Mar 26, 2010

Open Letter to First Lady Thandiwe Banda

Madam First Lady, you hold one of the highest profile positions in Zambia’s government, and this is indeed a position of honour. With it comes great responsibility; which I am sure you already know. Your husband’s election came at a very tenuous time with the ongoing global economic crisis coupled with the fact that despite economic gains more than 7.6 million people out of Zambia's estimated total population of 12 million people are still wallowing in poverty.
It has been interesting following your husband’s presidency over the last year. He has been criticised by many for being out of touch with the Zambian people, and for not delivering on his campaign promises to improve the lives of Zambians. It is within this context that I write this message.

Being a first lady is not about being arm candy anymore

Gone are the days were the expectation for a first lady was to simply act as a hostess, and ribbon cutter at charity events. We're seeing remarkable evidence of what can happen when men and women partner together – the current U.S. president and his wife Michelle being a wonderful example. Michelle Obama transcends the moniker of being a fashion icon and has set her own mandate to fight childhood obesity through the Let’s Move campaign. This movement has partnered with community leaders, doctors, educators, and parents nationally to tackle the challenge.

Madam Banda, I have seen you call attention to the issues of child abuse and the empowerment of women in Zambia, and yet very few tangible efforts follow. It is not enough to speak at catered lunches and dinners, and think that’s the end of your involvement. Why are you not using your position to garner pressure to strengthen our laws to protect children from predators, or even working with the education ministry to improve the levels of school attendance for girls in both rural and urban areas?

Do not rely on International NGOs or foreign diplomats to do work that can be done for Zambians by Zambians

It is irresponsible and shortsighted to constantly seek help from outsiders to “provide assistance to various initiatives aimed at helping the underprivileged people in society”. Do not buy into the mindset that real and effective solutions always come from outside – many times they are homegrown. You do not have to look far to find men and women who would prove advice and guidance on these issues. Tap into the talent available locally and in the Diaspora. Zambians have been sidelined for too long in issues that affect us, and this has negatively affect our psyche, but with these gestures much can achieved and we will take ownership of our success and failures as they come.

Speak up for society’s forgotten people

In the last few months many areas of Lusaka have been affected by flooding resulting in the loss of life and property. A disproportionate number of the people affected are inhabitants of the ‘informal’ settlements which surround our cities. These unplanned and unserviced settlements have no proper drainage or sanitation, and are rife with diseases such as cholera and dysentery which are exacerbated during the now annual flood season.

Their lives have value too, and someone needs to speak up for them. Where is the push to provide safe and affordable housing? Local authorities have sat back for too long, turning a blind eye to the plight of these Zambians and someone needs to step up and lead the movement towards change.

Madam First Lady show us what it means to be an empowered woman by standing up to the injustices that exist in our society. There are many issues that need attention, and it would be naive to expect you to tackle them all, but Madam pick one and make your time in the State House noteworthy. You hold a position of almost limitless possibilities; hold our government, corporations, and civic community accountable to their promises.

2 comments:

Well said. Yesterday, as i was going gome, i was disgusted at the poor drainage system we have, especially along the kafue road. The trenches are filled with green, dirty water, surrounded by rubbish. There are "dams" my dear, created by the rains, full of rubbish around them and people were even fishing.
People in communities have a responsibilty to keep their environment clean, we need to team up with government, to ensure there are bins to properly dispose of our rubbish. Even with, the bins available, we need to be disciplined enough to dispose of our rubbish appropriately. this will greatly reduce the transmission of diseases .We too are partly to blame.

Mildred, I agree with you. The residents of those 'settlements' should take responsibility for upholding sanitary conditions. It is not okay to throw refuse a few minutes from where you draw water, and cook your food. And fishing in stagnant water, when will we learn?

With that said, our central and local governments have been very short sighted, and have done little to provide affordable housing for the thousands of people that have moved into urban areas in pursuit of a new life. Those housing conditions are deplorable and we should be ashamed to let people live like that.

You're right in that there should be some sort of public/private partnership to address these issues. If not, nothing will happen and things will remain as is, or worsen.

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