FREEDOM IS NOT FREE: Is Zambia a democracy or a dictatorship of mass poverty, unemployment and extreme inequality?

There is something to be happy and proud to be Zambian. We Zambians, of all ages, genders and social classes, are a very happy people, despite our levels of poverty and humanitarian suffering approaching Afghanistan.

In many ways, in fact, we are worse off than Afghanistan – we haven’t been through the horrific wars that Afghanistan has endured! And yet we are a happy people, always polite, very respectful, joking, laughing and going about our business of preventing death as if it were all there is to life. Many of us, young and old, enjoy alcohol and are unable to sleep without it.

We love our country and its people. We love each other so much that we didn’t like the hate and insults that our famous Zambian football referee (better not name him, you know him!) who made history at the African Cup of Nations Nations in progress! Most of us offered defensive explanations for his incredible performance.

In general, we are a very respectful people. We talk a lot, most of us. Among friends and family, we argue, argue, and insult each other often enough, so often in fact, that our desperate politicians now think they too must insult each other to gain popularity. But we don’t like violence. We hate and fear war. Most of us love boxing.

We love good gossip. We love good jokes. We like to make fun of everything, including our poverty, our death and our funerals. We are not clowns; we just like laughter, jokes and gossip. Laughter is the folk medicine we use to protect ourselves from our pandemic of economic and social suffering and its stressful and infuriating consequences.

With mass unemployment, millions of us have all the time in the world to gossip, make fun of ourselves and others, quarrel and insult each other and laugh to hide the pain of the unworthiness of life jobless, jobless, wasted lives doing nothing but wanting everything, waiting for death.

Many of us think that there is nothing to fight for and nothing to fight for, other than scrambling to pay rent, buy electricity and water, buy food and sometimes buy clothes, and put our children in school in one way or another. We love our beer. Our food is fairly basic and predictable, organized around meals and relishes. Occasionally we go to one of the many foreign restaurants and takeaways that have sprung up all over the country after we ousted Kaunda from power. Usually we survive on the food we can get from our markets.

Many of us won’t ask questions about buying cheap stolen goods. The lack of work and money bothers us all very much. Many of us buy and sell whatever we can, to survive, and have long since given up on finding decent work.

We hear of military cuts across our continent and thank our stars for escaping military takeovers so far. We are, in fact, celebrated globally as a country that changes government through the ballot. Apart from one or two incidents which did not cost much under the Kaunda and Chiluba governments, our soldiers fortunately remained in their dilapidated barracks and avoided getting lost in politics. We are very grateful to our armed men and women and their commanders in the Zambian army.

We think, some of us, that we are a democracy, even with all our problems. We have a government consisting of a judiciary, a parliament and an executive president, and a civil service. We have local, provincial and national levels of government all wrapped up in one huge failed government of the Republic of Zambia. We are not at war.

We have many political parties, so many that in the August 2021 elections we had 16 presidential candidates, even though the top two presidential candidates shared 98% of the vote and selfishly left only 2 % to others to smear each other. Once again we have escaped a civil war!

Let’s say the good things described above are a rough but fairly accurate description of some of our “good national characters” – generally full of laughter, happy, peaceful, talkative but not violent, and “democratic”. We fear and respect authority. We hate war and violence. In fact, we have been declared a Christian nation by our politicians.

It is our “good national character” that worries me. Could it just be possible that extreme humanitarian levels of poverty, unemployment, inequality, corruption and general decadence are actually facilitated by our “good national character”? 58 years after gaining independence from Britain, we are sinking deeper every day into mass poverty, national unemployment and extreme inequality.

Barely 6 months after our historic elections on August 12, 2021, all the signs are there that not much will change; the signs of our slide into new and worse forms of corruption, extreme inequality, mass poverty and nationwide unemployment are there for all to see, despite the cosmetic improvements the UPND government has made so far.

The UPND and Hakainde Hichilema quickly turn out to be no better than all our previous governments; corrupt to the core. What’s wrong with us? What are the sources of some of our national inability to overcome our neocolonial poverty, unemployment and inequality?

Could it just be that we have confused “democracy” with many parties, elections and a talkative urban educated class? What is the value of our “democracy” to the majority of Zambians who live to avoid death every day?

Isn’t it possible that we have failed, in the last 58 years of our existence, to understand that “democracy” is the struggle and victory over the murderous violence of hunger, unemployment, extreme inequalities among the majority of Zambians? Is it possible that our fear of physical violence and war is being used to blackmail the majority of us into poverty and its dictatorship that we confuse with democracy?
Democracy is more than many political parties and periodically voting for corrupt and thieving politicians. Democracy is a healthy body and a stomach full of good nutritious food, a head rich with advanced learning and the latest knowledge, a decent, safe and well paid job, a comfortable home with water and electricity always available, safe streets and children in modern conditions. schools, colleges and universities fully equipped with the latest learning materials.

Democracy is equal and full access for all to modern clinics and hospitals run by healthy and quality staff, efficiently and fully stocked with the latest medical technologies and drugs.

And, yes, democracy is true peace as the absence of injustice, poverty, unemployment and inequality and therefore, free from violence and war.

Democracy is the full equality of all peoples, of all sexes. When this happens, all other freedoms acquire their true value and aspire to achieve their full fulfillment.

Democracy is safe from ignorance, poverty, unemployment and inequality. Democracy is the liberation and the maximum explosion of the intellectual, spiritual and creative talents and capacities of all peoples.

Therefore, judging by what “democracy” and “peace” actually mean in the daily life of a people, Zambia is neither a democracy nor a peaceful country. Zambia is a dictatorship of mass poverty, national unemployment and extreme inequality. Zambia is therefore a very violent country. This is why we have an extremely young population!

The historic national elections of August 12, 2021 and their results are a wake-up call for all of us who call out, and who are Zambians, to ask and answer the questions: Are we a “democracy”? Are we a “peaceful country”?

What do you think?

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