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About Graphs: Why the Controversy

By Sean Tembo – PeP President

1. During his press conference held on 19th May 2023, President Hakainde Hichilema decided to use a graph to depict the trend in Zambia’s real gross domestic product (GDP) over the years, since independence in 1964. The President used the graph to try and argue that whereas GDP fluctuated from growth (positive) to decline (negative) during the tenure of all his six predecessors, it was on a constant growth path under his tenure. I must admit that l found the President’s argument in this regard rather mischievous, for a number of reasons which l will explain below.

2. Firstly, anyone who did a macroeconomics course during their tertiary education is familiar with the concept of economic cycles. This concept simply illustrates the fact that any economy will generally be characterized by peaks and troughs. Meaning that periods of economic growth will soon be followed by periods of economic decline which will soon be followed by periods of economic growth again, and so on and so forth. Of course that does not mean sound economic management has no role to play, it does. However, the role or objective of sound economic management is merely to prolong the peaks and minimize the troughs.

3. In presenting his graph, the President divided the timeline into four components representing the four political parties that have run the affairs of this nation since independence, being UNIP, MMD, PF and the current UPND. He also color-coded the timelines on the graph accordingly, attaching black to UNIP, blue to MMD, green to PF and red to UPND. He then went on to point out that during the UNIP, MMD and PF administrations, the economy was not on a constant growth path but was fluctuating between growth and decline, but under his UPND administration, it is on a constant growth path.

4. The President’s graph was mischievous because his administration has not been in office long enough to complete a full economic cycle whereas UNIP was in office for 27 years, MMD for 20 years and PF for 10 years, compared to UPND which has been in office for one year and some months. Therefore, President Hakainde Hichilema’s assertion that he is a better economic manager than all of Zambia’s past six Presidents is patently false. Equally, his graph is inherently flawed in more ways than one. Besides, GDP growth by itself is not an accurate measure of the economic wellbeing of citizens.

5. If the President honestly wanted to illustrate a trend in the economic wellbeing of the Zambian people since independence, he should have used Per Capita GDP, which by the way significantly declined in 2022, which is the first full year in which he managed the economic affairs of the nation. But just to put things in perspective, our Per Capita GDP has been systematically declining since independence. That means the Zambian people were economically better off under colonial rule than they were under UNIP, and much better off under UNIP than they were under MMD, and much better off under MMD than they were under PF, and much better off under PF than they are today under UPND. These are economic facts that are unadulterated by politics.

6. Therefore, l agree with Father Salangeta, the Catholic Priest when he said the people cannot eat that graph. Indeed, there are some economic graphs that represent food on the table for citizens, but that one presented by President Hakainde Hichilema is not one of them. That one is not even an economic graph, it is merely a boasting graph prepared and presented by a President who is too eager to be rated as the best President Zambia ever had since independence. I am not saying President Hakainde Hichilema cannot attain such a feat, he can. But it will require more of hard work, patriotism, competence and focus, and less of premature boasting, intolerance and preparing bogus graphs.

7. Another matter that sent a shiver down my spine is the venom with which the President responded to Father Salangeta. The good priest did not insult or demean the President in any way. He merely expressed the plight of his poverty-stricken congregants like any good community leader should. So for the President to respond by implying that the priest is illiterate and should go back to school, was unnecessarily harsh, especially coming from the Head of State. By virtue of being President, Mr. Hakainde Hichilema must understand that he is a father to all of us regardless of his age. And a good father should be tolerant to the cries of his children.

8. Lastly, the President should work on the issue of honesty and integrity in his engagement with the Zambian people. His insatiable appetite for self-praise seems to be driving him into concocting falsities that would portray him in good light to the Zambian people. He seems to be very eager to deliver good news to the people, which in itself is not a bad thing, except for the fact that his actions are often incapable of creating good news, so he ends up fabricating the good news, which of course eventually unravels and paints him as a joker in the eyes of the public. Examples in this regard are many, including the China soya beans deal, bogus graphs, Elon Musk Starlink Internet etcetera. My take is that the President knows that his lies will eventually be exposed and that he will be subjected to public ridicule once they are, but he nonetheless goes ahead and presents fabricated success to the people, just so that he can enjoy a moment of praise, even though the praise is shortlived and is soon replaced with ridicule. He is like a cocaine addict who plunges a needle into their veins, for a temporary high, even though they know that the “high” will not last long and will soon be replaced with pain and suffering. Am sure psychologists have a name for what President Hakainde Hichilema suffers from. But l would like to call it Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD.