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close this bookThe Courier N 138 - March - April 1993 Dossier: Africa's New Democracies - Country Reports : Jamaica - Zambia (EC Courier, 1993, 96 p.)
close this folderCountry reports
close this folderZambia
View the documentThe score so far: Democracy 2, Economic Recovery 1
View the documentAn interview with President Frederick Chiluba
View the documentAn interview with Rodger Chongwe, Minister of Legal Affairs
View the documentBiting the bullet: the challenge of beating inflation
View the documentPoverty for many, wealth for some
View the documentSmall farmers: planting the seeds of prosperity
View the documentAIDS-a shadow hanging over Zambia's future
View the documentProfile
View the documentEC - Zambia cooperation

An interview with President Frederick Chiluba

'Democracy is not the preserve of developed countries it is a fundamental human right'

In October 1991, in Zambia's first multi-party elections for over 20 years, the Movement for Multi-party Democracy won both a parliamentary majority and the presidency of the country. The MMD's leader, Frederick Chiluba, had been a prominent trade unionist, and as chairman of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions under President Kaunda had been detained for opposition to the previous regime. In 1990, Mr Chiluba had emerged as one of the leaders, and then chairman, of the alliance of trade unionists, church leaders, businessmen, students and former politicians who overthrew the one-party system on a promise of democracy and a free market economy.

Zambia's first year and a half of this programme has seen general elation followed by some disillusionment at the government's record. While the daily struggle to make a living is made harder by high inflation and interest rates and rising unemployment, crime figures are soaring, there have been allegations of police brutality towards suspects in custody, and some civil servants, local councillors and members of parliament and Cabinet have been accused of incompetence or corruption.

Speaking at the opening of the National Assembly's 1993 session, President Chiluba took a tough line. In the transition to democracy, he said, some leading figures in the country had taken advantage of his style of democratic rule, but this would be a year of discipline. He had a mandate from the Zambian people and would formalise and implement their will, he said; he was not interested in winning popularity contests-there was too much to be done. On the attitude of the media, he said that they had changed from an attitude of extreme subservience to one of 'free-wheeling and rumour-mongering beyond all boundaries of ethics and reason.'

The Courier talked to President Chiluba just after his return from the parliamentary opening ceremony.

· Mr President, since The Courier last came to Zambia three years ago, under rather different circumstances, the process of democratisation has come into place. What have been your priorities in setting up democracy in this country?

-Well, first of all, one has to ask the question: what is democracy? And the answer is that it is very difficult to define. A lot of countries of the world have different models, and we have learned that it may mean different things to different people, but I think I would like to ask the question, what ends does democracy serve? And when we define what ends our democracy is to serve, we have to put in place institutions to make sure that democracy works. So we begin by saying that we want to ensure participation of the people in decision-making. We want to ensure that with democracy the human rights of people, which obviously emanate from the term humanity, are observed in the place, and that calls for a constitution which will embody the rights of the individual person, the right to own property, the right to life and the right to dispose of whatever property one has, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of the individual person in many spheres of life. This is also interrelated to the liberalisation policy we have set in place in the economy.

We are instituting the rule of law to ensure that there is peaceful resolution of conflict. Multiethnic, multitribal Africa has been famous for many civil wars and we do believe that in the approach to that we have to be extremely careful, perhaps, to preach a politics of a consociational nature, so that we take account of the various demands which are in place in society. To this end, we have also realised that if democracy is to work, the government must deliberately allow for the existence of dissent, and therefore there are many pressure groups: the churches, the trade unions, you name them, they are deliberately, together with the help of the press, almost making it impossible for government to sit down, it has to keep on its feet-and it's all deliberate. But we do realise that, if democracy is to work, that deliberate policy must be fully enforced and it must be supported deliberately by government as well.

That is why from the very inception we realised that we had won such a landslide that the opposition did not actually qualify, according to convention, to be called the loyal opposition. They had not reached the stage, in terms of facts and figures, to be recognised, but I deliberately asked Parliament to recognise them and Parliament did so. Under normal circumstances, unless they had about 30% of the seats in the House, they would not qualify. They had between about 18 and 20% of the seats, but in spite of that we went ahead. We want to encourage this. It is very difficult in Africa, with the tradition of the one-party system, to leave things to the ideas of other people, but we wanted to ensure that we deliberately bring in opposition, so that it plays its role-and, in order to really get policy which is fully accepted in all areas of our activities, the opposition had to play a very, very important role. And they have been playing an important role, small as they are, they are very vocal and, with the help of the press, they have meant that we have had to seek a lot of consensus on many matters, so that they are not seen to be party matters, they are national affairs.

· The press is extremely lively in Zambia and has given you a rough ride in two areas that I can thin'´ of: the behaviour of the police and the calibre of public officials. Are these areas where you think there is still some ground to be made up ?

-Well, in more areas than those two. The police, 1 think, with the background of their training and the difficulty of the legacy we have come from have been a little slow in adjusting. But our general policy is that the police force in a democratic society is not one of repression, and generally the whole area of policy in there has totally changed. But you see, we have taken over a police force that is logistically almost completely unable to perform. Transport, the radio network and things like that are almost nonexistent, they are totally or terribly dilapidated. So, they have tremendous difficulties. And, with opening our borders with this democratic climate now in the country, we have received a lot of people from outside who have added to our worries and it is a real problem. So the police are not deliberately doing what they are doing, I think it is the lack of ability to adjust in time, but the general policy has changed. They are slow to cope because of some of these difficulties. You mentioned the calibre of public officials?

· Yes, I am thinking of a charge that I saw somewhere that some officials, even government ministers, are putting personal economic recovery before the economic recovery of the country.

-No, no, I think again it is just a matter of perception. I think that in our policy framework and even in our implementation, we have said that while we address the full structural adjustment programme, there are social aspects and the impact of the adjustment itself falls squarely on our people. They are the ones really who are paying for this and, as a result, we have created the Ministry of Community Development, which is aimed at taking care of these groups of the most vulnerable people. We also pay attention to things like medical care and schools, which were all broken down. The problem has been the scarcity of resources, and therefore it is what you call the process of making a choice between one or the other and you can't have them both at the same time. So it is really a matter of perception, rather than a general policy or the bad calibre of the civil servant. Our Ministers, our civil servants understand this and they try extremely hard to fulfil this. The Ministry of Community Development is precisely aimed at ensuring that the blind, the handicapped, the needy people in various areas are cared for and cared for very well, so I don't think that it's the calibre or any discrimination or any such. The calibre is right, the policy is right, it is just the scarcity of resources.

· Your country, Mr President, has embarked on a very tough structural adjustment programme. In some areas, like the removal of the subsidy on maize, your government is going faster than the IMF stipulates but in other areas there has been some slippage. Are you happy with the speed of progress?

-In fact I think we have moved faster than could have been the normal case, and I have sometimes been afraid that, if we move a little faster than our people could cope with, we may endanger the whole programme. I believe sincerely that the help we get from the international community, we have to utilise, but, at the same time, we have to act in a very politically mature manner to enlist the fullest support of our people. So far, in all the elections, after the main parliamentary and presidential elections, we have won a number of by-elections and a convincing victory in the local government elections; that gives us hope, but at the same time I look at that as a challenge from the people. They are saying: We still appreciate what you are doing but do not create problems for us because you cannot move. That indication of the mandate given to us, the legitimacy and authority we obtained from the people, must be interpreted into carrying out such projects and programmes as will ensure their fullest participation and support and that the people become the beneficiaries of the same programmes, so we have moved a little faster sometimes than I thought, and I think we are realising that the faster we move the greater the distance may be between us and the people, and that way we may endanger the very process. So, I think we are trying to be systematic and not slowing down but just stabilising our pace.

· It is certainly true that in the local elections, which you referred to, the MMD was very strongly endorsed but, at the same time, the turnout was extremely low.

-It was indicative of the conditions of life, the standards of living which have dropped remarkably. Staple food prices have risen so high that people have felt sometimes that we do not care with these free market policies, we just ask them to fend for themselves. But really it is a bit of a difficult situation, we are not asking the people to fend for themselves, we are asking the people to continue to put in an effort: they have sacrificed too much to abandon the programme. We just have to go ahead. We are paying for the sins of the past 27 years and there is no way we can rectify or remedy the situation of 27 years of mismanagement in a year or two, we just have to continue to pay the price. In any case we have paid too much of a price to ever go back, we just have to go forward and that was in fact my message in parliament today.

· Since your government took power, you have built up an enormous fund of goodwill internationally, and during last year's very severe drought the bilateral donors and international organisations helped your country very extensively, including the EEC. What are you looking for from the international donors in the future ?

-Well, I must generally say that I am very grateful on behalf of my government and the people of this country for that kind of goodwill from the international community. Really, without them the drought would, I think, have wreaked havoc in our country. But, because of that goodwill, we managed to pull through with their resources, their helping us put back the infrastructure, the roads and everything-and especially in the area of balance of payment support, they have been tremendously wonderful and good. We still are stuck with huge amounts of external debt which we find it very difficult a) to service and b) even to pay, and I continue to say the reason for this accumulation of debts was that there was a lack of accountability. There was a lack of participation by people, there was a lack of openness and transparency. All these things we have now put in place; surely the international community could extend their goodwill to this area since now democracy has come and since now no debt will be swept under the carpet unseen, with so much freedom of the press at work. I believe the international community would be promoting transparency and accountability in Zambia. The international community would be helping the continent of Africa in its generality to see that democracy is the key to development. Democracy with very weak economic institutions cannot work, its fragility would I think turn into frailty and collapse, and I believe the international community could consider, even going beyond the agreed terms, trying to help write off the amounts that are outstanding. I know that most of them are on commercial terms, but if there is any way the international community, the governments I mean, could be kind enough to do it one way or another and seek to assist us in this area, they will be giving us a lot of relief and we can start all over again. We will have so much breathing space, we will have nothing hanging over our shoulders and we will be able to push forward and develop some strong basis on which we can build.

· Next week, Mr President, the Preferential Trade Area is holding a big meeting here, and your country is also active in the SADC. Is greater regional integration a possible way of solving some of your country's problems, particularly the economic problem ?

- Yes, indeed, in fact part of the reason why African economies are still in this kind of shambles is the fact that there is a lot of nationalism even in the economies. Now, in a small country and a relatively small market like this, some of the stuff which we produce and which may require to be sold outside requires bigger markets-and bigger markets come by cooperating with countries within regions. I mean we should learn from America, Canada and Mexico and, even bigger still, learn from the EC, where a lot of barriers which existed are gone. Businessmen and women and citizens all over Europe today feel they have a broader area within which to operate, within which to make the forces of demand and supply work and, the bigger the market, the larger the scope for trading and the larger the possibility of the economies growing. This is why in Zambia we always say: 'It is important that we do not restrict ourselves either domestically to the home front or even to three or four countries, to a thing called the SADC, or the PTA. Why not pool together, open up these whole areas and broaden the scope of trade by offering your goods to larger markets, and that might turn into specialisation of production and division of labour? It could mean a lot of improvement in the quantity and quality of the goods produced. I am sure that would make for job creation, because production would be on a large scale.' The possibilities of advancement really would be in place.

· You obviously have an enormous task on your hands guiding the destinies of this country. What is it that keeps you going ?

-I have a resolve. You know, when I stepped into this thing, long before when I was just a trade unionist, I was hooked up into trusting and believing in the freedom of man here, especially in a country that is a member of the United Nations and a believer in its charter of human rights. I did believe there was something missing and I believed the dignity of the Zambian could easily be better than it was. It was talked about, but in practice people were really slaves and I felt that the time would come when true dignity, the integrity of the people, could be seen-and their freedom did not have to come from political leaders. People were born free. Even if the constitution may either confirm or confer that, people must be allowed to feel that they are free and use that freedom to develop themselves.

Further, I believe strongly that people must not feel that without government they could not live, in other words government must not be on their shoulders, it must not be a big policeman over them. Rather, it must be a respecter and protector of their rights. And I felt very strongly, I still feel and this is my life investment in this, that this country and the people of this country must be truly and honestly free to practise freedom and rights without interference from the government. Now, I know there is sometimes a thin line between liberal democracy and anarchy, because of the insistence on individual rights. But I am talking about rights within the law, where one observes that there is a boundary between his freedom and his neighbour's. Overstepping it would be to injure the neighbour's freedom. So, one has to recognise that. The rule of law will ensure that that does not happen.

I have a strong desire, a strong ambition, a strong dream to build a democratic state in the country, to free the people from unnecessary controls and let them take their own personal initiative to develop their talents, to decide their own lives. I have a strong feeling that we are not any different from people in Europe. We are not any different from people in America. I am sure the hour has come for my country and the hour has come for Africa to democratise. Democracy is not the preserve of developed countries, it is a basic, fundamental human right, it is a necessity.

Inverview by Robert ROWE