SOME bars and nightclubs are shut across Zambia Sunday as the country prays and fasts for its currency, the kwacha, to reverse its sharp nosedive and for copper prices to stop tanking, as the economy slides into crisis.
This follows a call for a national day of devotion by President Edgar Lungu. (READ: Lord Almighty: Lungu calls day of prayer and fasting, for God to save bleeding kwacha).
The kwacha has fallen 45% against the US dollar so far in 2015, making it the worst-performing currency in the world.
Zambia is Africa’s second-largest producer of the metal, and it exports make up 70% of government revenues. Prices of the metal have slipped by 20% over the past 12 months due to falling demand — particularly in China, Zambia’s largest trading partner.
Even some ordinary Zambians are talking in hyperbolic and apocalyptic terms about the economy; “These days are like the last days,” Gordon Chanda, a driver for a law firm , said as he sipped a Mosi beer at Sylvia’s Comfort bar, taking cover from a heat wave that hit the capital, Lusaka, this week. “We need more prayers.”
The secular voices and the opposition have mocked and lampooned Lungu.
“No matter how many prayers you make it doesn’t change the fact that you have a fiscal deficit and you’re not doing anything to reduce that fiscal deficit,” Trevor Simumba, managing director at Sub-Saharan Consulting Group Zambia, a business advisory firm, told Bloomberg by phone from Lusaka. “We know God can do miracles, but He cannot change things that are facts on the ground.”
The vice-president for political affairs of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) Canisius Banda, was more cutting.
The Post of Zambia quoted Banda saying the PF’s [ruling Patriotic Front] failure to manage the economy is embarrassing and annoying. “Our Father, God, advises us that where there is no vision, people perish. This is exactly what is happening in Zambia today. Faced with this crisis, instead of giving citizens hope, the PF is taking it away.
“They are saying that only God can solve Zambia’s problems, as if this is what is happening in Botswana, Singapore or Norway where prosperity has come to stay and is growing life expectancy. What is also shocking is that despite stating that only God can solve our problems, President Edgar Lungu and his Cabinet ministers keep turning up for work as if they were God. Let them stay at home and let God work,” he said.
“The PF’s rule is a serious danger to the lives of Zambians… That they are taking Zambia to Gehenna is evident”, he said. “Everyone can borrow. But not everyone can use borrowed money wisely. This is the sad story of the PF…”
But the Zambian president has his supporters. And a leading is a man of the cloth.
Bishop Joe Imakando of the Bread of Life International Church, cast his lot with the Lungu, arguing that where the Zambian economy had reached, it needed to be taken upstairs; “The depreciation of the kwacha against the dollar has resulted in prices escalating by 30% to 100%,” Imakando said in a statement on the church’s website.
“Efforts by government to reverse the situation have not yielded any fruit. The impending increase on fuel will cause yet another price escalation, which will further complicate matters. What we need is divine intervention!”
Just as God doesn’t wreck economies, he can’t put them together when they are broken. After all, the good book says God helps those who help themselves. So Lungu and his government have to do the heavy lifting, before the Lord adds His hand, if at all.
Moroccan Muslims perform Salat al Eid prayers at an empty area near the Hay al Inbiaas Mosque in Sale. (Photo/Jalal Morchidi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images).
That said, at least six unintended positive things can still come to Zambia’s - and other troubled economies - economy out of the unscientific belief that the Almighty or Allah can salvage it. Call it the “prayer halo effect”:
1. The call to God is acknowledgement of human limits, so perhaps Lungu and his people are likely to be less cocky about solutions, and therefore more deliberative. Africa’s bane is leaders who know no limits, and therefore are incapable of the humiliation of asking for help from others more knowledgeable than them.
2. Dropping economic problems at God’s doorstep, strangely, democratises the crisis, and tells a country that each citizen can do something about it – since they can all pray. Maybe they will be moved to their taxes, or not ask or pay bribes, which are all good for business and increase government revenues.
3. If God “answers” the prayers, then there is more likely to be popular buy-in into the solutions, and patience for divinely-bestowed policies to work. Therefore no riots over the cost of bread or flour. God, after all, is bipartisan.
4. If you believe that Allah will sort things out, you are less likely to slip into despair, and will be hopeful that salvation is coming tomorrow. You are likely to go on spending as you were doing, and not hide your money under the mattress and become a Doomsday prepper. Consumer spending and positive sentiment are good for the economy.
5. Any time the politicians and officials have their hands clasped praying to God away in a church, shrine, or mosque somewhere, is time they are not sticking those hands in the Treasury, signing away crooked contracts, or writing up orders to print more money. It’s really a question of who you would rather occupied their hands - God or the Devil?
6. The good Lord forgives sinners who repent, and abandon their evil ways. But sometimes he also sows wrath, punishing those who have fallen short of his grace. Which means, for Lungu, the people might be duty bound to punish him as is the Lord’s wish by kicking him out of power at the next election - as Zambians are won’t to do.
You don’t steal God’s votes, and if you are a good Christian or Muslim, you will accept your punishment. Recipe for an honest election in Zambia in September 2016?