Letter from Zambia

The impact of free market capitalism on Zambian politics.

The wind of change is blowing across the African continent. This wind of change depicts a phenomenon of political coups which have swept through many African countries which had embraced the multi-party parliamentary system of government.

There is strife and bitter in-fighting between elected governments and opposition parties. The demise of single party totalitarian régimes has entailed the growth of neo-colonialism through economic liberalism and globalisation. Before the demise of Soviet “Communism”, some African countries were in the forefront of the state-run economies. The economics of laissez-faire capitalism is proving a bitter pill to swallow to populations reared and groomed under the politics of totalitarian régimes and state or command economies. What is alarming is the recourse to communalism and outright tribalism by opposition parties against elected governments.

The defeat of Kenneth Kaunda’s U.N.I.P. government by Frederick Chiloba’s M.M.D. party has wrought a permanent change upon Zambia’s political and economic life. The dismantling of a state command economy by the M.M.D. government has let loose social and demographic changes throughout Zambia. Income and job patterns have changed from bad to worse.

Free trade and economic liberalism have appeared as an affront to the nationalistic sentiments of many an African political malcontent. Outright economic dependence on European trade and international commerce is neo-colonialism per se. But can any African country survive without any form of economic aid from the developed capitalist countries? In Zambia the goal of the politics of transparency and free trade has been purchased at a high price. Privatisation of the state economic sector has brought into being unprecedented job losses and industrial dislocation.

Neo-colonialism depicts a situation where the country’s domestic economy is exposed to foreign or overseas multinational companies. Privatisation has created a new class of industrial capitalists whose commercial and employment objectives are at variance with the macroeconomic objectives of governments. Under neo-colonialism a recipient country is held in dire servitude by the donor community which monitors its political and economic performance.

The creation of S.A.D.C.C. (Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference) has led to a relaxation of tariffs and quotas between member countries. In the case of Zambia this has meant that imports from South Africa, where economies of scale abound and production costs are low, have come to over-flood the relatively undeveloped and high-cost domestic industrial sector. As a result most manufacturing industries in Zambia have closed since they cannot compete in quality and price with these imported commodities.

The policy of arresting an imbalance in of payments by clamping down on subsidies and public expenditure has led to unemployment and social misery across the country. It has brought a bout of unprecedented criticism from the opposition back benches. Zambian economic liberalism depends upon massive injections of donor investment and aid to survive.

Persistent political bickering and unsubstantiated criticisms against elected governments are tarnishing the image of African parliamentary democracy as a test case in multi-partism. It portrays and signifies a lack of trust in the concept of democracy and is causing suspicion and anxiety among the Western donor community circles.

Voter apathy and outright arrogance against the ruling parties has become a general feature in every African country under multi-party rule. Ethnic rivals and tribal prejudices are exploited by opposition parties in order to discredit elected governments. It seems that parliamentary democracy under the European political pattern cannot easily survive in Africa and that African countries will have to live exposed to the threat of military coups.