Earlier this week, the team from Zambia won the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament. The Zambian side, known as the Chipolopolo, or Copper Bullets, were an underdog in the 16 team field. Their victory over the heavily-favored Cote d'Ivoire side was a thrilling enough outcome, but that it happened in Libreville, Gabon, where a generation earlier Zambia's entire national team had been wiped out in an airplane crash proved to be nothing short of a national catharsis.
And at about this point, you're probably wondering if this headline has gotten attached to the wrong story since what does any of this have to do with American politics? Here's the payoff: In their article about the uplifting win by Team Zambia, CBS tossed in a threw throwaway lines in the last few paragraphs just to give the American reader a little flavor of a country they likely know little about. The CBS piece talked about how Zambia's President Michael Sata, elected late last year, recently doubled the tax levied against the nation's copper industry from 3% to 6% – copper is one of Zambia's main exports, hence the “Copper Bullets” nickname for the national team; at the same time Sata eliminated taxes for the poorest Zambians and instituted a program of free basic healthcare for all citizens. To go a little deeper, it's worth knowing that the 74-year old Sata earned his own nickname - “King Cobra” - for the way he tenaciously fought against corruption in Zambia for decades. His presidential campaign, which defeated long-standing incumbent President Rupiah Banda, was largely built on anti-Chinese sentiment in the Zambian public, stoked by a recent labor dispute where striking Zambian miners were shot, and some killed, by the Chinese operators of their mine, who escaped unpunished.
So let's recap. Once elected leader of this small, poor-but-developing nation, Pres. Sata thought that the best thing to do for Zambia was:
Hold corporations accountableMake the well-off pay a little more in taxesLet the poorest not pay any taxes so they had some money for themselvesInstitute a plan to make sure all his citizens had their basic healthcare needs addressed
Can you imagine what would happen if an American presidential candidate proposed a platform like this? You don't have to wonder too hard – President Barack Obama's call to modestly raise taxes on the richest Americans have been met with calls of “socialism,” his fairly modest plans for health care reform, branded “Obamacare,” have been described as nothing short of an all-out assault on the Constitution. So dire are the alleged consequences of Obama's alleged policies that every Republican candidate has pledged to “restore America” if elected.
But one has to ask why? Pres. Sata has decided that the mix of tax hikes/cuts, corporate responsibility and health care are the right prescription for his developing nation – that for a nation to be prosperous it is necessary that the public be healthy and have their basic needs met and that corporations not be allowed to run roughshod over the land and its people. It's worth noting that the raise in corporate taxes, and even Sata's anti-China campaign rhetoric, have not harmed China-Zambia business dealings. Just this week a Chinese firm announced a $3 million investment in a new manufacturing plant in Zambia, which seems to poke a hole in the idea that modestly raising taxes and introducing government oversight of corporate operations are anti-business job-killers. The American economy is certainly more robust than the Zambian, meaning that even if Obama's proposed economic and healthcare plans are missteps, America will survive, probably with little or no long-term damage.
That makes the visceral reaction to Obama's policies this campaign season even more offensive. If you sincerely believe that these are the wrong choices, fine, but then let's have an honest debate on the facts, not childish name-calling and ridiculous bouts of hyperbole about the impending doom of the American state. And maybe, just maybe, if we have an honest, adult discussion, we'll find that we could learn a few things from the land of the Copper Bullets and the King Cobra.
Follow Ed on Twitter @EdwardHancoxBarack Obama, Development