Zambia is currently experiencing what could be one of its biggest defining moments since the re-introduction of political pluralism in 1990. This is because to many Zambians this change of government feels like freedom, hope and an opportunity for them to raise their standards of living after what felt like decades of suffering under the administration of the Patriotic Front led by former president Edgar Chagwa Lungu.
Mr. Hakainde Hichilema is the president of the new ruling party, United Party for National Development (UPND). UPND was formed in 1998 by Anderson Mazoka who died in 2006 and was succeeded by Mr. Hichilema who led the party to winning after 21 years of losing.
On the 12th of August, the Zambian citizens showed up in numbers to exercise their right to vote. This has been the biggest voter turnout since the ballot in 1991. This was due to the large number of young people that registered to vote. Despite having to stand in long queues for long periods of time just to cast their vote, one thing was unanimously clear: the Zambian people wanted change from a government that had failed them as a country.
The 2021 general elections were one of the most peaceful elections the country has ever experienced, however, not the most fair ones. During the election period, opposition parties were not allowed to campaign freely, there were unequal campaign conditions, and one-sided media coverage – whereby the media only covered the campaigns of the incumbent government. There was no freedom of speech. Those that took to the road to protest against political injustices were arrested and new cyber laws that restricted people on social media were enforced. All of these things created an uneven playing field for the opposition parties to compete against the incumbent.
Despite all of these injustices, this election was the embodiment of what democracy is: power to the people, the people spoke and they were heard. The youth made their voices heard, demanding for employment, education, good economic policies, reduced costs of living, the fall of political cadres, free press and the incarceration of politicians that plundered state resources, among other things. This election saw the rise of the youth determination to ensure a time for change, the Zambian youth understood the power they had, and made it clear to the president-elect that they were not loyal to a person but to their country. As a Zambian, I echo these sentiments, as we are loyal to the development of our country, to education for all, to youth inclusion and participation, to equal market share, gender equality and good governance with transparency and accountability; we are not loyal to a person. Mr. Hichilema was widely endorsed by many youths, he had the backing of a not-so-silent, silent majority, who campaigned for him using social media platforms. The youth took up the role of educating voters, making sure that they brought awareness on how to vote, reminded people of the oppression, the high costs of living and the violence that had been experienced during the rule of Mr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu. They reminded people to vote wisely encouraging them not to be swayed by the incentives given to them by “corrupt” politicians.
As a result of the huge social media reach carried out by many Zambian youth, Mr. Hakainde Hichilema gained momentum and sailed through the election, winning with over 2 million votes. Amidst the counting of votes former president Edgar Chagwa Lungu declared the elections not free and fair, but this was invalidated by the EU election observers that pointed to the effectiveness of the Electoral Commission of Zambia in carrying out the elections, and the biased campaigning conditions. Soon after the pronouncement of the winner on the 16th August 2021, Mr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu conceded defeat and agreed to a smooth transition of power. From these elections, one can learn from the resilience of the youth, they united and voted out what they termed a dictatorship. They practiced the power they had, the Zambian youth and the entire population at large are a reflection of what it looks like to practice democracy, to stand up to violation of human rights, corruption and the lack political freedom.
Yande Changala, a Zambian citizen, is a member of the 2021 cohort of the Future Africa Fellows.
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni is currently settling into his sixth term of office that will see him ruling the East African nation of Uganda for 40 years. He was sworn in on 12th May, 2021 after one of the deadliest pre-election crackdowns that saw over 30 Ugandan lives lost and his fiercest competition from Robert Kyagulanyi (39) alias Bobi Wine.
The 76-year-old veteran who came to power through an armed uprising in 1986 won the recently concluded elections in January with 53.3% of the vote with Kyagulanyi at 35% after being arrested multiple times during his campaigns giving rise to major questions about the fairness (or lack thereof) of Museveni’s proclaimed victory.
Uganda’s opposition, as has been the trend, boycotted the event.
But the issue in question is not the legitimacy of the election results. Why would a struggling economy with nearly 70 trillion Uganda Shillings (UGX) (21 billion U.S dollars) in debt spend 7 billion UGX (2 million dollars) to inaugurate the same president? Doesn’t every penny count? More on this later.
To put this into context, Uganda’s Finance Minister, Matia Kasaija and his officials have recently pointed out that nation is fast approaching the 50% threshold of the Debt-to-GDP ratio which poses a big risk to the country’s prospective repayment ability. You must know that that higher the debt-to GDP-ratio, the more difficult it is for a country to pay up its external and internal debts which means that in order to borrow more—which Uganda definitely will—the country ought to accept higher interest rates due to low credit ratings among creditors.
The recommended debt-to-GDP ratio from the Joint World Bank-IMF Debt Sustainability Framework for Low-Income Countries is 50 per cent. Uganda is fast approaching this threshold with an estimated crossover point somewhere set somewhere in 2022. However, countries like Kenya (which is already at a high risk of debt distress—where a country is unable to fulfill its financial obligations and debt restructuring is required) are way past it but on the other hand, some of them have strong inclinations towards domestic revenue mobilization, something Uganda is grappling with.
Ultimately, all this sets Uganda on the path to debt distress of which the risk is currently low, but may in the long run change.
Let us get back to the inauguration expenditures for a moment. The accumulated public debt in Uganda, which is nearly 70 trillion UGX as earlier noted—in the final analysis—means that of the estimated 43 million Ugandans, each one owes 1.5 million Uganda Shillings ($430). Why is it that a developing country so drowned in debt is spending billions on an inauguration of someone who will go back to the same house and office he has been in for 35 years? At least if it was someone knew this would be understandable and worth the celebration.
There was nothing to celebrate about the incumbent handing over power to himself. What this reemphasizes to the Ugandan people is that their President is so focused on retaining his seat that he will use much needed public funds during a time of economic downturn, to have a party. Let alone the fact that the event was attended by hundreds of people in clear violation of Covid-19 SOPs. If this was a celebration of any kind by the opposition, try to imagine what would happen.
One would only need to be a casual news follower to have heard about the drama-filled Gambian election of 2016/17. The incumbent president of the time, Yahya Jammeh, eventually lost a bid to reject the electoral results after initially conceding defeat. The weekly deep-dive of the Future Africa Fellowship took a very unique look at the crisis; the cohort took the Gambian electoral crisis a step further and simulated a Commission of Inquiry proceeding. All of this was in an effort to train the muscle of dissecting leadership issues with an analytical approach – one of the offerings the Fellowship aims to create for the participants.
Six key players were invited to testify in the Commission. The former president, Yayha Jammeh received the opening question before Alieu Momarr Njie, head of the Gambian Independent Electoral Commission had his turn. Next on the spot was the president-elect, Adama Barrow, who was followed by the Senegalese president, Macky Sall, before the head of the Gambian Army, Ousman Badjie, was put on the hot seat. The last testimony came from the Ghanaian president, Nana Akufo-Addo. Members of the audience were afforded a chance to ask their questions to the key players. One of the most intriguing questions was to the Ghanaian president who was interrogated on whether invoking the ECOWAS treaty to prepare for the invasion of another country, he negated the section of the United Nations’ Charter which prohibits member states from involvement in the territorial affairs of other member states.
I not only observed this session, but also took part as a panel member of the Commission of Inquiry. The neutrality of my position allowed me to listen most attentively to the diversity of perspectives and ingest each contribution with doses of empathy, sympathy, and at times frustration. When I heard Jammeh appreciate the role that the ECOWAS community played in dealing with the Gambian crisis, I could not help but question my preconceived perception of the president. I have thought of the man as an insensible dictator and assumed he was the sole culprit of the crisis. However, here I was, seeing him share his side of the story, and realizing at the same time that there were a variety of other factors that created the crisis, other factors that can even suggest that Jammeh himself was a victim! My takeaway was that there was insufficient room afforded to Jammeh to make a case for himself on the real occurrences of the crisis. Perhaps, the people of Gambia and their neighbors in the ECOWAS community were fed up with his presence which created an overwhelming effort to oust him at once.
Looking at the overall preceding of the Commission of Inquiry, I noticed that the phrase “to ensure the will of the people” was frequently used by nearly all of the testifiers. It prompted me to wonder if it was just a scapegoat or it simply surfaced how in a democracy, the will of the people could be interpreted differently by the various actors.
Editor’s Note: The Future Africa Fellowship is an 8-month learning experience that provides aspiring public sector leaders and social innovators with the knowledge, network and skills required to transform the African political economy. The Fellowship incorporates research, debate and rigorous analysis designed to empower Fellows to participate in developing implementable policy proposals for local, national and regional contexts. One of the case studies reviewed in the Fellowship was on the 2016/17 Gambian electoral crisis.
Takunda Ushe is Director of the Future Africa Ambassadors.
Ethiopia is at war within its own borders, Uganda is experiencing its worst unrest in years, and Nigeria is implementing a dishonourable campaign of retaliation against innocent citizens who dared to speak up for the right to not be killed indiscriminately. Once again, a leadership deficit threatens to destabilize our fragile democracies as we attempt to reconcile the past with the future. Military dictatorships and autocracies were characteristic of an era long gone when the voices of citizens were subordinate to the wills of strongmen. And even if those years were uncomfortable, they were deemed perhaps necessary in order to birth a future devoid of needless bloodshed.
There was a promise of a better tomorrow, the dawn of which appeared to arrive in Ethiopia in 2018 when the fresh-faced Abiy Ahmed manoeuvred through the murky political waters of Ethiopia to emerge as Prime Minister. For 30 years, Ethiopia had maintained a tricky balance in its ethno-regional political dynamic that relegated smaller voices to the background and allowed an imbalanced coalition to thrive. Surely, it was only a matter of time before the militarily agile Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) took over again in some form, but Abiy Ahmed had an ace up his sleeve. In a seemingly coordinated move, he disbanded the very coalition that brought him to power and presided over the launch of a new political party that eliminated the biggest threat to his dominance.
It appeared to be a masterstroke except that the TPLF was not going to fade away quietly. In a country that is as ethnically divided as it is distrusting of the other, the TPLF became an active volcano that could erupt without warning. And it did – after nearly two tenuous years of reported covert attacks, Abiy’s government delivered what became the death knell. In any ordinary nation, there would be some merit to the announced postponement of national elections in the midst of a global pandemic that had infected millions, but Ethiopia is no ordinary nation. This is a country that turns off the internet at will, kills journalists who are considered dissenters, and maintains one of the most sophisticated spy networks of any nation on earth. In Ethiopia, trust is premium. Therefore, there was no basis for the TPLF or any other group to assume that the postponement of elections was anything other than a ploy by Abiy Ahmed to illegitimately extend his government’s tenure. Chaos was inevitable.
So what should a Noble Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister do to stabilize a nation on the edge of conflict? What would be expected of a leader who presided over the calming of decades-long fraught relations between his nation and its closest neighbour, Eritrea? Anything but the deployment of the military within its own borders, you would say, but Ethiopia is not that simple to understand. Having traded words heavily and each party having accused the other of illegitimate actions bordering on treason, a Nobel Peace Prize was not going to be the answer. Uncommon leadership would be, yet it was not forthcoming.
Could Abiy have done more to prevent conflict? Could he have de-escalated tensions arising from the north with a recourse to dialogue over the blasts of rockets? Could he have governed in a more inclusive manner, so as to minimize the potential for a political eruption? As difficult as it might seem, the answer has to be yes. In politics, there must be no impossible situations for which the only recourse is conflict. That is the eternal burden of political leadership – setting aside all counter-arguments to pursue peace at all cost. But if Abiy would have followed this path, he would have found no role model in Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari.
The events leading up to the latest #EndSARS protests in Nigeria did not receive the widest attention, but they have gnawed for decades. Police brutality seems to be par for the course in most countries, but it takes a different dimension in Nigeria – an under-trained, under-resourced and under-motivated public security outfit collides with a disgruntled youthful generation determined to forge economic independence on its own terms in an underperforming economy caught in a global pandemic. Nigerians have never trusted the Police Force and decades of blind eyes turned by public leaders to the plight of the Police have done nothing to help. Policemen are left to fend for themselves from the proceeds of their daily street harassment campaigns, and that’s just how it goes. Equip a special tactical unit with the mandate to stop and search supposed criminals and you ignite a ticking bomb. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) had been an uncontainable menace for years, and their excesses only got worse by the day.
Allegations of harassment, extortion, rape and indiscriminate murder trailed its officers nationwide, so what should have been the response of the Buhari-led government in the wake of yet another round of protests by frustrated citizens? Empathy, you would say. There was the semblance of it for a minute when the disbandment of SARS was announced, but as in Ethiopia, trust in politicians comes at a premium in Nigeria. The longer the protests went on, the shorter the fuse burned in the corridors of power. In the blink of an eye, a curfew was announced, the military was deployed, innocent protesters were killed and the lies kicked in. The twists and turns in the public statements issued by the government of Lagos state, the leaders of the army and the incompetent federal ministers who addressed the media would confuse Sherlock Holmes, but the focus here is on President Buhari.
Could he have done more to calm tensions with protesting youth before the crisis escalated? Could he have vehemently addressed the excesses of police officers and committed to speedy reforms in a manner that demonstrated genuine empathy for citizens? Could he have spoken as the father of a nation when he belatedly took to television to commiserate primarily with the few police officers who had lost their lives? By demonstrating disdain for his people and launching a vendetta against the brave souls who dared to expose his administration’s failings to the world (including CNN), he appears to be following in the footsteps of a man who has ruled his own nation since just after Buhari’s military regime came to an end three and half decades ago. One could say that Major General Muhammadu Buhari who orchestrated the military coup that brought him to power in 1983 was an inspiration for Yoweri Museveni who did the same in Uganda in 1986, and now the favour has been returned.
Uganda under Museveni has descended dramatically from a seeming economic miracle to a place of terror for dissenters. Much has been documented about Museveni’s tactics of stifling free press, quashing opposition political movements and repeated constitutional amendments to guarantee his never-ending hold on power. After signing the 2017 Constitutional Amendment Bill that removed the age limit on eligibility for contesting the presidency, he effectively guaranteed that he could rule the country for the rest of his life. One of the people determined to forestall that possibility is popular musician turned parliamentarian, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu (known as Bobi Wine). Having suffered numerous arrests, physical torture and endless harassment by state security forces, Bobi Wine’s campaign for the presidency in 2021 has energized his base, sometimes beyond the boundaries of logic.
When Bobi Wine’s motorcade rolled into the streets of Luuka in eastern Uganda on Wednesday 19th November, it was decidedly igniting a violation of the government-imposed cap of 200 people at political rallies. With hundreds flocking after his vehicles while he raised a fist through the roof of his car, he appeared indomitable. That was until security forces swooped in and arrested him for the second time this month. The ensuing violence across the country has left more than 37 dead and several injured. It was only the latest turn in a political battle for the survival of democracy in Uganda.
However, while aggrieved citizens have argued that the cap on public gatherings is an attempt to stifle political opposition (and it may well be so), there is no justification for Bobi Wine’s refusal to encourage social distancing at his rallies. When people have been aggrieved for generations, it is understandable that defying public directives could be seen as an act of political liberation in itself, but the standards are higher for a person who aspires to the highest office. If Bobi Wine would one day lead Ugandans, he may well start shedding the toga of “ghetto president”, and demonstrate respect for public health guidelines. The stakes are higher now.
Africa’s leadership deficit has been the bane of our democratic progress to date, and it threatens to retain a stranglehold on our future. If Buhari and Museveni are guaranteed to not rule forever, could we look to Abiy Ahmed and Bobi Wine for better leadership? Could we expect that a new class of politicians would emerge who demonstrate not just competency in governance, but respect for human rights, care for the lowest class of citizens and decency in public dealings? Will there be a time when leaders do not indiscriminately mobilize the military against citizen uprisings as we have seen in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Uganda this month? Will there ever be an African leader who is skilled at de-escalating conflict? Will that day ever come?
You might have heard it said that politics is a dirty game; politics is for the corrupt; and nothing good ever came out of politics. Your parents may have drummed it up into your head as a young kid, or you may have picked it up by yourself, just scrolling through the headlines. You may have friends who are utterly brilliant and passionate about social change, but who will not move an inch towards the public sector. Or maybe that is you. Why do young brilliant Africans avoid politics altogether, and can that be changed?
Here are three reasons:
They do not know how it works.
This is perhaps the biggest problem of all. Growing up anywhere in Africa, you are socialized to equate political involvement with rowdy legislators, assassinated opponents, flouted rules and corrupt old men (and sometimes women). The image of politics has been so tainted that we perceive the whole system to revolve around crass electioneering campaigns and poor governance, with the same cycle repeating itself continually. But it is more than that. The true job of a government is to create an enabling environment for all citizens and entities to thrive. This is mostly achieved through legislation, policymaking and regulatory functions. Yes, all of these avenues are opportunities for corruption to happen, but there will be no incentive for corruption to end unless young brilliant (and ethical) Africans begin to approach the public sector with more determination.
2. They are consumed with the private sector.
Growing up, many people dreamed of achieving success in the private sector, primarily because the images of success that are promoted through the media are either those of entrepreneurs or corporate executives. At the very best, some of us dreamed of becoming “the president”, but we quickly abandoned those ideas in primary school and focused on pursuing corporate careers because…well, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey….you get the point. The more consumed we are with chasing corporate success, the less we are focused on that other massive aspect of our lives that needs fixing. Maybe we can do both?
3. They believe it is a long game with insufficient benefits.
This might be the trickiest to demystify. Looking at the current political climate in Africa, hardly any young person is thriving. It just does not look cut out for young, brilliant (and ethical) Africans. The space appears to be dominated by old folk who have access to all kinds of resources, so much so that a young person who was not born into a political family will be better off squashing their dreams of having any impact in the public sector.
Given these challenges, it is necessary to outline how our lives are affected by politics before imagining what a solution can be.
Firstly, public policy shapes the world of business. As much as we might see these two sectors as contradictory, with one being a haven from the other, they are actually more inter-twined than we want to admit. The key policy decisions that govern the operations of the private sector are decided by the public sector — tax policy, inflation rate, employment policy etc. The private sector is not so private after all.
Secondly, the private sector funds the public sector. All that money that politicians embezzle, much of actually comes from the private sector. Contrary to popular belief, governments do not generate employment — at best, they create the necessary enabling environment for private sector players to generate employment by creating new enterprises and growing existing ones. By getting more people employed and generating taxes through the productivity of those private sector players and the few functioning state-owned enterprises, governments are enriched to carry out their functions.
Thirdly, decisions made in the public sector affect everyday life. From transportation to healthcare, education to immigration, all the key decisions that govern everyday life are made by “those people” whom we are so desperate to avoid. How comfortable then are we, leaving the biggest decisions about our lives to people whom we will not trust with our personal finances or our family’s safety?
So, how can these change? What needs to happen for more young, brilliant (and ethical) Africans to consider public sector careers?
Take civic education mainstream.
The best civic education that most of us received might have been a module in primary school and nothing further since then. If children and young adults are not taught about the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship, and the necessary functions of the public sector to govern daily life, they will be left to pick up fragments of that information from mainstream media and social media. And there is such a critical role for the media to play — rather than simply reporting on poor performance of current leaders, media professionals can do a better job of educating citizens on how things should work. The more informed we are, the better choices we make.
2. Get more credible public sector leaders to write and speak about what they do.
Looking from a distance, it will be hard to imagine that anyone in politics is competent or moral. The voices of negativity have dominated our public spaces so much that it becomes nearly impossible to imagine that there are credible humans in the corridors of power. How to change that? Get more public sector leaders to write and speak about what they do. They may write columns in newspapers to explain the critical functions of governments and the individual roles that they play; or they may publish posts on their social media pages or blog on sites like Medium.com. The more images of credible leadership to which we are exposed, the greater the desire grows in young people. After all, that’s how we learned to admire Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
3. Democratize public sector internships.
This could be a true game changer. In the United States, university students are able to apply for internships to work at the US Congress, either as an assistant to a Senator or a Representative, or a member of their research team. And here’s the interesting part — they do not need to know anyone! Making public sector internships available and accessible creates a viable pipeline of future public sector leaders, or better informed citizens at the very least. There is nothing better than introducing young people to the core functions of a government early; the returns could last for a long time.
So what role will you play in shaping the future of the public sector in Africa?
The author, Faith Abiodun, is Executive Director of Future Africa
African nations need young leaders in their governments, therefore, African citizens should promote the presence, participation and representation of youth in the government. More importantly, African nations deserve leaders that are there to serve with ethical leadership for their communities to advance, instead of pursuing a financially self-enriching scheme. However, being a young African is not synonymous with ethical leadership, particularly because very few predecessors have set such an example to look up to.
From the recent leaders, it has been clear how leaders take advantage of their roles to make personal gains. Already, there exists the high levels of corruption across States. According to a survey commissioned by Transparency International and Afrobarometer, 58% of African citizens said that corruption increased in 2015 and ranked government leaders, government affiliated officials and judicial leaders as 42%, 33% and 34% corrupt respectively. Even though these percentages may appear low, it does not account for events of money siphoning by leaders. This practice has continued to increase with leaders taking more audacious leaps to acquire undeserved wealth from state funds without any shame. As African citizens continue to be applauded for practicing their democratic rights by deposing leaders that have overstayed their time in leadership positions, there is also a concerning underlying message that being deposed is still not effective.
Former Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh. Image Courtesy: Benoit Tessier/Reuters
In 2017, former Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh was voted out of office after 22 years in power, he left office with a supposed $50 million from national funds. At the end of his second term in 2013, Kenyan former President Mwai Kibaki self-approved a retirement plan that awarded him several benefits such as a pension package of $266,220 and a monthly income of $73,80. This may appear to be fair, until citizens realise that Kibaki had rejected a similar bill for other officials because of the extreme cost on Kenya’s Treasury. By the end of 2016, Kibaki’s monthly package increased by 15.6% forcing Kenyans taxpayers to pay more to accommodate this increased benefit, which is more than the salary of the incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Arguably, with the pressures that have arisen because of the high rate of youth unemployment across Africa, leaders such as Jammeh and Kibaki have presented governmental office as an avenue for personal money-making schemes. As a result, increased youth interaction with government affairs may appear positive, but to ensure that the intention behind such interaction is for the benefit of the community, citizens must continue to voice out such issues and hold all leaders accountable. One way to do this, is by demanding leaders running for elected office to demonstrate structures they have put in place to sustain themselves financially, and also prevent them from squandering national wealth. If any person pursuing office fails to provide such evidence, it is the citizens’ responsibility to guarantee they are not elected, through the same means that they have opposed of unethical and ineffective leaders. It is more than time for us to have actual leaders who serve the people and not those performing a pseudo-service in order to pursue profit.
Former Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki. Image Courtesy: AP
How are you holding your youth representatives accountable? What ways are you promoting ethical leadership? Do you believe in democracy?
Nteranya Arnold Sanginga is Director of Programs at Future Africa