/ 20 September 2023

It’s the economy, stupid?

Eskom Nersa22
Johannesburg is submerged in darkness during load-shedding . (AFP)

In 1992, when Bill Clinton was running for elections as a candidate for the presidency of the US. His presidential campaign strategist came up with three points for all the team members, workers, and volunteers to remember as they go out to campaign for this virtually unknown candidate from the rural state of Arkansas. 

The following were the punch line — hung up in Bill Clinton’s Little Rock headquarters by James Carville for campaign workers to keep in mind: Number 1; change vs. more of the same, number 2; the economy, stupid. And number 3; don’t forget health care. These three issues were very crucial in the US presidential elections of 1992. 

The incumbent President George W. H. Bush had many challenges at the time with a low approval rating by August of the same year. Evidently, the major issue was the economy, which was in recession and Bush seemed clueless on how to stop the bleeding. 

Hence, out of all the three points, the second stood out and stuck not only with the workers of the Clinton campaign but went on to become the de facto slogan for candidate Bill Clinton. And before long, the political culture in America was taken by storm by this simple yet profound statement, which people began to say with a twisted version of “It’s the economy, stupid”. 

A phrase like no other, but yet a timely message for the season that fuelled Clinton’s camp to defeat President Bush Sr. From this experience and many other political contests in the US and the world over, the economy takes centre stage in influencing people’s decisions in an election. 

This is no exception for Zambia, which went to the polls in August 2021. The then opposition political party leader Hakainde Hichilema (now president) was voted into office because of his promise to fix the economy. However, two years after his election, the Zambian economy continues to falter with high levels of unemployment among the youth, a poor-performing currency, a high cost of living, skyrocketing prices of fuel and so forth. 

Perhaps, the Zambian people will be justified if they politely reminded their president and his government to say “It’s the economy, stupid!” as the Americans did in 1992.

Also, as South Africa prepares for the polls next year, there is no doubt that the issue of the economy is on the minds of the people. Therefore, all well-meaning people should ask — or rather tell — President Cyril Ramaphosa to talk about “the economy, stupid”. 

Just to think about the way things are currently in South Africa is depressing and very much unacceptable. The issues of load-shedding have not been resolved, which continues to adversely affect businesses and production. There are no jobs, even for recent graduates from higher institutions of learning across the country. The cost of living keeps going up, corruption allegations among elected officials are the order of the day, and poor service delivery by the government. 

All of these vices are taking place in a country headed towards the general election. 

People should not let politicians only come to them during election time, as they always do while making fake promises. And when given another mandate or voted for, these same politicians disappear into thin air. Such politicians or so-called leaders are highly incompetent to fix the economy. 

However, since the ruling party has become unpopular over time, the elections of next year do not look favourable for the ANC. Hence, they will hatch a plan to try to distract people from the real issues of the economy. This is an old trick and the people of South Africa will do well to remain focused on issues that really matter. 

The economy is more than just jobs and good economic indicators, it has everything to do with addressing the real issues of bread and butter. Arguably, what good is an economy that has impressive indicators, but does not have any trickle-down effect on the people at the bottom? 

The economy for many, and not just a few, is more desirable. Moreover, in any given country, if ordinary people are able to have three basic meals a day, get quality health care at a low cost and affordable basic education, then such an economy is better placed to respond to the needs of the population, fight corruption, encourage and strengthen institutions of governance. And, subsequently, attract sustainable good leadership in both the public and private sectors. 

The economy is not stupid. It needs urgent attention by any serious government that means well for its people. 

Unfortunately, this is not the reality in South Africa today. It seems as if ANC politicians are preoccupied with things that only benefit them personally at the expense of those they serve. 

The upcoming elections will be historic in every sense. The people’s displeasure with all the things they have endured under this regime is palpable and will likely show in the voting pattern during the 2024 elections. 

This means that the EFF and the DA stand a better chance of making strides in some of the traditional ANC strongholds. But it does not automatically suggest that either or both of them have the answers to ensure a functional and vibrant economy. 

At best, the EFF and DA will ride on the failures of the ANC to get sympathy votes against the ruling party. However, in the final analysis, the economy of South Africa will be the deciding factor in next year’s general election outcome.

Aaron Ng’ambi is a geopolitical analyst, newspaper columnist, leadership instructor and social entrepreneur.