Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Spectre of Recycled Politicians in Zambia

Zambia is plagued by a negative and recurring phenomenon in the political arena which can best be described as recycled politicians. The former are persons who have been involved in Zambian politics for decades and served under various administrations from independence in 1964, to the present time. They were party to past decisions that the country had made in matters of national development and other critical areas. Some of these decisions were so detrimental to mother Zambia that they have left indelible scars on our country. These are people who have praised former presidents only to later decry their policies after they were given positions by another president. Recycled politicians have survived the political whirlwinds because in most cases they are bereft of ideology or even principles.

Is it any wonder that Zambia seems to be stuck in low gear and cannot accelerate its development? Having such politicians taking the lead in Zambia’s politics is not only sad but tragic. These politicians are tired and moribund, but our society allows them to keep on peddling expired development recipes. The critical question to ask is: if these people did nothing of significance in their prime, what can they achieve when they are supposed to be retired? They failed dismally to provide solutions to Zambia’s development challenges when they were young and yet they think they have something to offer in these modern times? Now when they are supposed to be playing with their grand children or enjoying their retirement, they want to grapple with the challenges of a modern and globalising world? It is just not possible. Some of these politicians do not even know how to operate a computer – later on use the internet! What add-value do these politicians bring to the country? Instead of innovation, creativity or ingenuity, the only thing they bring to the table is their so-called experience. Unfortunately, this is experience in doing wrong things! Instead of debating issues, these politicians employ old strong-armed tactics of physically beating up opponents or falling back on tribal ties to drive their point home. Surely, does Zambia need such dead-wood when other countries have young and dynamic leaders? Just look at the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister of that country was born in 1966 – just 45 years; the Deputy Prime Minister was born in 1967 – just 44 years. These men are leading one of the most powerful countries in the world. Across the Atlantic in the United Sates of America, the president, Barack Obama was born in 1961 and he is going to turn 50 this year. Obama is the leader of the world’s only superpower.

Alas, in Zambia old men (as women are not given a chance) have continued to occupy the public sector as well as the political space at every level and relegated many Zambians who are middle-aged (for example 43, 44, 45 and even 47 year olds) to youth portfolios. How can a person who was born in 1966 be a youth leader? This is ludicrous. In the UK and USA the leaders of these two countries are middle aged. This is how ridiculous politics is in Zambia. Young talent is crippled at every level as these retirees clamour for positions without any thing new to offer. They still approach things as they did in the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s. This is one of the reasons why Zambia is not moving forward in matters of development as the offered formulae, by the recycled politicians, are outmoded. We are not in any way suggesting that old people are useless. But it is important to highlight the fact that many of these politicians’ compatriots in other fields (and progressive countries) retired decades ago and passed the baton to the younger and more vibrant generations. Why shouldn’t Zambian politicians learn from this? Why do they continue to recycle themselves when they have nothing new to offer? This is the dilemma that is facing Zambia. Due to this problem, high quality, dynamic and young Zambians choose not to participate in politics.

The SDC will make sure that it harnesses and nurtures young talent in its structures.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Recalling Patrice Lumumba

This week we re-cast light on one of Africa’s great sons who was also a gallant champion of the anti-colonial struggle, Patrice Émery Lumumba. Lumumba’s government had only lasted seven months before it was toppled by the imperialist, neo-colonialist, tribalist and reactionary forces. Lumumba and his two colleagues would be shot by firing squad and their bodies chopped into pieces and pulverised with concentrated sulphuric acid. What did this son of Africa do that was so terrible to disserve such a cruel and horrific death?  The answer is nothing. Lumumba only wanted to see his people free in a united Congo. That is all.  Lumumba was killed by the Belgians and their lackeys just because they saw him as a “cheeky nigger” and an “upstart”. For the tribalist Congolese, Lumumba was seen as a threat to their selfish and narrow-minded agendas. They were also jealous of this articulate and confident African (as usual, Africans have a propensity of pulling down their shining stars and propelling mediocre individuals to higher heights). Patrice Lumumba was born on 2 July 1925 and assassinated on 17 January 1961. He was just 36 years old when he died.

The conspiracy to murder Lumumba was hatched primarily by Belgium and then endorsed by the United States of America. It also had tacit approval from most Western powers. The United Nations Organisation was also complicit to this murder with its Secretary General the late Dag Hammarskjöld being extremely unhelpful to Lumumba and his government. Declassified documents reveal that the president of the United States, at the time, Dwight Eisenhower, through the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), had sanctioned the assassination of Lumumba. On the other side of the Atlantic, H.F.T. Smith, who later headed MI5 (The United Kingdom’s counter-intelligence and security agency), wrote: “I see only two possible solutions to the problem. The first is the simple one of ensuring Lumumba’s removal from the scene by killing him. This should in fact solve the problem….”*

Lumumba’s shadow continues to loom large over the Congo and Africa, because of his colossal persona and profound sincerity - which he carried to his grave. Whilst in custody and facing death, Patrice Lumumba remained steadfast in his beliefs and ideals. He was neither cowed nor broken, in spite of his impending demise. He also reiterated his love for his country. Lumumba’s last act was to write a letter to his wife. We have extracted certain parts below:

My beloved companion,

I write you these words not knowing whether you will receive them, when you will receive them, and whether I will be alive when you read them. Throughout my struggle for the independence of my country, I have never doubted for a single instant that the sacred cause to which my comrades and I have dedicated our entire lives would triumph in the end. But what we wanted for our country – its right to an honourable life, to perfect dignity, to independence with no restrictions - was never wanted by Belgian colonialism and its Western allies, who found direct and indirect, international and unintentional support among certain senior officials at the United Nations, that body which we placed all our trust when we called it for help.....

Neither brutal assaults, nor cruel mistreatment, nor torture have led me to beg for mercy, for I prefer to die with my head held high, unshakeable faith and the greatest confidence in the destiny of my country rather than live in slavery and contempt for sacred principles….

Do not weep for me, my companion, I know that my country, now suffering so much, will be able to defend its independence and its freedom. Long live the Congo! Long live Africa!*

How can a man of such valour and honour be killed in such a brutal way? Why was Lumumba hated so much, when he gave so much to his country and citizens – including his life? After Lumumba was illegally removed by his adversaries, Joseph Mobutu was installed as the new leader of Congo. Mobutu’s regime was one of the most depraved on the continent, yet at every turn it was propped up by the West, especially the United States. Mobutu pillaged the nation’s wealth with impunity and literally drove it into an abyss of untold despair and misery.

Leaders like Lumumba are a rare breed in Africa - where despots and tyrants thrive. We are not in any way suggesting that Lumumba was a saint. He was only human and had his faults, however, when one looks at his commitment (even in the face of death) one cannot but wonder what would have happened to the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo – DRC) if Lumumba had not been killed? We are only left to speculate. We then come to the question: why are we Africans plagued with moribund leaders? Why are we so cursed? From North Africa to Southern Africa, the continent is littered with tyrants, despots, dictators, you name it. Then there is the spectre of geriatrics, octogenarians and septuagenarians presiding over a very young and youthful continent. When these old men relinquish power it is only to hand it over to their children (always sons). 

The SDC says no to this African malaise! We assert that Africa must be free from these tyrants and useless leaders. Long live the spirit of Patrice Lumumba! Long live the ideals of Patrice Lumumba!

*Cited from: The Assassination of Lumumba. By Ludo De Witte (2001). London: Verso.

A pensive young and charismatic Lumumba

Lumumba before he was killed