Tuesday January 01, 2008 [03:00]
WE agree with President Levy Mwanawasa when he says that on the basis of the macro-economic statistics so far, some head start has been made towards economic development and poverty eradication. As the Chinese philosopher, Lao-tzu tells us, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We cannot deny that a few things here and there have been put in place by the government in a bid to fight poverty and in order to reduce the intolerable levels of inequality which exist in the country.
However, like many observers have repeatedly said, poverty is not about positive economic spreadsheets alone. It is about reality. Poverty is about hunger, shelter, sickness, unemployment and social services such as education. If many of our people still can not afford a decent meal, we would be mocking the hungry by telling the nation that the economy has improved by 6.2 per cent. And when the poor say they are not going to eat figures, that is exactly what they mean because they know the face of hunger as it is a phenomenon they meet squarely on a daily basis.
So, as we sit comfortably in our swing-chairs in our air-conditioned offices and descend into dogmatic mantras and theories about poverty and underdevelopment, we should be aware that there are a lot of Zambians who know poverty not by meaningless nomenclatures or some other vague language codes, but through their daily encounter with it. Those affected by poverty know it through hunger, lack of medicines in hospitals, through failure to send their children to school and through lack of jobs. And nobody - regardless of their scholarly refinement or ideological positioning - can better define poverty to the poor than they can themselves.
And when people say the poor are angry about their state of affairs, one may wonder and pose the question: "Angry at who?" Well, it is a difficult question, especially in a world where we have 'positive' or motivational speakers who tell us that being poor is a choice because we all have an opportunity to do something about our situation and that as long as we do A,B,C and D, then we can see ourselves at the top of the social ladder.
Second, it is assumed that in many democratic societies like ours, every citizen has a role to play in terms of the destiny of their society and they can, for instance, choose or recall leaders as and when they deem it fit. And that every citizen should have a say in whatever happens in their society, be it in the economic, political, social or cultural spheres.
However, things do not usually work out as they sound idealistically. In addressing poverty, there are many factors and variables we need to consider. In addressing poverty, we also have to look at the material conditions that exist.
For instance, if the material conditions are historically designed in order to perpetuate inequality between one set of people and another, no amount of motivational speeches will alter the balance in favour of the poor or the historically disadvantaged. For example, if there is abhorrent inefficiency, chronic corruption, severe nepotism and all other superlative-laced isms in our government system, there is very little to be expected by the disadvantaged or poor from such a system insofar as their economic emancipation is concerned because such a system only works to self-replicate or to self-reproduce so that the status quo is maintained.
In short, what we are saying is that much as we do not expect the poor to sit idly and hope for manna to fall from heaven, those in leadership of the country should create conditions necessary for the ability of people to progress upwards in many ways of their lives. Yes, we are alive to the fact that nobody holds the monopoly of wisdom in terms of finding answers to the historical question of poverty and underdevelopment.
However, what we are saying is that the government should also be seen as trying to remove the contradictions that exist everywhere so that its conduct does not provide an opportunity for one set of people to perpetually stand in an advantageous position while the rest of the majority of the people are deeply steeped in the painful jaws of poverty.
Let those who are charged with the responsibility of governing not deliberately create conditions that make poverty an endemic phenomenon and make it look like it is an insurmountable challenge. As Charles Darwin says, if the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin! So that is the message to those in the government. Great is your sin if poverty will be caused by the conditions you create for the people.
It is unacceptable that while the majority of the poor and hungry Zambians lie frozen to death, a small section of wealthy Zambians should have food rotting behind their gates, especially when it is possible for the government to create conditions for equal, fair and just distribution of our resources.
We therefore urge the government to consider poverty the number one enemy of the people of this country and demonstrate through pragmatism that it is capable of eradicating poverty, especially by starting to eliminate the long list of man-made contradictions and vices - such as corruption, inefficiency, nepotism - that work to perpetuate the misery of the majority of the Zambian people. This is urgent because we are all agreed that poverty is the wildest enemy which we need to combat ourselves against.