NO RESPONSIBLE donor will put money in a country like ours which has muzzled independent media, says Professor Oliver Saasa.
Prof Saasa said in an interview that he did not expect enthusiasm from donors to fund Zambia if the independent media was not opened.
“I do not expect much enthusiasm from the likes of the multilaterals and bilaterals if we do not open up the independent media, because they are the ones that make the government accountable; more so in Zambia now, with the electoral outcome where democracy was lost,” Prof Saasa said.
“No responsible donor will put money in a country like ours which has muzzled independent media; it has completely taken away freedom of the press, speech and association.”
He observed that it was difficult to extend aid to Zambia because of governance challenges.
“It is difficult to extend aid in a country like Zambia where you have challenges of governance. Of course you will find countries that don’t mind, so they will always go for the soft targets, but the likes of the IMF, the World Bank…right now we are expecting the IMF to come in,” Prof Saasa said. “The IMF has expectations; many of them are already communicated. They have talked to civil society, government, media, so that they get an idea of what is going on. If you fail to adhere to the expectations of the IMF, the money is not disbursed until you have met certain parameters. In worst cases, you will end up blaming IMF for being nasty to Zambia when in fact they would have done nothing. And there is no such thing as the IMF programme; what we have is a government programme supported by the IMF. And the toughness of the conditions are in line with the transgressions you committed before.”
He said democracy could not thrive based on inaccurate information.
“Democracy cannot thrive if it is based on inaccurate information or insufficient information to make informed decisions. So if you cripple that conduit that provides critical information, which includes the media, a free media…a media that has the ability to analyse issues, then the electorate will have no capacity to demand of their leaders what is appropriate,” Prof Saasa advised.
“Independent media is the most important as opposed to government media, because government media is generally expected to be a mouthpiece of the government. You have to realise that a free media is so important, not only in terms of meeting the expectations of the people but for informing even government to take corrective action. Because there is no decision that can be made that can be considered to be informed if it is based on insufficient information of the various options, and that is where the media comes in.”
He said the independent media must not be expected to toe the line of the party in power.
“The media may be actually not be toeing the line of the party in power. It may actually intend to remove you from power because it is a democracy, they also have their interest. They cannot be neutral and you have to know that that lack of neutrality is what constitutes democracy, because democracy is about contestation. It is not really that you hate those in power,” Prof Saasa said.
He said no one could boast of having a democracy when they had removed an essential part of what constitutes it – an independent press.
“Immediately you start muzzling the press, especially the independent press, you actually completely forgo everything that is supposed to take place in a democracy, you actually deny yourself an opportunity to be able to get information that is so vital to inform your decision making. And that information will only come from the people who are the bosses. They must be allowed to express themselves. Even normal human life, it is impossible to have people with different DNAs to think alike, it is not possible. Even in homes, as husband and wife, where you find they are always agreeing on things, it means that only one is doing the thinking. It is that richness of differences which constitutes democracy,” Prof Saasa said.
“We can’t say we have a democracy when you have removed a very important ingredient, you have removed a very important ingredient that can allow people to make informed decisions, both in terms of the demand by the electorate to their leaders, and also the quality of decisions of those in power.
Now can you get aid with such going on?”
He noted that the opposition had been weakened.
“Because there is no opposition now; immediately UPND shuts up, you look at the others, even those who were vocal, if you listen to them now, their language has changed because everyone is lining their pockets. We are no longer hearing voices of people that used to talk. There will be nobody in the political sphere that will hold the government accountable. In a dispensation like that, opposition, de facto, have to be the likes of the independent press, the unions, civil society, that have to call government to account. Opposition politics is almost as good as dead if you ask me, opposition politics in Zambia and a very important element of democracy is dead,” Prof Saasa said.
He said donors did not support undemocratic states.
“So when it comes to bilateral donors, they will tell you that our system is democratic, the people that give you money, it is taxpayers money by the way where it comes from, they adhere to certain principles. So we will be wrong to extend aid when our masters, the people, demand actually that they do not support undemocratic systems. So governments in Europe, Britain, America, name it, would not in fact abrogate the expectations of the electorate if they deny us aid because for them, government, through the parliament, would allocate a percentage in the budget going to aid. And it comes with very clear conditions that do not support rogue states; do not support terrorist states, do not support undemocratic states, otherwise you will be fattening the pockets of individual politicians,” said Prof Saasa.