Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I start this morning’s press conference with a quotation from the Book of Jeremiah (5:1). It reflects our theme for 2013 – the NAREP Year of Action:
“Go up and down the streets… of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city”.
As we usher in a New Year some will have lost loved ones, others will have welcomed new life. On a personal note, I have experienced both through the loss of my mother-in-law last November and the birth of my nephew last week. We live, we learn, we love and we mourn. Always, we look to the future with hope and expectation.
A time for reflection
The New Year is a convenient time to pause and reflect on the challenges we face as a nation. At a time such as this, I am reminded of the saying: evil prevails in the world because good men do nothing. So it is only right to ask: Where are the good men and women of Zambia? Where are the leaders of the past that surely must know our country is not heading in the right direction? Where are the young professionals? Where is civil society? The Bible tells us that we will be judged just as much by what we do as by what we do not do while we are here on this earth.
For we can no longer afford to pretend that all is right. We cannot pretend we do not know:
– that people are dying daily at clinics, hospitals and health institutions around the country from curable illnesses and from the lack of prompt and proper care
– that our women and young girls are being subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation on an unprecedented scale in schools, homes and workplaces.
We cannot pretend that it is alright to still have routine cholera outbreaks in our land. We cannot continue to pretend that excessive load-shedding is normal and that high mealie-meal prices are just a function of exploitative millers and traders or that it is acceptable for our youths to publicly threaten violence while the political leaders they report to and to whom they are accountable maintain a stony silence.
We cannot pretend that in a country that claims to promote democracy it is right to silently deport foreigners without recourse to an independent review by our courts or that there is any justification in preventing the political Opposition from meeting and holding rallies.
We cannot accept as normal the possibility that some of us might wake up tomorrow morning and find ourselves living in a new district. These things are confusing. These developments are not normal and yet we are expected to pretend that they are. The sooner we wake up to the reality of the confused state we are living in, the better off we, our children and our grandchildren will be – but only if we determine to change our individual and collective mindsets.
You see, change for the better will not come about through a complete dependence on Government or an acceptance that everything Government does is right. We must each be the change we want to see. If we are tired of corruption, let us each make a personal undertaking to fight it where we can. If we are fed up with incompetence, let us each put in an honest day’s work:
– let every teacher teach as though they were teaching for God, understanding that their role is to fertilise the minds of our future leaders and decision-makers
– let every policeman, every revenue agent, every member of our security and investigative wings, every judge and every magistrate carry out their duties with the honesty, integrity, pride and dignity that should come from knowing that they are the guardians of our justice
– and let every politician and elected official know and understand that politics was designed to be noble, not a platform for assassinating one another’s characters and championing tribal divisions or for showcasing inflated egos and insulting our women.
Challenges and goals for 2013
As we embark upon a new year, we shall face new challenges and old. These challenges should not define us, they should embolden us to work even harder to see our country and our people prosper. It is therefore only fitting that we individually examine the year we have left behind and set out a course of action for 2013.
As a Party, NAREP has set as its overall goal for the year, the recruitment of 750,000 active and committed members from all walks of life and from every part of the country; members dedicated to making a positive difference in their communities. Our core message will remain that of being the only Party that can genuinely promote issue-based politics; generate fresh rather than recycled ideas and approaches; and offer value-based national leadership for the next election and beyond. We will make this our year of action – working with grassroots all across the country as we build our branch network with community-based empowerment programmes.
NAREP is the Party of redemption and restoration – the Party that will bring justice for the poor and healing for the broken-hearted – those that still carry their loved ones to the clinic in a wheel-barrow; those whose mothers and fathers are dying from preventable diseases while Ministers and Government officials travel abroad for treatment; those that wonder whether they will ever have a day when they do not have to struggle to put a meal on the table or pay tuition fees or have a single week of uninterrupted power supply; those within our rural communities that live too far from the line of rail to have access to even the most basic of services.
Zambia’s condition has never been bout the curse of poverty. It has always been about the curse of poor leadership, not only in our politics but everywhere that good leadership is called to rise: in the Church, in the workplace, in the home, in our schools and yes, sadly, in our politics. But if we truly are to progress as a nation, we need political leadership that will think less about itself and more about the needs of the people it has been elected to serve.
It is not too late for the PF to think less about political domination and more about prioritising development. It is not too late to reverse the trend of unnecessary by-elections and to channel our energy and national resources into building a corruption-free country where the majority of citizens accept the rule of law. If this is too much to ask of the people that are in power today, then let them consider this: the Lord our God, who placed you in your position of authority can remove you just as swiftly as you were installed. Nothing is impossible with God; no amount of suppression, propaganda, or denial of freedom to assemble can stand in the way of His will.
But let us turn the page on 2012 and look to a new future, one that is characterised not by meaningless rhetoric and cheap propaganda but bold decisions and resolute action. Let us reflect on the responsibility we each have, to listen to one another. Those holding positions of power and authority need to know that they have an extra duty to listen carefully to their critics and to allow everyone the freedom to serve their country in the best way they know how:
– let us provide the opportunity for our youth to flourish in decent work and enterprise
– let us give dignity back to our women by protecting them from violence, removing all discrimination against them and tearing down the barriers to their advancement
– let us work with our traditional leaders to empower rural communities
– let us apply our public order laws in a manner that ensures equality before the law and not the illegal discrimination we witnessed last year.
We should not be fooled by the propaganda or the high sounding rhetoric that seeks to justify the impromptu and haphazard creation of districts. To some, development means waking up in the morning and finding you are in a different district from the one you went to bed in last night. Let us accept that this is simply an illusion of order in the chaos that surrounds us.
Price controls should not become the weapon with which we address the incompetent management of our staple food. Rather than price controls, we need political controls – the kind of controls that prevent us from triggering unnecessary by-elections to boost ruling Party numbers in the National Assembly. When we raise concern about this, our critics tell us we should wake up, this is politics! I say to those critics: You wake up, that is not development!
Wake up and realise that we have a crisis on our hands when mealie-meal prices are reaching levels that have never been seen before in Zambia, when excessive load-shedding and water blues are a normal part of life, when employers are laying off workers because they have to comply with regulations that were introduced without proper consultation, when investors are holding back their plans because they are not sure what to expect next. Wake up and ask yourselves one simple question: What has the PF administration been doing while all this has been going on? Well, I will tell you – it has been renaming airports, creating new districts overnight, moving provincial capitals, relocating districts, poaching Opposition members, engineering by-elections, jailing Opposition leaders, creating new ministries, shuffling ministries along with ministers, firing permanent secretaries and district commissioners and appointing new ones at will, removing hundreds of experienced senior and middle management staff from missions abroad and replacing these with many inexperienced individuals connected by blood or origin; and then, as if to demonstrate the full extent of how out of touch they are when it comes to offering solutions to our most pressing social crisis, they have launched a tree-planting exercise as the answer to Zambia’s massive unemployment problem!
When the Zambian people voted in 2011, they were hoping for a serious government with serious plans. We all dream of a land in which everyone can have the right to a decent life. Is it asking too much to expect running water to flow into every home; to have homes and businesses connected to a stable source of electric power? Is it asking too much to expect our Ministers not to fly abroad for treatment but to use the very health institutions they run away from when they fall seriously ill; or to expect our youth to be properly empowered with opportunities for work and enterprise?
Contrary to what some may think or feel, it is not, and has never been our desire as a Party to see the PF administration fail. If the PF – or any other administration for that matter – fails to lead a badly underdeveloped nation like ours with clarity, determination and a compelling vision, it is the people who suffer. We want the PF to perform the role for which God allowed them to be declared victors at the last election. But they will not do this by alienating the very people they were elected to serve. They will not do this by honouring mediocrity and neglecting our youth.
We don’t know what God’s plan was in allowing the PF to come to power. It may well have been to demonstrate the importance of persistence. Maybe it was to teach us to be careful about listening too closely to the promises of politicians, or perhaps it was just to rid us of a Party that forgot about the people as it took care of itself. No one really knows. What we do know is this: every one of us was born with the right to be free; the right to assemble freely; the right to be protected from the arbitrary use of power – whether by the state or from the hands of a defiler.
Going forward, let us recognise that while there is much work to do and many mistakes to avoid, no work will be harder than changing the mindset of our people. This is the hard path that NAREP has chosen to take. It requires us to lead by example and we will do this with resolute determination. Let no one fool the people of Zambia – our Party is not for sale to any bidder and nor is its leadership. We want only what is best for every Zambian, young and old. That will be the standard of our commitment and our leadership.
May God’s grace be with Zambia and with our national team as they defend our AfCON crown. I thank you and wish you all a productive and prosperous 2013.
Elias C. Chipimo