Food shortages, declining economy led to rise of strong opposition – Magande

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Ng’andu Magande

Shortages of essential commodities including food sparked riots in the capital, Lusaka with people dying, says former Minister of Finance Ng’andu Peter Magande.

In one of the excepts of his book From the Depth of My Footprints, Magande says the food shortage riots instigated by University of Zambia made people think of an alternative as the then Kenneth Kaunda’s one-party state socialism had failed the economy.

Below is Mr Magande’s writeup on this topic:

“The revival and challenges of multi-party system in Zambia.
In 1973, under an agreement signed between President Kaunda and Harry Nkumbula in Choma, Zambia became a one-party state, with UNIP the only registered legal party. The pact brought some peace amongst party cadres, who had engaged in violent confrontations. In enjoyment of the democratic rights that came with the country’s independence in 1964, Zambians continued to vote for the president and the members of parliament during the One-Party Participatory Democracy period.
Traditionally, one-party states cultivate cults of personalities under which leaders are revered as demigods by the followers. In Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, the only presidential candidate was pitted against an animal instead of a human being during elections. We were given a choice between KK and a frog or a hyena. With so many hyenas in the numerous game parks in Zambia, it was inconceivable, as to which hyena would have occupied State House had KK lost the elections.
As populations increased, many socialist governments, including that of Zambia, failed to satisfactorily apply the socialist/communist principle of, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. Production and productivity were getting less as the state was not allowing citizens to fully exploit their personal abilities. In many socialist countries, intellectuals and innovators were persecuted and management of the state enterprises was placed in the hands of party cadres.
In Zambia, UNIP’s monopoly and poor governance, food shortages, and a general economic decline led to the sudden rise of a vibrant opposition movement. The economic situation deteriorated fast after the failure of the 1987 ‘Growth from Our Own Resources’ development plan. The Zambian Government, once more, turned to the international community for assistance to revive the collapsed economy. With harsher conditions imposed by the Bretton Woods Institutions and donor community, it was not possible for the Zambian Government to continue with socialist economic management.
By the end of 1989, there were world-wide demonstrations against the socialist and communist establishments in preference to nationalism and liberalism. This movement galvanized a spirit of courageous defiance to one-party rule all over the world.
Due to the agitation within UNIP, the Fifth National Convention of the Party was held in March 1990 at the Mulungushi Conference Centre, to review and consider the rising tide of resistance to the one-party state and the democratization of party management. This turned out to be a good opportunity for the ‘Young Turks’ to express themselves on the topical political issues. The fighting spirits of the young turks and others opposed to KK’s rule were fired up by the visit of Nelson Mandela a.k. Madiba, on 27 February 1990 after his release from twenty-seven years of imprisonment.


VJ Mwaanga

Sikota Wina

Amongst the UNIP rebels were Alexander Chikwanda, Vernon Mwaanga, Sikota Wina, and Fredrick Hapunda who issued a written statement at the March 1990 convention on the unsatisfactory state of the management of both the Party and the Government. They openly called for the reform of the organization of UNIP and the abandonment of the one-party system. I was privileged to be briefed on some economic aspects of the written manifesto before it was delivered at the convention.
After presenting their views, the group stormed out of the convention as there seemed to be no consideration to acknowledge or accommodate their recommendations. This was an open internal rebellion within the UNIP and was unprecedented. However, these progressive voices were met by strong resistance and violence fanned by those who shouted, “Kumuulu Lesa, Pansi Kaunda”, meaning “In heaven God, on earth Kaunda”. The zealots of the One-Party system regarded KK as equivalent to God on earth.
On 19 June 1990, Prime Minister Malimba Masheke announced the removal of subsidies on maize meal, one of the conditions under the IMF program. The ensuing high food prices led to riots in Lusaka City Centre instigated by students from the University of Zambia. The proclaimed free health and education systems had broken down due to a lack of adequate resources.
In spite of the high prices for ordinary commodities, many were not readily available and one had to be on the lookout for any queue in town. Many people, especially from rural areas joined queues in the hope that they were for some rare commodity. After spending hours in the queue, they’d sadly discover that the queue was for the viewing of a corpse. As per Zambian funeral traditions, they filed past the dead bodies of strangers and made another trip the following day to hunt for the evasive essential commodities.
UNIP youths usually invaded the state shops as early as 04.00 hours in the morning and aided by frightened shop managers, bought all the essential commodities. They then sold these just outside the shops at very high prices in spite of the Government price control policy. I was fortunate to have a friend, who owned a grocery store in town. He alerted me whenever he managed to get some essential commodities for his shop.
Whenever an opportunity arose for me to make a foreign trip, I came back with additional tablets of soap and packets of sugar to share with customs officers at the airport and family friends. Socialism, which we extolled in our economics lessons at UNZA and the peaceful one-party state, had failed and life was not easy for the ordinary Zambians.
The Economics Association of Zambia (EAZ) used to hold monthly meetings open to members and the general public at the Pamodzi Hotel. I was a prominent member of the EAZ having participated in its evolution from 1981 when it was called the Economics Club housed at the UNZA Economics Department. I participated fully in the discussions sharing valuable information I had accumulated from the various organizations I had managed in the economy during twenty years of public service. The discussions at these monthly meetings always veered onto the state of the economy and the failure of socialist policies.
At a meeting held in early June 1990 at the Pamodzi Hotel, the discussions and mood were defiant and highly charged. A rumour filtered through that state agents were organizing to disrupt the meeting and arrest the attendants. We decided to move our meeting out into the car park to continue the discussions so that it would be easy for us to scamper when confronted.
It was at that meeting that a decision was made to invite selected Zambians to a special meeting to form an opposition movement. Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika, Chairman of the EAZ, invoked by the gene of his fearless father Godwin Mbikusita-Lewanika, the founding president of the African National Congress, sacrificed to convene such a meeting. He offered to contact prominent citizens to invite them to the meeting to be held in Livingstone Town in the Southern Province.
The EAZ organizers of the meeting of the opposition activists had difficulties in raising funds, especially since at the time, it was risky for any businessman to be seen to be associated with the emerging opposition groups. While agonizing on the financing of the meeting, Theo and Mutumba Bull, the proprietors of the Garden House Motel along the Mumbwa Road offered their premises as a venue”, from “The Depth of My Footprints”.


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