Sunday 18 April 2021
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Slate politics vs Transformational leadership

The campaigns for the next SWAPO Party elective Congress is in full swing and I fully concur with those who are saying people should use their conscious and not vote in blocs contrary to those promoting factionalism saying they prefer one entire slate to win.
If we truly want to instill a culture of inner party democracy, every capable person should be allowed to contest elections openly including been nominated on the floor and win based on the ideas they are advancing and not based on other considerations because it is provided for under the Constitution that after five years the highest decision making body of the party will elect the leadership for the next five years.
What if a delegate wants to vote randomly? After all, aren’t they all duly nominated members of the same party? There are no enemies here but comrades contesting elections. We should therefore do away with the “us versus them” mentality and desist from threatening the delegates and telling them to dress in a certain way as if they were simple voting cows with no conscious of their own. After winning the elections, the first thing that Abraham Lincoln did was to contact his rivals to serve him in his cabinet because he believed in coalition and was not afraid of criticism as he understood that a man’s ideas should be scrutinized. I therefore would have preferred young vibrant candidates like Dr. Elijah Ngurare and Kazenambo Kazenambo to stand for one of the top four positions.

In his presentation on Good Governance: Whither Africa? at The Pava Memorial Forum, that took place in Ghana on 28th August, 2015, Prof. Plo – Lumumba said “While we claim to have embraced democracy, we need only read Ahmadou Kourouma’s ‘Waiting for Wild Beasts to Vote’ to appreciate how we have bastardised democracy. A number of African countries hold elections but there are never losers, only thieves of the vote and those who have been rigged out. When we are called upon to vote, we are not animated by the political programmes of our [mis]leaders but the primordial instincts of ethnicity. Kenya’s Koigi wa Wamwere captures this well in his book ‘Towards Genocide in Kenya: The curse of Negative Ethnicity’; To each community negative ethnicity is glorified as saviour and destroyer of enemies.”

Prof. Plo – Lumumba further said “The tragedy of Africa is that her leaders have taken the path of mis-governance. Many African leaders seek power to acquire wealth and once they do so, they do not want to leave it in order to protect their ill-gotten wealth. Unfortunately, the African population is complicit because when called upon to vote they do so on the basis of their ethnic extraction and on the basis of bribes they receive from the contestants. In many African countries, elections are nothing but periodic rituals or census of ethnic alliances or auctions at which political power is sold to the highest bidder.” Prof. Plo – Lumumba concluded saying “One must therefore agree with Chinua Achebe that the problem with Africa is simply one of leadership which unfortunately is fertilized by poor ‘followships’ governed by primordial instincts of ethnicity.”

Indeed, when leaders become a product of slate politics, divisions and factionalism and emerge from a divided congress they find it very difficult to outgrow the factional past and dissolve the factions they led and/or belonged to before the last congress. This is why we must reject the circulating of slates, which can lead to talented individuals who do not belong in a ‘correct slate’ or ‘camp’ being side-lined and their talents not utilised for the common good of the Party and country. Instead members of the winning camp, in a real ‘winner-takes-all’ mentality, deploy themselves in both the government and the Party so that they can defend their slate in the next congress.

Unless we change this mind-set, we may find ourselves in a vicious cycle where the slate that won is perpetually fortifying its forts and defending itself from the slate that lost out. These energy-usurping processes not only defocus us from our real tasks but leads to paralysis, as no one is prepared to act against the camp that they will need permanently. Instead of using a congress as a platform of reflection, it will be reduced into a narrow leadership contest. In this case post-congress you will have a defeated slate that launches its campaign towards the next congress. Eventually the party will use all its energies in internal battles. That is how the Party ceases to be principled since it does not stand for anything but a factional agenda.

It is time to seriously pause and introspect to see if we are not betraying the trust and the heavy mantle bestowed on our shoulders by those who made the ultimate sacrifices for our country. We can point to significant progress in establishing stable and resilient democratic institutions, in turning around our economy and placing it on a path of growth, and in addressing many of the basic needs of the poor. But, outstanding though our achievements may be, we are acutely aware that we still have massive challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

One may argue that five years are not enough to effect the necessary change but if we look at Thomas Sankara whose passing on we are commemorating this month on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his assassination, in just four years he transformed Burkina Faso. He began by purging the deeply entrenched bureaucratic and institutional corruption, slashed the salaries of ministers and sold off the fleet of exotic cars in the president’s convoy, opting instead for the cheapest brand of car available in Burkina Faso. He would not let his portrait be hung in offices and government institutions because every Burkinabe is a Thomas Sankara, he declared.

To understand President Sankara’s ‘Exceptionalism’, one has to go back to the foundational attributes of transformational leadership, which involves, among other things: a governing philosophy underpinned by a high sense of integrity, the ability to articulate a clear vision and translate it into reality to change people’s lives for the better, the courage to identify and confront the dominant contradictions at each point in the development process, and, of course, frontier thinking – the ability to anticipate and lead on major development issues likely to greatly impact future generations.

If Thomas Sankara left indelible marks in just four years, so can anybody. There must be a candid and bold admission that the values of selflessness and service to the people are being eroded by some of the corrosive practices engulfing our country today. The people ought to seriously engage this discussion with openness, self-criticism and frankness. We have come full circle and stand at the cusp of decision. Whether we tip in the direction of faster progress depends to a large measure on the kind of leaders we choose. We must say with Kwame Nkrumah that Africa must not look East or West, Africa must look forward Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.

The Zambian lesson
According to a paper titled “ANC’s Declining Electoral Support: Lessons from Zambia and Nicaragua” by David Masondo contained in the ANC discussion document on organisational renewal for its 5th National Policy Conference that took place from 30th June to 5th July 2017,   in Zambia both the colonial and post-colonial political structures set the conditions for the defeat of the colonial power and they paved the way for the leadership of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) led by Dr Kenneth Kaunda.

Under colonialism, Zambia was a dominated copper-mining enclave owned by multinational companies under the British South African Company. Ownership in the manufacturing industry was vested in both white settlers and multinational companies. Commercial farming was also predominately in the hands of the white settlers. In 1958, the Northern Rhodesian ANC split into the Zambia African National Congress (ZANC) over the goals and strategy and tactics for the liberation of Africans in Northern Rhodesia. Another split in the ZANC led to the formation of the UNIP and Dr Kenneth Kaunda became the UNIP President, largely influenced by the British Labour Party.

Negotiations were held between UNIP, the ZANC, the ANC and the British colonial authorities at Lancaster House (London) over political independence. It was agreed that Dr Kaunda would be the Prime Minister from 1963 until the elections in 1964 when he became President. Upon election of Dr Kaunda; and like all post-colonial countries, politically independent Zambia had to grapple with overcoming underdevelopment. The Zambian economy faced constraints such as concentration of the economy amongst a few, low levels of industrialization and reliance on copper; small market size, disruptions of supply routes due to the liberation struggle in Southern Africa. However, Dr Kaunda inherited good foreign reserves due to the then high copper price which enabled the state to generate enough revenue to roll out social and economic infrastructure such as schools, health facilities, bridges and roads.

Despite nationalization of the key sectors of the economy, the post-colonial Zambian state failed to transform the Zambian exclusionary colonial industrial structure and its dependency, which manifested in high levels of imports of consumer and capital goods, and copper. There had been failed attempts to diversify the economy to overcome reliance on copper through industrialization using the colonially inherited state owned Industrial Development Corporation (Indeco), which had 26 subsidiaries active in industries such as food processing, building supplies, metal products and chemicals. These attempts at state equity holding which enabled the multinational companies to continue to extract surplus through an outflow of profits, inflated transfer prices and payments for services as well as expatriate remittances.

In 1974 and 1975, a global economic crisis led to a decline in demand for copper as well as its price and the rise in oil prices. As a result, the cost of Zambia’s imports of consumer and capital goods increased, thus decreasing Zambian economic output. Part of the government’s response to the crisis was to borrow heavily from the IMF and the World Bank to maintain its public consumption of imported capital and consumer goods. The government’s fiscal position was maintained through borrowing. When it became evident that the economy was not recovering, the government had embraced the IMF and World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) in which the government undertook free-market policies. This included, but was not limited to, trade and investment liberalization through removing restrictions such as tariffs and price controls; low taxation as well as austerity measures; and devaluation of the currency with the hope that this would encourage exports and discourage imports of luxury goods.
The negative impact of the SAPs, which also saw the first food riots in Zambian history, persuaded the government to oppose the SAPs, and they demanded the renegotiation of the conditions of debt payments. The IMF and World Bank responded by withdrawing the loans and other forms of donor funding including downgrading the economy while the government was saying these are simply economic headwinds.  In 1989, the government turned back to the IMF and World Bank for rescue. The re-implementation of SAPs further worsened the socio-economic conditions for the poor, and the government further entrenched its dependency position by accommodating the imposed external demands and conditions such as austerity budgeting and investment guarantees.

We must not only give a cursory and ultimately unsatisfactory consideration of the questions posed about the history and political life-span of other movements throughout the continent and beyond: on how did they survive or fail the litmus test of being the torchbearers of their own societies. The adoption of neoliberal policies is the most important factor in explaining why the ruling party has sometimes found itself on the opposite fence with the masses of the people.

Let us advance our development by addressing the complex challenges that straddle issues of nation-formation, economic growth, social equity, and positioning in a globalised world and learn from the Zambian example, lest we see what happened there to repeat itself here.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.

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