By Dr. W.E. Kamirichika
The tenth president of the United States, John Tyler, from 1841 to 1845, and Zambia’s current 6th president (if you ignore Guy’s Scott’s truncated presidency) share some striking commonalities. Both Tyler and Lungu succeeded their predecessors who died in Office. As Tyler was bossy in legislative matters, Lungu is prone to bull-dozing his way through the legislative process even misinterpreting some clauses as we saw in the dissolution of the parliament in the run up to the contested election of August 16, 2016. But unlike Lungu’s legislative and constitutional “successes”, Tyler’s veto of legislation suffered the override of congress. Tyler was a man of strong political resolutions such as in his grand project to annex Mexico for its potential economic advantage. And Lungu? He is a man most anxiety-ridden Zambians see as weak or with a non-existent vision (as he once acknowledged). These anxiety-ridden Zambians see Lungu as someone mortgaging or even enslaving the country to foreign dangerous, if not fatal, influences. Most Americans, on the other hand, generally hold Tyler’s presidency “in low regard” as do most forward-looking Zambians of Lungu’s current presidency. Future Zambians will similarly so assess Lungu’s current presidency. Like Tyler is now widely held to have been an obscure president among American historians, there is an increasing evidence that in one to two centuries, Lungu and his presidency will have a scant presence in Zambia’s cultural memory. Our grandchildren’s grandchildren will prefer that their memories are empty of this era of serious errors of Lungu’s vision-free presidency.
Why so? Could it be that Lungu failed to Zambianize China? Not exactly. History will tell future generations of Zambians that Lungu had no Tyler-like visions of a grand project to annex China. Instead, future generations of Zambians will assess with indignation this era’s quickening and fatal Chinaization of Zambia, thanks to Lungu’s unpatriotic front and docile Zambians. Future Zambians will smoulder with anger at the pace of and the helpless “China-ization” of Zambia’s strategic assets under Lungu. Most of them—absent radical course correction—could become squatters in their own country, quarantined the way the evil apartheid regime isolated indigenous black South Africans. And future Zambians will only imagine how scarier and discomforting it must have been for their ancestors—our grandchildren. It will be a core story then as now; of Zambia’s drowning in Chinese debt at a pace that a vision-less dipsomaniac occupying statehouse failed to restrain. Zambia’s debt obligations to China (some opaque to economic researchers) are not clear but some independent analysts estimate, based on China’s projects (actual and contemplated), that China’s debt burden for Zambia could be an item that ultimately brings the economy to its knees. By Dec 2018, Analysts expect Government of Zambia debt as a percentage of GDP to hit 62-65 % range, raising debt servicing stress.
The debate as to the optimal debt-to-GDP ratio in an economy remains a fascination of economic researchers. As a matter of fact, Japan’s debt was 170% of GDP in 2007 as Italy’s debt also shot above 100% of GDP (OECD Observer No 270/271 December 2008-January 2009).In deed, The U.S. debt to China is about $1 trillion in treasury bills as of June 2018. However, it is generally held that economic structures of certain countries dictate the need for certain prudential debt limits, beyond which there is a real threat to fiscal sustainability. The real danger of course for “developing country” economy such as a Lungu economy is that the mechanisms for prudent debt management are weak or non-exist in certain cases.
IMF argues that China seeks to over-dose the country with debt to the extent that Zambia is captive to Beijing for eternity, effectively dictating Zambia’s economic policies. The Great Chinese Take-Out is, therefore, in its late adolescence. This is not to suggest that Sino-phobic potential outcome is possible in Africa or even Zambia. It is to argue that the “Coconut” heads, to borrow Economist George Ayittey’s phrase, in charge of our economies are politically unwilling and economically unable to manage debt sustainably, especially in the face of shrewd or marauding economic actors such as China.
In other words, the late 19th to mid-20th century Anglo colonization of Zambia has re-incarnated in the form of an Asian monstrous economic dragon of the 21st Century. Zambia is not alone. Djibouti fell to China’s schemes earlier than Zambia, complete with Chinese military facility housing China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Zimbabwe is getting closer to eternal and total surrender of a national asset to China following its default on Chinese debt. Nigeria, Kenya and other African countries have equally fallen and will fall to China’s insidious debt-structuring and investments whose effects may be a complete anaconda-like strangle of Africa. The trouble of course is that most of these countries are also under the grip of either aging or mafia-like corrupt charlatans of presidents allergic to accountability and transparency. This compounds problems for their citizens seeking the true extent and nature of China’s involvement in their countries. Seven European powers—Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and Italy had colonized much of Africa by 1900, with the colonial state as the machinery of administrative domination and effective control and exploitation of the African resources and people. In this century, China’s dominance has effectively surpassed Africa’s former seven European powers. In other words, Africa is tottering under China’s shrewd exploitative agenda which will see Africa surrender its valuable and strategic assets to the Asian snake-like dragon creeping all over the continent on all four economic, social, political, and military large footprints. China’s economic partnership is therefore a trojan horse for the capture of Africa. In Zambia as in other African countries, economic partnership is a subterfuge with which the Chinese are assaulting Africa’s “independent” countries, with continuous and fatal doses of debt. The result is that only China will be around for indeterminate future to nurse Zambia’s economy for China’s long-term strategic interest.
The influential Economist Magazine points that “of the 75 countries whose bonds make up the Bloomberg Barclays Emerging Markets Index, a basket of sovereign debt, none has performed as badly in 2018 as Zambia”, with public debt rising rapidly, representing nearly two thirds of Zambia’s GDP at the end of 2017. Zambia is expected to relieve portion of its burden of $3 billion worth of dollar bonds issued in Europe in about four years’ time (2022) in terms of principal payment for the first bond tranche—whose payment could be unlikely given uncertainties in Zambia’s fiscal management and the heightening debt stress. The minutiae of expenditure associated with debt is even more worrying. The Economist Magazine cites a World Bank study that showed that in 2017 “Zambia paid $360,000 per kilometre, which is more than twice the African average”, with conservative estimates by economists indicating that each kilometre yielded a kick-back of roughly $36,000 to corrupt practitioners within the (irresponsible) construction oversight entities and related organizations (The Economist, Sep 13, 2018), arguably with umbilical cords to the Lungu regime and ruling party.
With a jet-loving President who travels with reckless abandon at the frequency that would shock Vasco-Da Gama, Zambians seem helpless to salvage the nation from an unsustainable debt danger and the corruption embedded in that debt.
There is no doubt that China’s deep economic penetration of, and social intrusion in, Africa and Zambia may have positive effects. However, most analysis of China’s strategic influence in Africa or in countries such as Zambia miss an analytical substratum to China’s capture of Africa. China’s brazen voice into Africa began sometime in 1999 through an economic outreach—” Go Out policy” to encourage its enterprises to invest overseas. To actualize this outreach, one strategic pillar was millions of dollars of investment into media houses to “soften” overseas terrains of its investments. These dollars’ strategic goal was to act as bulwark against negative press about China in Africa, and to announce to Africa and the world that China was an “economic partner for good” in Africa, never mind China’s silence and blindness about human rights abuses that their hosts perpetuate or their emissary companies in African and Zambia leave unattended or encourage.
Most private media companies, and China’s captured “state” corporations (such as Lungu National Broadcasting Corporation (aka ZNBC, and soon its power company, Zesco, to be soon pronounced “Chesco” ) are effectively trumpets and bull-horns for sowing China’s interests—with self-acclaimed Zambian ruling party “elites” in tow.
The swath of pro-China news coverage and the cyber-acres of electronic bytes devoted to China-Africa trade, focus on the strength of China’s multiple strategic interests in Africa. It is also indisputable that some of African countries under China’s capture are of pretend democracies with greedy, thuggish and vision-less leaders. However, African patriots fail to address or ignore what is unstable in our analysis of the objective conditions that give rise to backward leaders marching Africa to ruin, and for China’s un-checked if not free reign in our countries. Nearly, sixty years after attaining “independence”, we the ordinary people have not radically transformed our thinking towards the progressive direction of economic and social emancipation of Africa in the face of marauding exploitative forces. In many ways, we are still slaves. We are slaves to capitalist debt merchants of the west, slaves to China and its interests, and we are also slaves to the pretenders claiming to be our “presidents”. We lowered the Union Jack across Africa in the 19th Century as a mark of our “independence”, only to raise the Chinese five-star red flag in the 20th Century across most of Africa. Zambia’s regime on their part have taken a massive “independence” step backward with its China’s asymmetric relationship.
So how did we get to this mess? The answers have less to do with imitations of people we call our leaders or who pass as a joke of “presidents” than our failure as ordinary people to think for ourselves. Great answers to this question lie in the context of our pan-Africanism, our Ubuntu, especially with the governance structures of the 19th Century in form of traditional chiefs than answers about the minutiae of China’s penetration and intrusion to our Africa, even Zambia. The partial answer lies with the central “modern” structure of an African government that has robbed traditional leaders especially chiefs of needed discourse with their subjects about issues of governance and social and economic emancipation, which more broadly magnify or reflect our national orientation. The central or national government has increasingly become nothing short of a coterie of self-seeking thugs who have ignored or insulated themselves from We the People and arrogated to themselves the organs of the state to do their selfish bidding. It within the context of this governance sphere that foreigners including Chinese have found a ready club of self-seekers ready and willing to mortgage their country to the detriment of their countrymen, their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s grandchildren.
Against acres of well-documented accounts of corruption, state-inspired violence, intrigue, murders, and despite every offensive or patently false or misleading statements and press statements from imitators of statesmen we call “leaders”, We the People essentially do nothing. We have failed to sacrifice for posterity by braving, enduring or plotting serious protests that demand accountability from whose who have robbed us of our country and posterity. Even the parliamentarians we elected to represent us, have instead sold out their souls to thugs marching us to ruin and indignities, and to the dinner table of the Chinese and other foreign interests.
We should as owners of these lands up our game and tactics to raise serious questions about the unethical practices of our “leaders” and some of our worthless parliamentarians. In so doing, We the People will have begun the road to reigning in or constraining our naked emperors and their enablers. Absent that, We the people are letting the troglodyte presidents in our midst disparage the press, threaten and jail opponents or worse, we have buried our own that these deficient “leaders” have contributed to killing through negligence of our hospitals or absence of agricultural policies to avert hunger. Even policies to strengthen our schools are feckless even as resources exist in billions of dollars, some under our feet. In short, we have failed to have a serious oversight on our “presidents” as they deal, or strike deals inimical to the interests or resources of our country. Resigning or retreating from a corrupt worthless regime or president is not a better option to taking him down in the contest of ideas to his face. It is in this context and contest that we fight both the feckless leader and those to whom he seeks to hand over the country and our God-endowed national resources.
Partisan loyalty of the type of the ill and un-informed PF, UPND, MMD cadres too often overrides political courage in an age of foreign or China’s intense but behind the scenes plots at implementing their total capture strategies. More and more party functionaries have been directing verbal fires at each other, with “wars” taking place in Zambian cyber space and in a few courageous private media outlets. In one sense, the story of Lungu’s cluelessness has elevated a pandora box of questions about the patriotic front party, and Lungu’s central role in it.
The Lungu presidency also raises serious questions about Zambia’s hitherto cherished system of checks and balances. Is the system really working? Just how much can we count on the checks to restrain an out-of-control president? No. Zip. Zero. Nein!
The shocking stories about Lungu’s cluelessness—and his enablers’ total intellectual awkwardness in front of, for example, the visiting Turkey delegation about Zambia’s debt, Lungu’s unethical property acceptance in the Kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), his occasional needless foreign travels, his perceived ignorance of the synthesis of domestic policy, his ruling party’s and his regime’s non-existent policy on foreign debt and the opaque discussions and dealings abroad, such as with Chinese—suggest there are widening chasms in the mechanisms that Zambians depend on to restrain the presidency or the regime’s foreign dealings.
Our faith that somehow the Zambian Constitution or the governance systems more broadly will shield, fend off and detect dangerous influences (for example, that of unsustainable debt) might be misplaced. It is time to ask why we have not emphasized or centralized the lessons from traditional chiefdoms in discussing local issues for our serious national issues because, imperfect though they may be, they represent unadulterated approach to building consensus and decision-making. It is time for collective soul searching about how we can retreat to the gem of our pure old village and traditional consensus and decision-making free from the corrupting influences of ill-earned wealth and entrenched party or tribal loyalties. And it is time again to link and scale up this fresh bottom-up democracy and decision-making to our constitutional values for better safeguards. Why should Africans or Zambians rely on the gang of self-seeking thieves and unpatriotic men (and women) in their Statehouses and a few venal parliamentarians to chart the course of the nation, including contracting unsustainable debt that will pollute our future and that of our grandchildren’s grandchildren? How did we become gullible to individuals who seemingly are unable to run small law firms or chicken coops and yet these same individuals can mortgage the whole country to inimical foreign interests? What has gone wrong that self-seeking “elites”, even ostensibly educated tribeless Zambians and a few women without moral baselines can defend a clueless individual and corrupt system marching this country to ruin?
And what about the Zambian electorate? It is true that patriotic Zambians—some uninfluenced by party orthodoxy—strongly disapprove of Lungu. In fact, they rather hoped that he never ascended to the presidency. These Zambians have worked or are working to see his replacement. However, Zambian apathy, ignorance of civic duties, absence of vigorous defence of the basic tenets of democracy and the law, have collectively allowed our imitation of democracy at the national level to deteriorate to the point where a Lungu-type presidency was even possible and were a leader such as him is unable to change course from the present path to capture and national peril by Chinese debt and from other negative foreign influences from such dictators as Museveni, Kagame, and before them, Mugabe.
It does also mean that Lungu’s ascent to power arose from his ability at intrigue, certain democratic faults and deficits from other rival parties including in the ruling PF party, the hidden skunk and tragedy of tribal politics that is painfully reckless about merit, posterity and fidelity to the country, as well as the unfortunate fact that a constituency that elevated him are ordinary Zambians, less sophisticated at chafing away every man of jack of cunning politicians pretending to be presidential material.
Nearly four years post-Sata presidency and his demise, a political greenhorn with a checkered legal history at his now de-registered small law firm, stints as a cabinet minister of no consequence and with self-acknowledgment to having no national vision, rode his way to the Zambian presidency.
The literature on China’s creeping capture of Zambian national assets and its rising mountain of debt in Africa, particularly in the Zambian economy, does not provide enough or exhaustive understanding of the Asian dragon entry into Zambia, why it happened and why the domestic political functionaries who enabled debt, continue to hold office. Zambians should not—in fact must not—ignore the broader context of its China’s debt or even dangerous foreign influences of the 21st Century, including from China. We need to dig deeper to our governance systems especially the riches of wisdom, honesty and transparency passed on from our ancestors in the form of traditional chiefdoms.
The larger constituency of ordinary Zambians—the true patriots—know what they need and ought to start looking more carefully at the big picture. They will perhaps see the trends and dynamics within their national governance systems and flawed internal democratic features of all Zambian political parties that nurtured or fuelled this present vision-less presidency. Properly done, Zambians will also understand or confirm the political environment that allows this presidency and its regime to swallow such fatal doses of foreign influences inimical to the Zambian prosperity and posterity.
Absent deep and honest reflection devoid of blind loyalty to party, and answers to Zambia’s present-day governance questions, there is no iron-clad assurance that the Lungu presidency will save Zambia and its strategic national assets from the lethal doses of mounting Chinese debt and foreign influence. Additionally, there will be no confidence that in the post-Lungu presidency (prayerfully happening in 2021) Zambians will not be suckered into accepting another apprentice with a brand of politics and governance antics that hoist Zambians and their great grandchildren up a steep and fatal mountain of national and foreign debt and the burden of reckless and vision-less economic policies.