Monthly Archives: August 2015

ZAMTEL Kaloba: Politics of running parastatal companies in Zambia

Elias Munshya, LLM, M.Div., MBA

To redeem our national pride and domestic prowess, we must face the truth. To quote our Lord Jesus Christ, we shall “know the truth and the truth shall set us free”. What we need in Zambia is a huge dose of truth. Truth is important for several reasons. First, truth helps us to make a fair assessment of our weaknesses, our abilities and ourselves. Second, truth helps to rob us of all the trappings of self-deception that are so endemic with our shared humanity. Third, truth directs us to what really matters to aid us navigate through the alterations we desperately want. Fourth, truth should inspire us to seek and pursue change. Our country does not need irrational positive confessions more than it needs realistic assessment of how we have interacted within our young history as a nation.

Elias Munshya, LLM, M.Div., M.A., MBA

Elias Munshya, LLM, M.Div., M.A., MBA

The Patriotic Front government has now decided to borrow $300 million to revamp Zambia Telecommunications Limited (ZAMTEL). Previously, it borrowed several millions to revamp Zambia Railways Limited (ZRL). It appears like they might borrow more money to revamp companies such as Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) and many more. It seems there is always someone willing to lend money to us, even if we do not have any tangible plans to pay it back. While the PF’s intentions seem quite legitimate, I am quite concerned that putting more money in these entities will actually not lead to any revival. Had the major problem with these entities been money, I would not have hesitated to support recapitalization. The greatest problem with these entities is not money. ZAMTEL does not have a money problem it has a political problem. The PF cannot resolve a political problem by pumping more borrowed money into a loss making enterprise. Cash recapitalization cannot answer an endemic political problem. Contracting more kaloba from New York shylocks cannot cure a weakness in the political process and culture behind the malaise in these companies.

How is it that ZAMTEL makes losses when its competitors are churning out huge profits? How come Copperbelt Energy Corporation (CEC) makes profits but the company, which sells it power, ZESCO, is bleeding? It is not more money that will resolve the problem Zambian parastatals have. We must do more than that. We must face the truth and then make some changes.

Very educated managers run nearly all parastatals in Zambia. They are the very best in their industries. They are the engineers, lawyers, and Master of Business Administration (MBA) graduates. These directors are the crème de la crème of Zambian society. And yet these educated Zambians cannot manage these companies effectively, because of a political interference, patronage and “wako ni wako” problems. It is these political problems that require change first before we can even think of changing management or even throwing more money at these companies.

Since independence, the Zambian state has lamentably failed to stay away from boardrooms of parastatal companies. The Government of Republic of Zambia (GRZ) has so disappointingly interfered with business decisions of parastatals as to render the educated and skilled men and women at the helm of these companies ineffective and at most redundant. We need to rethink the present parastatal model. GRZ control of boardrooms of parastatals should be abandoned. GRZ is not good at doing business that actually makes profit. It must stop pretending to run business. It should stay away from these companies.

The kaloba couple

The kaloba couple

If GRZ cannot stay away from boardrooms, the next proposal should be that it sells its majority shares in these companies so that private capital takes over these companies. GRZ does not need to sell all shares; all it needs is to sell its majority shares to others who can run businesses better in a quasi-parastatal model. So far, the best quasi-parastatal models that seem to work are Indo-Zambia Bank and Zambia National Commercial Bank (ZANACO). In both of these companies, GRZ has some shares but not controlling shares stemming the politicization of the boardroom. As such, once IZB or ZANACO declare profits, GRZ does get a share of the dividends. It is not usually huge amounts, but it shows that with government staying away from controlling boardrooms, Zambian companies can run at some profit.

Professor E. Clive Chirwa

Professor E. Clive Chirwa

There is a market for a good railway company in Zambia. But in order to have a good railway company, GRZ should stop political interference in ZRL. The MMD government did well to sell ZRL to private investors. The only thing GRZ needed was to have significant number of shares in the company to have a say in it and help nudge the company in the right direction. Disaster happened when the PF government repossessed ZRL, forced politics into it and before long, ZRL became a tool in the hands of a Good Parasite who demanded a K2 Billion annual salary and a $1,000 per night home. Professor Chirwa could make all these grandiose demands, because he knew that ZRL was a political cow that could be milked at the will of politicians. No reasonable private board would have allowed the eminent professor to have such a go at a company. But to date, Professor Chirwa justifies his demands because politicians said so!

The Zambian state should now privatize and sell the following companies: The University of Zambia, the Copperbelt University, one of the two government owned newspapers, ZESCO, ZRL, ZAMTEL and the many other companies. Perhaps the only institutions that should be saved are statutory bodies such as NAPSA and strategic organisations such as State House and the red brick. Once organisations such as UNZA are sold, government can then concentrate on what government can actually do better: making policy and enforcing standards. Why on earth have we insisted on running UNZA when GRZ’s running of UNZA has transformed it into a cacophony of shame? Sell all these companies and save us from the drama.

As for ZAMTEL, I urge GRZ to not contract any more debt. Unless if GRZ has really got other plans for this kaloba. The last time I checked a bottle of Jameson or a designer suit does not cost $300 Million.

The Siamunene Factor: Implications for Edgar Lungu and the future of the Patriotic Front

Elias Munshya, LLM, MDiv., MA, MBA

 To say that Zambia’s new defence minister is a political neophyte is an understatement. President Lungu’s choice is surprising, shocking and ultimately contentious. From the little I have gathered, the Patriotic Front diehards are quite angry at the turn of events. They are equally shocked. I share with them feelings of deep doubt and uncertainty that this choice for a defence minister brings.

Richwell Siamunene is actually a member of the United Party for National Development (UPND). Regardless of how we spin it, Siamunene remains a member of parliament sponsored to parliament by the opposition UPND. From the last time I checked, President Lungu is not in an alliance of any sort with the UPND. How does he then choose a defence minister from its ranks? The idea that the president of our republic has the power to desecrate the multiparty character of our democratic edifice is an assault on the very foundations of our republic. Appointing an opposition MP to a sensitive position such as minister of defence does not sound right; it certainly does not feel right. It can not be justified.

Lungu now says that Siamunene is loyal. In Aushi, we say “imputi isula taibula kubwekeshapo.” Siamunene threw the electorates of Sinazongwe and his party UPND under the bus, what makes Lungu believe that he will be loyal to the PF, when in fact he is not even a member of the PF.

Lungu's new found love

Lungu’s new found love

Following his elevation, Siamunene is now insulting Hakainde Hichilema. In a democracy like ours, it is to be expected that an MP can change her mind and choose to associate with a different party. Our constitution provides a process for that: resign and go back to the electorate. By-elections are expensive and many Zambians do not like them. But I am shocked that the same party that has led Zambia into unprecedented by-elections is refusing to have just one more by-election to test the popularity of the defence minister who Lungu has elevated behind the back of the people of Sinazongwe. The PF is not least concerned about the cost of by-elections. Had they been concerned, they would not have done a wholesale petition of nearly all of the seats won by the MMD. If Lungu wants Siamunene so much, he can take Siamunene back to Sinazongwe to re-contest on Lungu’s ticket. Then only can we be sure that this gentleman has the blessing of the people who sent him to parliament in the first place.

The appointment of Siamunene displaces several PF stalwarts within the government structure and hierarchy. By government practice, a minister of defence is a defacto number three. While the Zambian constitution does not categorically put the minister of defence as the third in command, Zambian practice and precedence has always recognised the seniority of the defence minister above other ministers. It is therefore quite questionable that President Lungu would award an opposition MP with such a colossal ministry, thereby displacing the cabinet seniority of such ministers as Simbyakula, Harry Kalaba, Yamfwa Mukanga, and Chishimba Kambwili. These ministers are not likely to revolt openly, but there are murmurs in the background loud enough to knock down a bottle of Jameson off a huge black table at Chez Ntemba.

Is Lungu sidelining Bembas?

Is Lungu sidelining Bembas?

Some good people in our country seem to suggest that President Lungu needed to appease the good people of the South after the Chundu Chaitwa by appointing a Tonga to cabinet. I find this justification to be quite insulting to say the least. What Patriotic Front Secretary General, Davies Chama, said about Tongas was very offensive. The good people from the South have justifiably expressed outrage about those remarks. The Right Honourable Inonge Wina even went to the extent of apologizing in parliament on behalf of her Patriotic Front party. Contrary to the demands by the Tonga citizens of our republic that Chama apologizes for his remarks, he has not. In addition to that, President Lungu has still not publicly addressed himself to these remarks. The only way to resolve those offensive words is for President Lungu to prevail upon his Secretary General to apologise. It is an apology that would show respect for the Tonga people of Zambia, and not this nominal elevation of a novice to the powerful position of defence minister. That which should be mended by making amends through an apology cannot be patched by making a superficial appointment of a polemic person to the position of defence minister. President Lungu’s appointment is a show of his strength and his power, but beyond power, we need compassion, common sense and fortitude. What we need is for President Lungu to show respect for the nation by bringing his disordered party collaborator into line. Chama must apologise and then resign or get fired.

Where then does Siamunene appointment leave the rest of the PF stalwarts? They really have no idea what certainly hit them. They are as shocked as a cucumber. They cannot decode what Lungu is up to. But one thing should not be doubted; Lungu’s action has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many. They have been by-passed only for Lungu to go and appoint a non-member of the PF to a very powerful position. The PF will be demoralized. The troupes of the party will not be happy. A message will be sent to Mansa, Milenge, Kasama, Lubansenshi, Kanchibiya and Chinsali. That message will state very briefly, “there is a huge change in Lusaka and it might be time to break from the Patriotic Front as it stands now”. Lungu’s recent remarks are not providing comfort to Bemba citizens of our republic. The theory I am providing here is a real possibility.

Zambia's new minister of defence Richwell Siamunene

Zambia’s new minister of defence Richwell Siamunene

Once analysed within the ambit of our brief political history though, Lungu’s action of appointing a politically weak person to a powerful political position is not unique. Most of Zambia’s presidents have done it. But very rarely have Zambian presidents extended this to a minister of defence. Mostly, Zambian presidents appoint politically weak candidates to the position of vice-president. Since Lungu has a politically powerful Veep, he might have naturally wanted to go for a weak number three. For surely, had Lungu appointed politically astute candidates such as Frank Bwalya, Emmanuel Mwamba, Harry Kalaba or Mumbi Phiri to this position, they would have grown political brains much faster than Siamunene ever would. By growing brains, I mean having the ability to outshine their boss and mount a formidable political following. Lungu does not want any one to shine in the PF, and he despises anyone who shows some political prowess. May be looked at from this angle, we might find some justification in President Lungu’s elevation of a nonentity to become a defacto number 3. Congratulations to Hon Siamunene, but the real fallout is only beginning.

Mwamba, Kasama and the changing political landscape in Zambia

By Elias Munshya, LLM, M.Div., MBA

 The resignation of Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (GBM) from the Patriotic Front (PF) to the United Party for National Development (UPND) is a game changer. It is a game changer for both the PF and the UPND. It is rather fascinating, if not shocking, to see how GBM is managing to champion two causes that seem to be contradictory with each other. On one hand, GBM is saying that the people of Kasama should trust him because he had the courage to stand up to President Sata when Sata refused to recognise Henry Sosala as Chitimukulu of the Bemba people. On the other hand, GBM is also claiming that he is the true representative of the legacy of the late president. The speech GBM gave when he defected to the UPND shows that he had issues with Lungu’s PF because Lungu has neglected Sata’s vision (whatever that means). Politics is not supposed to make sense. And that is where the GBM factor becomes politically lethal to Lungu’s PF. GBM seems to be championing a cause and directing a narrative that the PF has failed to champion: the legacy of President Michael Sata.

Elias Munshya

Elias Munshya, LLM, M.Div., MBA

It has been my opinion that the presidency of Michael Chilufya Sata was one of the least successful legacies Zambia has ever had. However, some people now would still look back to the Sata presidency, get nostalgic and ruminate that Sata was better than the man who succeeded him. This is to be expected. A claim to the legacy of President Sata has now become politically desirable, and it is GBM who is winning that debate. GBM is also winning on the question of the Chitimukulu. In spite of the fact that it is Lungu who finally recognised Mr. Sosala as Chitimukulu, it is surprising that Lungu’s PF has not gotten any significant political capital out of it. For the PF to survive, it must keep the support it enjoys in Bemba areas. The political capital out of the Chitimukulu saga is instead going to GBM, and he is exploiting it very well. Lungu has neglected to drive the narrative of the Chitimukulu story. He is non-existent in the whole story. It is GBM who is being credited for something that took Lungu to correct. Lungu should now retake this narrative if he is to survive the coming Bemba political onslaught. I call it an onslaught because that is exactly what it is.

GBM and HH - Janza kumbele

GBM and HH – Janza kumbele

GBM’s decision to re-contest Kasama might hurt the PF strategically. At the strategic level, GBM does not need to win Kasama in order to damage the PF’s claim to its Bemba strongholds. All that GBM needs is to create a framework in which the Bemba areas begin to listen to UPND and Hakainde Hichilema (HH). GBM might win in Kasama, however, a loss for GBM, is likely to be a loss of a battle, but not the war. In a wider scheme of things, what UPND needs in the Bemba lands is to raise its profile by just a small margin. Everything else being equal, if UPND raised their numbers in Bemba lands by just a quarter, they will surely make government next year. It is this reality that should make Lungu re-strategise, otherwise, he will be a half-term president, like his older brother Bwezani.

When it comes to strategy, Lungu made some errors that need correcting. It was all clear that the PF was a Bemba dominated party. When Lungu took over as president, he labored under a false assumption that the PF was a “national party”. In reality, the PF had never been a “national” party. It was and still remains a Bemba dominated party with a huge urban following. If these two constituencies leave the PF, it will collapse. With these realities in mind, Lungu needed to manage the party better. It was expected that the Vice-Presidency would go to Madam Inonge Wina. This was an excellent choice. But Lungu needed to create a powerful position that would calm some jitters among Bembas. A position such as Minister-without-Portfolio would have worked. Harry Kalaba, Emmanuel Mwamba, or even GBM would have been great choices. Such an action would have helped forestall a Bemba rebellion within the PF, which is now almost guaranteed. However, it is not too late to act.

Michael Sata

Michael Sata

This now should bring us to the Emmanuel Mwamba issue. Emmanuel was interested in the Kasama seat. Strategically, it was going to be in the interest of both the PF and Lungu’s government to have Emmanuel in Kasama. But for some reason we all do not understand, Lungu seems to insist that Emmanuel should be shanked far away from Zambia’s political hotbed. This is a huge mistake. The PF needs a politically savvy spokesman like Emmanuel to help it retain power next year. Currently, the spokespersons for the PF are doing a great disservice. Chishimba Kambwili is a quick-tempered lead and his off-the-cuff remarks are not helpful at all. The other spokesman, Davies Chama, has also said some unsavory stuff that continue to create problems for the party and its government. Lungu needs people who can talk a little more sensibly for him: Emmanuel fits that bill. Lungu also has Sunday Chanda at his disposal, but Chanda appears sidelined too. I would not be surprised if he too is moved away from the political limelight. Lungu’s strategies are hurting the PF everywhere. You cannot run a political party like this. Something must change, and Lungu has the power to make changes.

While, President Lungu is taking his time to act on these issues I have highlighted here, Hichilema’s star is rising among the constituents that had rejected him: the Bembas and the urban areas. Kaloba, devalued kwacha, the high cost of living and quarrels with Cuundu Caitwa are not helping Lungu. GBM is helping in a little way to bring visibility to Hichilema. It will not be too long, before we have the repeat of 1968 when to the consternation of Kaunda; the Chona-Kapwepwe group beat the Kamanga alliance. Those who subscribe to a superficial view of our united nation might slam my sentiments. But those with ears to hear might get one thing or two and make political decisions that unite Zambia and actually change the political landscape for the better. The UPND seems to have gotten the message. I just hope Lungu will get it too: ukuteke mbwa mano!