The #tulilepo or #sangwapo (joining the bandwagon to eat) mentality is the deadliest issue that we must deal with.

In the building of a nation, citizens must rally behind an idea and not a person. The strong man or Iron Lady personality cultic beliefs will NEVER solve our problems. We need radical structural changes and strong institutions of governance. This is what we ought to focus on – IDEAS!

When Barrack Obama started his campaign, Americans from all walks of life, irrespective of colour or creed, rallied behind an idea and said “Yes We Can”. It was not Obama that they loved, but an idea. A leadership team of Americans with integrity was built – if anyone among the leaders was found wanting on past records, he/she stood down before even getting closer to the poll day. All Americans, poor or rich, contributed to the campaign and took ownership of the idea.

We need a principled stand and a leadership that says what it means and means what it says. The issue of principles is another elusive aspect of the narrative! I have interacted with several people who have blatantly asked me, “Are you going to eat principles?”. This mentality of eating or drinking a bowl of soup and sacrifice national development goals is disheartening.

The letter to the Zambian Youth will eventually deal with propositions on how to deal with what our nation is confronted with.

God bless Zambia!

Saviour Chishimba