I mentioned some time last year that 2009 will be a different year on this blog because I shall be featring guest writers to talk about different subjects, since this is a platform for debate and dialogue.
I would like to start this new approach by fussing in a good colleague of my, Kennedy Limwanya. He is an accomplished scribe for features. He writes the Television review column in the weekly Sunday Times of Zambia newspaper and has been a sports writer for the Times of Zambia newspaper in the past. He has done several other private jobs in writing, which he will share with us on one of those fine days in future. Therefore, I am confident that Mr Limwanya will give us some real food for debate.
In this article, Kennedy has been chronicling President Rupiah Banda's activities since he became Zambia's fourth President in October last year.
By KENNEDY LIMWANYA
"I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a New Deal for the American people," Franklin Delano Roosevelt told supporters in 1932 while accepting the United States presidential nomination.
When Roosevelt assumed office the following year, he initiated a number of reforms designed to stabilise an economically-depressed nation.
The New Deal (a phrase borrowed from the title of Stuart Chase's book A New Deal) represented a significant shift in the US's political and domestic policy, increasing federal government control over the economy and money supply, and intervening to control prices and agricultural production.
Ever since Roosevelt put the building blocks of the New Deal in place in his first 100 days in office, a president's first 100 days have been an indicator of what he is able to accomplish.
Within this brief spell, new presidents have a unique opportunity to put their imprint on history—a honeymoon period when the public gives them the benefit of the doubt.
During this period, presidents inevitably use up their stock of political capital as they spend it. They also gradually start to disappoint their friends and allies.
This gauge of a president's ability is standard measure even in any other aspect of life. Many times, people think that success is equivalent to years of hard work.
The truth is that one's goals can be measured in smaller increments.
The reason is that whatever one plans to do today, whether in privacy or in public, is likely to manifest within at least 90 days.
Success or failure can, therefore, be ably traced back to the actions taken 90 or 100 days before.
With this, it is not mere speculation that a president's course for the rest of the term can be predicted by simply taking a look at the performance within the first 100 days.
Yesterday, February 9, 2009, Zambian president Rupiah Banda has clocked his own 100 days since assuming office on November 2, 2008.
This article, therefore, looks back at some of the critical pronouncements, decisions and notable events of the 100 days so as to help judge President Banda's performance.
In so doing, it will be important to take note of the state of the global economy during the period under review.
At the time Mr Banda was being sworn in as Zambia's fourth president, the world economy was in a crisis on account of recession in advanced economies.
Global economic growth had slowed down to 2.5 per cent from 3.7 per cent in 2007, with commodity prices recording a sharp decline.
The price of copper, the mainstay of Zambia's economy accounting for nearly 80 per cent of the country's earnings, had plummeted to US$2,902 per tonne by the close of the year from $8, 985 in July, representing a 67.7 per cent fall.
These developments inevitably impacted negatively on Zambia's economy, affecting growth, inflation, the Kwacha exchange rate and terms of trade.
The inflation out-turn for 2008 was 16.6 per cent against the projected seven per cent because of the international oil and food crisis.
Food inflation stood at 20.5 per cent compared with 5.9 per cent in 2007 while the Kwacha had by December 2008 depreciated by 27.3 per cent against the US dollar.
All this considered, it goes without saying that, like US president Barack Obama, President Banda has assumed office at a difficult time only comparable to Roosevelt's own when he was elected at the time of The Great Depression.
Or it can be compared to the time Ronald Reagan became US president in 1981.
In his inaugural speech on January 20, 1981, Reagan said something that should encourage Zambians not to only wait upon the government for solutions to the current crisis.
"In this present economic crisis, government is not the solution to our problem," said Reagan, who himself got to the White House after the Iran hostage crisis, high oil prices, high inflation and low morale in the country.
Here now, is a catalogue of President Banda's first 100 days.
Day 1 (November 2, 2008): President Banda is sworn in by Chief Justice Ernest Sakala at the National Assembly buildings in Lusaka after edging his closest rival, opposition leader, Michael Sata, in a presidential by-election resulting from the death in office, of Zambia's third president, Levy Mwanawasa.
President Banda takes office at a time of soaring fuel and mealie meal prices, and a depressing slump of the Kwacha against other major currencies. Before a crowd including heads of State and government from neighbouring states, President Banda, in his unifying "President of all Zambians" speech, pledges to serve across the political and social divide as well as fight poverty among Zambians.
"For me, to be President is to be President of all Zambians . . . Today, I give up the title of acting President and take up the mantle of President of the Republic of Zambia. I will serve as President of all Zambians.
"This election will not divide us. It will unite us all in a common goal. We may be a country of many tribes, of many languages, different religions and of many colours, but never forget that we are one nation."
It is little wonder that President Banda's inauguration is attended by a mosaic of Zambian political and civil society leaders including former Zambian vice-president and founding president of the opposition Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD), Lieutenant-General Christon Tembo.
Others in attendance are another former Zambian vice-president Enoch Kavindele, and opposition leaders, Sakwiba Sikota of the United Liberal Party, United National Independence Party's Tilyenji Kaunda and Edith Nawakwi of the FDD. Also present are Zambia's founding president, Kenneth Kaunda, and his successor, Frederick Chiluba.
Four times, President Banda assures the Zambian people that he would be president of all Zambians and, in doing so, sets out his priority. "My priority will be to fight poverty . . . Poverty is demeaning and an unnecessary evil. I do not want people to think of Zambia as a Third World country with a begging bowl. I want to move from handouts to hand-ups. I want to empower all Zambians.
"I want people to think of Zambia as a prosperous and confident nation. We have a goal of making Zambia a middle-income nation by 2030."
Day 6 (November 7, 2008): Writes to the Speaker of the National Assembly, asking Parliament to reconsider the amended Emolument bills seeking to increase salaries and allowances for the president, ministers and deputy ministers, members of Parliament and other constitutional office holders. He explains that the bills are costly to the Government in their current form.
Day 13 (November 14, 2008): Holds his first presidential Press conference and names his first Cabinet, appointing eminent lawyer and Justice Minister, George Kunda as the new vice-president.
The appointment of the level-headed veteran of the Cabinet catches many by surprise as it does not tally with the speculation making rounds that Foreign Affairs minister, Kabinga Pande, Zambian ambassador to the United States, Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika, or businessman, Bwalya Chiti, would be the likely candidates for the number-two post.
It is an appointment that reassures the nation of the new president's commitment to heading a quality Cabinet and ensuring that the constitution-making process is expedited.
This appointment, and that of Finance and National Planning Minister Ng'andu Magande's replacement, Dr Situmbeko Musokotwane, augment President Banda's pledge to ensure good governance and strict fiscal discipline.
Dr Musokotwane is a former deputy governor of the Bank of Zambia, who once served as secretary to the Treasury, and as an economic advisor to the president.
The president's other notable appointments include those of former miner, Maxwell Mwale, to head the Mines ministry, articulate Lieutenant-General Ronnie Shikapwasha to head the Information ministry, and former health minister and workaholic, Brian Chituwo, to take over the agriculture portfolio.
He challenges his Cabinet and deputies to show determination in finding solutions to the global credit crunch! "We cannot sit idle. We need to find ways and forge ahead as a country. I need a team of men and women to face the challenges with me."
British High Commissioner to Zambia, Carolyn Davidson, praises President Banda's stance towards good governance and the fight against corruption, saying the president needs the support of everyone.
Earlier in the day, President Banda inaugurates the US$120 million Lafarge Cement Chilanga II plant and notes that the plant has come at a time when the construction industry is booming, with many residential and commercial properties being built.
"The inauguration of this project will, therefore, contribute to the expansion of our economy and enhance growth. With more cement on the market, the Government experts to see more work being done on the new and existing projects."
Day 16 (November 17, 2008): Mealie meal prices begin to come down from as high as K61,000 for a 25 kilogramme bag of breakfast to an average of K54,000.
Day 18 (November 19, 2008): In response to President Banda's request, Parliament scraps responsibility allowance for constitutional office holders and drastically reduces the special and utility allowances in the revised emolument bills.
Day 25 (November 26, 2008): Makes first foreign visit as president, with a trip to Nigeria where he meets that country's president Umaru Yar'Adua. Announces that a delegation of Nigerian business experts will visit Zambia to discuss agreements in various sectors of the economy to help reduce dependence on mining whose profits have gone south.
Day 32 (December 3, 2008): Fugitive former intelligence chief Xavier Chungu returns to Zambia after a four-year self-imposed exile and, in conformity to President Banda's commitment to fighting corruption, is detained for jumping bail while facing charges of theft by public servant and theft of motor vehicles.
-quick intervention by govt to mitigate effects of global crisis in mining sector...and active pursuit of replacement investors.
Day 41 (December 12, 2008): In the midst of the global financial crisis, Information Minister Ronnie Shikapwasha announces the Government's decision to withdraw from hosting the 2011 All-Africa Games, which would have cost the country more than K800 billion.
This is a tough decision by President Banda's government between the honour and pleasure of hosting the quadrennial pan-African games and the duty to provide food and social security to the citizens.
Day 42 (December 13, 2008): Rushes to Luanshya and holds a closed-door meeting with the Luanshya Copper Mines management, union leaders, senior district government officials, members of Parliament and ministry of Mines officials, as the mine stands on the brink of closure.
The miners are touched by the President's concern for the their welfare. Never before has a head of State acted so quickly and so practically in dealing with such a crisis. As pledged in the "President of all Zambians" speech, the efforts to find a solution include the involvement of the opposition Patriotic Front leadership in the district.
The Government's quick intervention to mitigate the effects of the global crisis on the mining sector and the active pursuit of replacement investors speaks volumes about Mr Banda's commitment to ensuring that people's jobs are protected while more are created.
Day 51 (December 22, 2008): In line with President Banda's pledge to reduce fuel prices, the Energy Regulation Board announces the reduction of pump prices by a significant margin of K1,786 for petrol and K1,166 for diesel.
This is the second reduction in three months that the prices have come down, the first having been in September when Mr Banda was acting republican president.
Never before has a government been so passionate about passing fuel cost-savings to the consumer in a bid to cut down on production costs since fuel is a major energy input in all sectors of the economy.
Day 53 (December 24, 2008): Mealie meal prices tumble further down to as low as K45,000 for a 25 kilogramme bag of breakfast and K35,000 for roller meal of the same quantity.
Day 57 (December 28, 2008): First Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda praises President Banda for delivering on his pre-election promises to reduce the prices of mealie meal, fuel, and other essential commodities.
Day 76 (January 16, 2009): Opens Parliament with a pledge to remain true to his pre-election promise of fighting poverty in the midst of a harsh global economic environment.
"In my inaugural address last November, I promised the people of Zambia that the main priority of my Government would be to fight poverty. Despite the global recession, that priority remains.
"In fact, I am cautiously confident in our ability to fight poverty. Zambia has faced difficult times before. By working together, we have overcome past problems. Our resolve in the face of the present crisis should be no different."
President Banda also sends warning to employers against using the global crisis as an excuse to lay off workers in a cynical attempt to cut costs and reduce overheads. "Any job losses should only come as a last resort; after consultation with trade unions and after thorough analysis of all the options available."
Day 90 (January 30, 2009): In the first national Budget presentation under President Banda's reign, Finance Minister Musokotwane announces the Government's intention to spend K15.3 trillion, with agriculture receiving K1.1 trillion in a 37 per cent increase from the K800.5 billion provided in 2008.
This tallies with the 2009 budget theme, "Enhancing growth through competitiveness and diversification" and lends credence to President Banda's desire to improve agricultural productivity in the wake of low copper prices on the international market.
Among the measures in the Budget is the zero-rating of tax on major agricultural implements for value added tax (VAT) and the manufacturing of windmills and maize hauliers to encourage local manufacture of the equipment.
Another fast growing key sector of the economy, Tourism, receives a gigantic boost with an injection of K77.6 billion from the K26 billion allocated in 2008. This is President Banda's recognition of the pivotal role of tourism in the diversification process.
As part of the cost reduction measures for the mining sector, the Government removes windfall tax, introduces an import deferment provision for cobalt concentrates for VAT purposes and proposes to reduce customs duty on heavy fuel oil from 30 to 15 per cent.
The Budget wins praise from the World Bank, the European Union, Food and Agriculture Organisation and local interest groups like the Zambia Association of Mines, Economics Association of Zambia, Zambia Consumer Association and the Chamber of Mines.
Day 91 (January 31, 2009): Attends his first African Union (AU) summit as head of State. The 12th ordinary session of the AU heads of state and government summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, calls for the lifting of sanctions on neighbouring Zimbabwe.
Day 94 (February 3, 2009): On the sidelines of the AU summit, meets World Bank vice-president for Africa, Obiageli Ezekweli, International Monetary Fund officials and British minister of Africa and Asia, Lord Malloch-Brown.
Mrs Ezekwesili holds tele-conference, commending Zambia for remaining focused in the wake of the global economic meltdown and pledges to provide budgetary support to help cushion the problems emanating from the recession.
Zambia and other countries to be assisted under a US$42 billion financial package for 2009.
"It was the first time I met President Banda and I commended him over his peaceful election. It is clear that the Government is focussed on the challenges ahead," says Mrs Ezekwesili.
On the same day: In response to President Banda's offer of an olive branch in his inaugural speech and at other fora, opposition UPND president Hakainde Hichilema announces that he is to meet the head of State to discuss various issues affecting the country.
Mr Hichilema's action is apparently indicative of the trust he has in President Banda's offer of dialogue which PF leader Michael Sata also ought to accept for the sake of the nation.
Day 98 (December 7, 2009): In a show of confidence in President Banda's leadership qualities, the national executive committee of the ruling MMD elects him as acting party president until the convention is held.
Day 100 (February 9, 2009): reads in the Times of Zambia an article chronicling his undoubtedly, successful first 100 days in office, 10 days before celebrating his 72nd birthday anniversary on Thursday, February 19, 2009.
It has been a challenging hundred days in which President Banda has shown the maturity characteristic of him by not responding to blatant and malicious attacks by critics, and has not, as they had predicted, victimised them.
President Banda can now look back at his first 100 days with pride and draw sufficient inspiration for the challenges ahead.