Eleven of our fellow citizens are contesting the Republican presidency in the forthcoming by-election, and they are already on the campaign trail touting their visions for our beloved country. In this Press Release, I wish to outline some of the many ways in which we can assess the potential for each of the candidates to contribute meaningfully to our quest for a more democratic, a more peaceful, a more affluent, and a more egalitarian society.
I discussed many of the other ways which should guide us in making a decision concerning who we should vote for during the forthcoming by-election, including the need for contestants to have a practical agenda, an implementation schedule, and a summary of sources of funding to supplement existing and traditional sources of government revenue.
Elements of Good Governance
Firstly, we should ask who among the eleven presidential candidates has the potential to adopt and institutionalize the elements of good government—that is, accountability, transparency, the rule of law, genuine citizen participation in the running of a country’s government, and a free press.
This is an important quest to ask because “poor governance”—that is, governance whereby a country’s state apparatus is not sufficiently guided by the principles or elements of good governance—can create opportunities and incentives for corruption. It can do so by engendering a state of affairs in public administration where there are no stringent benchmarks for curbing, exposing, and/or penalizing malfeasance.
Let us examine what each of the elements of “good governance” entails.
1) Accountability: Availability of a mechanism for ensuring that office bearers are directly and fully liable for the outcomes of their decisions and actions, and the appropriation of resources assigned to them.
Do the candidates have provisions in their political parties’ constitutions that require holders of elective positions to be accountable for their actions, and do the constitutions stipulate the kinds of interventions, as well as disciplinary measures to be taken against office bearers found to be wanting in this regard?
2) Transparency: Public access to information about the state, its decision-making mechanisms, its current and contemplated projects and programs, and its external sources of funds—except for state secrets and matters relating to public officials’ right to privacy.
Judging from their previous work-related behavior, have the candidates been generally “transparent” in their dealings with other members of their political parties, and with other segments of Zambian society? Have their political parties been forthcoming in providing information requested by any segment of Zambian society?
More than ever before, we need a government that will embrace “transparency” as one of its core elements of good governance, mainly because, with respect to the fight against corruption, countries which have enacted pieces of legislation guaranteeing greater access to public information are known to be more efficient and less vulnerable to corruption.
According to David Banisar of the United Kingdom’s Freedom of Information and International Privacy Program, the success of countries like Finland, Norway, and Sweden in the fight against corruption is largely attributed to laws which guarantee access to public information adopted by such countries.
3) Rule of Law: The existence of non-discriminatory laws and law enforcement organs of the government that are efficient, impartial, independent, and legitimate.
Judging from their previous work-related behavior, do the candidates have the potential to abide by existing laws and regulations within their political parties, as well as abide by existing national laws and regulations?
4) Citizen Participation: Availability of channels and mechanisms through which the citizenry and non-governmental institutions can directly or through representation have an influence on governmental decision-making processes and the behavior and actions of public officials.
In this regard, we should ask whether the candidates have demonstrated the capacity to enlist the inputs and genuine participation of their subordinates in making decisions within their political parties and/or business entities.
5) A Free Press: There is also a need to assess the candidates’ potential to embrace freedom of expression and a free press as important elements of democracy.
In this regard, we need to continue to ask our national leaders to put an end to what Omolo J. Ochilo of Kenya has described as a situation whereby large segments of the mass media are state-owned, under tight controls by the government of the day, and the virtues of individuals’ rights and freedoms are subordinate to those of the ruling party and the state.
It is undemocratic for the government to continue to preside over large segments of the mass media that operate as tools of leaders of any given political party that gets the people’s mandate to form government!
Essentially, the mass media in a democratic society should perform a multitude of functions, which are cited by Ken Auletta, Omolo J. Ochilo, and many other authors to include the following:
(a) To serve as a watchdog to the three organs of the government – that is, the judiciary, the legislature and the executive;
(b) To inform the public about issues which are of national interest;
(c) To serve as a medium of communication that guarantees free and open debate and discussion among members of society;
(d) To influence public opinion through impartial, balanced and fair analysis of issues which are of national interest;
(e) To serve the economic system through sponsored advertisements designed to bring buyers and sellers into contact with each other; and
(f) To serve as a medium for entertaining the public through: (i) comics, humor columns, crossword puzzles, sports coverage, and other forms of entertainment provided by the print media; (ii) movies, comedy, music, sports commentaries, and other forms of entertainment provided through television; (iii) music, comedy, sports commentaries, and other forms of entertainment provided through radio programming; and (iv) video games, music, sports coverage, and other forms of entertainment provided through the Internet.
6) Other Considerations: We also need to assess each of the eleven candidates’ inclination to seriously consider ethnic interests in the distribution of power, educational facilities, health services, and so forth. Besides, do they have a disposition to accept and tolerate interest groups as important constituents of a functioning pluralistic society, and are they likely to have respect for parliament and have regard for it both as a body of people’s elected representatives and as the supreme legislative organ of government?
The Matter of National Unity
Secondly, we should ask who among the eleven presidential contestants is more likely to meaningfully function as the glue that will bind the members of our beloved country’s 73 tribes into one Zambian family.
Many of the tensions and bloody conflicts that befuddled the global community during the latter part of the 20th century were generally a result of lack of national unity in affected countries, including the devastating losses of property and human lives in Ethiopia (1984-85), Sudan (1987-88), Burundi (1988), Somalia (1991-92), Rwanda (1994), Kosovo (1999), and East Timor (1999).
The human crises in war-ravaged countries like Angola, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Congo need not be overlooked either.
Disunity, tensions, and subsequent conflicts among a country’s people can be attributed to a diversity of causes, including bigotry, religious extremism, ethnic or tribal divisions orchestrated by selfish political and traditional leaders, and lack of consideration by political leaders of ethnic and other interests in the distribution of power and resources in any given country.
Political, religious, military, and traditional leaders in Zambia can, therefore, play a significant role in fostering harmonious relations among the country’s citizenry.
The Role of Bona Fide Citizens
Thirdly, we, as citizens of a democratic country, can individually and collectively play a vital role in the process of creating a peaceful and stable political atmosphere by being open-minded when considering the candidates and/or political parties that should deserve our votes. During elections, for example, we need to put personal, ethnic, and partisan interests aside and reflect more seriously on the goals political contestants promise to pursue during their terms of office if they get elected.
Several goals should be expected to be on the agenda of every aspirant for political office and should constitute the bottom line for assessing the quality and vision of all candidates. These are:
(a) Provision of accessible and quality education, vocational training, and health care;
(b) Creation of an economy that is innovative, productive and internationally competitive;
(c) Generation of programs intended to benefit children, elderly citizens, and the handicapped;
(d) Creation of a truly free and just legal system that is committed to the preservation and protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals summarized elsewhere in this chapter;
(e) Provision of essential services and facilities, including an efficient transport system, adequate public safety and security, and improved supply of public utilities;
(f) Promotion and preservation of cherished traditional and cultural values, including the promotion and consolidation of national unity in a country;
(g) Conservation and protection of natural resources so that they can last from generation to generation;
(h) Restructuring of the government machinery so that it can be more responsive to the development needs of our beloved country without over-burdening taxpayers; and
(i) Generation of a foreign policy whose overall goal is to work hand in hand with other peace-loving nations in creating a more tempered global community.
How a political party or candidate intends to achieve these goals, considering our country’s limited financial and other critical resources, should be the overriding reason to align oneself with the party or candidate. A patriotic citizen—one who has the interest of our beloved country at heart—would be at pains to succumb to personal, ethnic, partisan, and/or other parochial interests.
Besides, it is essential for us to remember that the free and fair elections that normally ensue from having a democratic system of government should not be conceived of as ends in themselves; they are intended to afford each and every one of us the opportunity we deserve as citizens to elect people who are both competent and willing to spearhead the process of improving our livelihoods.
The Role of Armed Forces
And fourthly, what should be the appropriate role of Zambia’s armed forces in maintaining the viability of the country’s nascent democracy?
As Edward Shils maintained, there is a need for military officers, intelligence officers, and the civil police in our country’s armed forces to consider themselves as being part of the “technical-executive intelligentsia,” who, together with politicized intellectuals (that is, civilian leaders), should play the role of guarantor of political stability, honesty, and discipline in government.
A major requirement in performing such a pivotal role in our country’s quest for sustained peace and stability is for members of the armed forces to be apolitical and non-partisan, and for civilian leaders to have constitutionally guaranteed control over all branches of the country’s armed forces.
Therefore, Zambia, like any other peace-loving nation worldwide, needs the services of a military establishment that is administered by a cadre of men and women who are adjudged to be patriotic, apolitical, well-disciplined, and professional in character in its quest for sustained peace and stability.
However, it would be unrealistic and imprudent to expect armed forces to be apolitical and non-partisan in serving under civilian leaders in our country—and in any other country, as a matter of fact—in the absence of a system of governance which provides for peaceful removal of flagrantly corrupt, extravagant, despotic, nepotistic, and/or grossly incompetent government officials.
The author, Mr. Henry Kyambalesa, is a Zambian academic currently living in the City and County of Denver in the State of Colorado, USA.