14 November 2012

Zambia: Mufumbwe Peaceful At 3rd Try

THE people of Mufumbwe Constituency in North-Western Province went to the polls to elect their Member of Parliament (MP) for the third time in the last three years.

The first poll came in 2010, when the seat fell vacant following the death of the then area Member of Parliament Misheck Bonshe.

During the poll, a lot of incidences of violence and deaths were recorded with people using all sorts of weapons to assault each other.

Since then, the constituency had earned itself a tag of being a violent one, which peace lovers could safely describe as no go area.

The electorate then took part in the September 20, 2011 general election and the recent by-election necessitated by Steven Masumba's expulsion from the MMD.

Mr Masumba immediately joined the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) which adopted him to contest the seat that he subsequently scooped.

However, all the previous elections were characterised by violence apart from the recent by-election which amazingly did not record any serious violent incidences.

Besides the usual preparations on the ground, police were also on hand to provide the necessary security in an event any violence occurred.

Therefore, there are several factors that lead to a relatively peaceful by-election in the rural district of the province, which included proper management of information by the media, commitment by all political players to non-violent polls and heavy presence of the police.

These are some of the lessons that the country could learn from the November 8 by-election to avoid electoral violence in future.

On proper information management system, the media is said to have done a better job by being objective, unlike in the previous elections where their reports were inclined to or were one sided and mostly unconfirmed and unverified reports were released from various political parties.

The Democratic Governance and Human Rights Advocates, one of the monitors of the poll, were impressed with the balanced media coverage of elections campaigns and subsequently the elections.

DEGHA executive director Gerald Mutelo said equal coverage of political players participating in the by-election contributed to the relatively peaceful poll.

"It was gratifying seeing the media covering the opposition in the positive as opposed to previous situations," Mutelo said.

North-Western Province police chief Eugene Sibote, who echoed similar sentiments, added that he was impressed that the media made efforts to verify reports they got from political parties from the police.

He said the journalists went further to verify unsubstantiated reports from election monitors, conflict management committee and the hospital for those who claimed have been assaulted.

Mr Sibote said in the past election, misinformation contributed to movement of cadres to Mufumbwe from other parts of the country when they heard that their colleagues were beaten.

"People of Mufumbwe are generally peaceful as you can see, what fueled violence in the past is misinformation where the media rushed to publish unverified stories from anybody, hence painting a violent picture," Mr Sibote said.

At some point Mr Sibote warned political parties against spreading false information because it is an offence in the laws of Zambia.

Mr Sibote issued a warning in the wake of growing reports by political parties of accusing each other of doing wrong things.

He cited UPND Matushi councilor Jacob Kayona who claimed that PF cadres attacked him and over turned his stationary vehicle but police preliminary investigations proved otherwise.It became apparent that the accusations were unfounded.

Mr Sibote suspected that the vehicle could have flipped over.

Mr Kayona claimed that he was tear-smoked and the PF cadres fired two live gun shots, but Mr Sibote refuted the claims saying this was untrue.

When Mr Kayona, who appeared drunk at the police station, was asked to described the people that could have attacked him and the vehicle they were using, he ended up pointing at the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) car which was operating in Solwezi.

In another incident, a PF cadre claimed to have one of his tooth knocked out during a fight against the MMD cadre.

"People are giving false reports like this party is still campaigning but if you rush, there only to find there is nothing of that sort happening, I don't know why people want us to be trotting all over," Mr Sibote said.

He confidently said no assault cases were recorded at the police station during the period of the elections.

Conflict management committee chairperson Aongola Wamulume, who equally shared similar sentiments, however, urged political parties to improve on voter education to avoid misinformation on the electoral process in the country.

Mr Wamulume said unsubstantiated reports and allegations have the potential to set the country into flames like in the previous elections in Mufumbwe.

"Ignorance by some political players can be a source of violence if not properly addressed," Mr Wamulume said.

Mr Wamulume said from the number of unsubstantiated reports political parties made, it was clear that cadres did not appreciate the electoral process in the country.

He said it was sad that each time political parties lodged a complaint, they expected the committee or the police to act on hear say or from a third party.

Mr Wamulume said the commitment by political parties' to a non-violent election also played a key role in maintaining peace.

He commended political parties for restraining their cadres from reacting to any form of provocations advanced by the opposite camps.

"With that commitment in place, the only thing we need is continuous country-wide voter education so that cadres appreciate the process to avoid misconceptions and misinformation," Mr Wamulume said.

The police Inspector-General deployed over 300 police officers to change the story of Mufumbwe, which had previously been labelled a "violent" district.

Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP) was happy that the Mufumbwe by-election had shown tremendous improvement in the conduct of the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) and the transparency in the counting and totaling of election results.

FODEP executive director MacDonald Chipenzi said the preparation seemed to have been undertaken in a professional manner leading to smooth and the entire voting process.

"This can be attested to by timely opening and closing of the polling stations," Mr Chipenzi said.

Mr Chipenzi said his organisation was pleased that the electoral environment before, during and immediately after the elections.

He said political parties and other stakeholders should respect for each other and the electoral process.

Mr Chipenzi, however, regretted the absence of the Anti Corruption Commission during the campaigns and elections thus rendering the fight against the vice difficult.

He said FODEP did not receive any complaint regarding the application of the public order Act meaning that police applied the law in respect of the fundamental freedom as enshrined in the constitution.

Meanwhile, some Mufumbwe residents were happy with the peaceful electoral environment before and during the election where there was improved tolerance by political players.

Cassi Kipunza, who runs a restaurant, said it was gratifying to see harmony before and during elections as compared to previous elections where he lost some goods due to looting.

"As you can see, I have managed to do business throughout the election period and raked in over K30 million which I have even deposited in the bank during the same period," Mr Kipunza said.

Mr Kipunza said he was happy with level of tolerance political players exhibited where they interacted in his restaurant without problem.

He said all political parties ate food from his place there was no day he experienced or see them quarrelling like in the previous elections a move which made them lose out business because they closed the shop.

Peter Munyemesha said the heavy presence of police contributed to peace which was experienced during the election period although initially people felt it was an act of intimidation.

He said seeing a huge population of police officers clad in riot gear and bullets strapped around their bodies looked intimidating because the residents are not familiar with the situation.

"We were only able to appreciate that at the end of it all because in the previous elections, cadres from other towns outnumbered the few police officers stationed here, so, the backup was good," Mr Munyemesha said.

He said political parties members should also be thanked for their good behaviour despite few unconfirmed reports.

Grace Amukusana said all stake holders should be commended for peace during election people were afraid that there were going to be bloodshed.

Information indeed is power. What could have been the story of the Mufumbwe by-election today if the unsubstantiated information was entertained?

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