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Economy dialogue should drive indaba

ECONOMICS Association of Zambia (EAZ) president Lubinda Haabazoka oftentimes tells it as it is. This has not always endeared him well with some sections of the public. But be that as it may, he has often shown courage by taking positions that are sometimes contradictory to popular public opinion.
But rather than dismiss his views at face value, perhaps the public should start giving him more attention. This includes his fellow economists. No doubt, in his short stint as EAZ president, Mr Haabazoka has brought more visibility to the association, which was formed in 1986 by mostly economists from the University of Zambia (UNZA) and members of the former Economics Club of Lusaka.
One of the objectives of EAZ was to widen the economic and development debate beyond the confines of the university by engaging the public.
Like it or not, EAZ has not always played its rightful role in the Third Republic. Yet, this is an association that played a pivotal role in the return to multi-party democracy from the one-party participatory democracy.
EAZ identified the labour movement under the uncompromising leadership of the late President Frederick Chiluba, who was Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) chairman, as a key constituency. It is actually the lectures and presentations by members of EAZ at various fora that opened the labour movement to large issues, including that of democracy and governance.
When Akashambatwa Mbikusita- Lewanika, the founding interim national secretary of the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD), became chairman of EAZ, he led the association to convening the famous Garden House meeting in 1990.
This was a watershed moment for the country.
Aka, who relinquished his position as chairman to protect the association’s professional integrity, is one of the many members of EAZ who went on to take political positions in the muti-party movement and subsequently government.
But since then, the EAZ has been a rather passive participant in the affairs of the country.
It is therefore good to see that under Dr Haabazoka, the EAZ is once again vibrant and contributing to national discourse.
The latest contribution has to do with the much talked-about political dialogue among political parties in the country.
Dr Haabazoka argues that Zambia should focus more on transforming the country into a prosperous middle-income country by 2030 instead of political dialogue. He believes that while reconciliation talks are important in every country, they should not overshadow economic development that will enable the country to attain Vision 2030 objectives.
He certainly has a point, and a valid one for that matter.
Yes, political differences are certainly there and the need for constant dialogue cannot be over-emphasised. Still, in a democracy such as ours, differences can always be expected and should be normal.
It is the reason why political dialogue should not take centre stage. There are bigger wars to be fought by this country, and uplifting people’s living standards should be one of them. Perhaps that should be the discourse – improving the economic situation of our people. Access to health, access to education, access to information communication technology, creating employment opportunities and the like should pre-occupy us.
It does not matter which political party is in power as long as it is working to improve the living standards of our people.
Like the towering Chinese leader Deng Xiaopong, who ended that country’s isolation and built an economic powerhouse, famously said, we should not care so much whether the colour of the cat is white or black as long as it can catch mice.
In our case, the mouse is poverty. Getting our people out of poverty is more important than solving political differences.
Like Dr Haabazoka observes, we are not coming from war to put everything on standstill so that we solve our political differences.