BY SYCORAX TIYESA NDHLOVU
The story that the Chinese government invited ten (10) Zambian cabinet ministers on a fully sponsored trade mission to China because Beijing wanted to engage our cabinet ministers in collaborative business ventures on behalf of its provinces (Daily Nation Novembers 23, 2016; page 2) gives hope that such study tours will benefit Zambia sooner than later. For many decades now; but with little success, Zambia has been looking for foreign direct investments (FDIs) which can facilitate promotion of industrialisation process, diversification of our economy and creation of more decent jobs to reduce high poverty levels many citizens are facing. Moreover, some members of Parliament (MPs) among who are also cabinet ministers have also been travelling abroad to see how other elected political leaders are facilitating community and national development processes. But very few of such MPs have facilitated tangible community development processes in their respective constituencies. Such a background persuades some members of the public to raise eye-brows each time some government leaders’ travel abroad for various official trips because, firstly, most Zambians look at the huge tax payers’ money government spends on such trips; and secondly, the minimal benefits majority Zambians derive from such trips. Such cost-benefit analysis forces some Zambians to question government leaders’ foreign trips as they are perceived to be more wastage of tax payers’ money than beneficial. But former information and broadcasting minister, Chishimba Kambwili while on Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC)’s Sunday Interview Television programme explained that it takes 3-6 years for foreign pledges to start being implemented because of various logistical procedures involved in mother countries and in the recipient country. Such a long time lag makes some Zambians forget that some projects they see at a certain are a product of a foreign trip undertaken some years ago. Therefore, some concerns and criticisms some Zambians might propagate are more products of the past experiences than the present scenario. But some criticisms can also be bred from forgetting past events as they relate to current ones. However, one can argue that it’s the role of Zambians serving in foreign embassies; and not ward councilors, MPs, cabinet ministers and others to travel abroad and learn what civic leaders in other countries do and how to develop their respective countries; and report to the Zambian government accordingly for Zambian to be developed accordingly. Firstly, one can argue that saying: ‘Seeing is believing’. This means that merely getting reports from such staff working in foreign embassies is not enough. Secondly, as a group of cabinet ministers flock to such countries to see what their fellow elected political leaders are doing and how to facilitate improved socio-economic infrastructure and facilities to improve on the majority citizens’ living standards, they (our cabinet ministers), after learning from such foreign trips, can easily agree as a cabinet or as MPs in the National Assembly on what to do and how to sustainably develop local communities and the whole country from the limited government resources. For instance, in the past, during the Movement for Multi-party Democracy(MMD)’s regime, after visiting one of the Asian countries, a certain cabinet minister was reportedly so impressed with the sustainable national development processes he saw in that country that, no sooner did he arrive at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport than he said that elected political leaders in some countries facilitate more sustainable national development processes than their counterpart in Zambia do; adding that compared to what other political representatives in the country he visited facilitate, what Zambian elected political leaders were doing was nothing. This implies that if all elected political leaders had chances to see what their colleagues in some countries do and how to facilitate sustainable national development processes, confess their limitations as such a Zambian cabinet minister did; and change their mindset towards developing Zambia from lessons learnt from such foreign trips; our country can develop faster than expected to the benefit of many Zambians. Therefore, although such foreign trips cost huge sums of tax payers’ money, with change of mindset among our elected political leaders as demonstrated by massive infrastructure development processes throughout the country the Patriotic Front (PF) government under President Edgar Chagwa Lungu has already started facilitating with a short time, such trips might bring more hope to Zambia than ever before. Analytically speaking, it’s not the foreign trips and their costs that negatively affect Zambians’ living standards. It’s the mindset of government leaders to develop or not to develop this country that matters most on such trips. Consequently, Zambians should analyse each successive crop of government leaders; and evaluate their individual and collective mindsets as to whether they mean well for Zambia or not before they condemn each decision government takes. It’s also important to research adequately on each government decision, action or policy before one raises a finger against government in power. Additionally, Zambians should have a big picture about the way forward for Zambia’s socio-economic national development processes. We should pray for current and future government leaders to ensure that each government leader has or crafts appropriate mindset to facilitate sustainable community and national development processes within a short time as the PF government has already demonstrated even under very difficult world economic and unfavourable climatic conditions. However, some criticisms against some government’s decisions, statements, actions and policies might not necessarily be from abstract or from some ignorance on the part of the critics; but from past experiences. Therefore, current and future government leadership should prove that such MPs or cabinet ministers’ foreign trips are not necessarily meant to enable some of our political representatives becoming tourists in such foreign countries; but to prove that such trips are tours of duty for the benefit of all Zambians. This can be achieved through using existing resources to implement some ideas and approaches they learn from other countries. What is also expected from such elected political leaders who were and who will be on such trips is not only to see what their colleagues in other countries have done to improve on many citizens’ lives but also to learn how such was achieved. It might not necessarily be huge availability of resources; but it might be servant leadership and being resourceful among many political representatives at different levels of governance that also facilitate sustainable national development processes. Elected political leaders at whatever level of governance should provide servant leadership and be good at resource mobilisation for community and national development processes. Marketing their wards, constituencies and the whole Zambia in terms of natural resource endowments, huge human resource availability; and the potential such areas have for various business opportunities is among the critical roles elected political leaders are supposed to play for the benefit of their constituencies and for all Zambians. Such achievements from each ward councilor or MP can be good performance evaluation’s yardsticks or ‘sonta apo wabomba’ before and during the next political elections. In short, from such foreign trips, elected political leaders are supposed to generate lessons learnt; and capacitate themselves to do more visible sustainable community development projects and job creation before they exit from such civic positions or before they ask the electorate to give them another mandate to serve in the same capacity or in another senior political position. In any case, after such foreign trips, in representative democracy like Zambia, using constituency offices, citizens are free to go and ask each of such MPs about what they learnt from such foreign trips. Criticising government or elected political leaders without enough facts and figures on the issue might not only prove how ignorant we as citizens are; but might also frustrate willing servant political leaders to do more for Mother Zambia. However, as government, it’s also important to know how some citizens might react to certain issues. Therefore, government should also be pro-active by explaining the purpose of and benefits from certain government decisions or foreign trips which might be misinterpreted by some citizens. Nonetheless, elected political leaders’ foreign trips can yield more benefits for all Zambians if elected political representatives at all levels of governance provide servant leadership with their respective communities and with Mother Zambia at heart.
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