22 August 2016

Zambia: You Reap What You Sow: Lessons From Zambia's Elections

Photo: African Media Agency
President Edgar Lungu and his party supporters (file photo).
opinion

The country needs to heal at the moment, which may make some of the observations I make in this piece not suitable for the moment. I do realize however, that some lessons are best learnt while the wounds are still hurting. In some cases, the content of this piece is not based on verifiable fact, but widely believed theories some of which are still classified information by the Zambian government. Like William Edwards Deming said, without data I am just another person with an opinion. Therefore, some of what I write is my opinion. It is said that opinions are like noses; everyone has got one and it usually has a couple of holes in it. Take this piece for its worth while recognizing that you also have the right to hold an opinion that has a couple of holes in it.

Mazoka the great

Before I venture into the substance of this piece, I would like to preempt misconceptions that some readers may arrive at by the time they are done reading this piece. I would like to set out by saying that I am not against any tribe, but I am against tribalism because of its cancerous nature on Zambian unity and progress. This is true regardless of which tribe perpetrates it. Therefore, whether it is Counter Nega Nega, Authentic Nega Nega, or wako ni wako, they all are despicable. I would like to showcase my non-tribal agenda by mentioning that I used to be an ardent follower of the great Anderson Kambela Mazoka, and a diehard UPND member. In fact, I so bought into the cause that I led the UNZA underground UPND branch, serving as its chairman. I, along with my colleagues, supported Mazoka's vision. At one point, we were discouraged by widespread perceptions of tribalism within the UPND which undermined our mobilization efforts. We therefore confronted Mazoka to express our frustration, demanding that he provides an explanation. He explained that he founded the party not based on tribalism, but that his tribesmen, unsolicited, coalesced around him. He explained that he needed all the support he could get to advance the cause and was not going to turn away any support. He was very convincing in his expression of patriotism and vision for a united and prosperous Zambia. This was further evidenced by the national character of his National Management Committee. I supported him, believed in his vision and his credentials. To this day I believe that Mazoka, the president that never became, would have become one of the greatest Zambian presidents if not the greatest. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

The MMD sowed rigging, the country is reaping distrust

I believe that if there was an election that was rigged in Zambia, it was the first election of Mwanawasa; they stole the presidency from Mazoka, with the help of the likes of Vernon J Mwanga (it is believed). MMD sowed rigging and reaped mistrust. I hence understand where the perpetual distrust and paranoia by the UPND stems from. At the time Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) was not common as ECZ central tabulation was the final authority. Attempts by the likes of Chavula to compromise the system could, and in fact did, do lots of damage at that time. Fortunately, Mwanawasa knowing how he came to power, sought to gain legitimacy through good governance and legitimately won his second bid. It turned out well, but his ascendancy to power was still shrouded in infamy. A positive result from that infamous election was the birth (or the widespread use) of the PVT system; an important lesson was learnt to use a PVT system to stop Chavulagates from causing damage if and when such breaches succeed. Today, even if a Chavula were successful at manipulating the final tallies at the central tabulation location, the verified PVT tallies would contradict the central figures and would hence be disputed by several monitoring agencies and party agents. I think rigging is quite hard these days in Zambia, unless agents of other parties and independent monitors are chased from polling stations. May I add to say that if there are some who can beat this current system, then they are so talented that perhaps she should tap them for cybersecurity. The potential, for "rigging" (as in unfair rules and playing ground) is not as much at the point of counting and tabulation as it is in the precipitating events before that. This is why unfair media coverage, the unfair public order act, violence and intimidation are more lethal under this current system. The curious question as Edith Nawakwi observes, that should be added to the debate and contention being presented by the UPND, is: how did south experience 70% + turn outs without experiencing significant voting delays and yet other parts of the country which had less voter turnout had delays and some people turned away?

HH sowed, he is reaping what he sowed

Hakainde Hichilema (HH) took over the UPND using the support by his tribesmen (who coalesced around Mazoka) to outdo Sakwiba Sikota, Bob Sichinga, Tiens Kahenya, and Benny Tentamashimba etc., who were in the succession line, exploiting tribal links to establish the foundation of his reign. Since then, I lost confidence in HH's ability to lead because I saw an element of self that was above country. I speculate that this was the turning point for most people's positive view of the UPND and HH in particular. He sowed tribalism, and he has reaped tribalism. Understandably, the suspicion surrounding Mazoka's loss and even his death before he reclaimed the presidency that was rightfully his, led to bitterness within the UPND. This bitterness and paranoia fogged up UPND's long term strategy and bigger goals to the extent that the illusion was that only someone with a similar identity and business acumen would be the best replacement for Mazoka. This however was a miscalculation because people now saw HH's tribe before they even got to his credentials. This was somewhat justified because in fact tribalism was the fuel that HH used. I strongly believe that as a result of this history, the task of uniting the country would be a challenging ordeal for HH. The UPND's opportunity was hence lost to unseat Mwanawasa (ichibumba) the second time around. Mwanawasa aggressively sought to win people's affection and confidence by shaking of the tag of "cabbage" claiming (I might add) that he was in fact "steak". By Mwanawasa's second term bid he had earned my support; I had long fled the UPND.

Zambia sowed, it reaped

I still contend, as I did then, that the worst miscalculation in Zambia's election history was the election of Michael Sata and PF. The record is there for all to see and to a large degree persists in the PF to this day. Not only did Sata embody what was wrong with Zambian politics (as observed in his record of the FTJ third term bid, his brutal politics and the Chawama machete incident), but his party also took on that character while the majority of his core team did not inspire any confidence. My opinion during the 2011 election, was that as distasteful as RB was, it would have been better to re-elect him in order to buy some time. I say this because his re-election would have been the last he could have served (due to term limitation), while the MMD was on its last leg (due to decreasing popularity). Electing RB would therefore have bought Zambia more time to find a credible alternative while the old guard (including Sata) and MMD faded away, while at the same time avoiding a jump from the frying pan to the fire. Despite his offensiveness and perceived corruption, (and trust me I too found RB to be offensive, insolent and even uncharismatic) RB continued the positive economic trajectory that Mwanawasa left. Honestly, RB's ejection from state house, I believe, was a result of the tendency by Zambians to be influenced by emotional voting vs. strategic voting; the practice of angrily voting out distasteful candidates without carefully considering the caliber of the replacements. We fell prey to the machinations and manipulation campaign, through the media, by a clique who had personal scores to settle with RB and whose business interests were threatened by his reign.

On to Edgar, he too is sowing - he has the chance to nurture the fruit for future generations

I have no doubt that under the current rules and system Lungu legitimately won this past election. Is the system perfect? It certainly isn't. Did he take advantage of the system's imperfections and inefficiencies? He certainly did, as did all the other candidates to some extent. Is there a perfect electoral system on earth? Don't even waste your breath asking! Do we have room to improve the Zambian electoral system? We certainly do and should continue to do so with utmost urgency. To be clear, I am equally not a fan of Edgar Lungu; he to a large extent still carries the legacy of Sata, although he has for the most part demonstrated better leadership than his predecessor. He however still remains with the leadership structure left by Sata. He has to prove himself and win legitimacy beyond the narrow 50% +1 he got. This also starts with the people he surrounds himself with. This time, he has a fresh mandate and does not need to side with powerful politically entrenched crooks to protect his political interests. He has to redeem himself from the blemishes his close confidantes like Kaiser Zulu or Chama have amassed. I believe that Zambia this time narrowly avoided the trap of emotional voting. With Lungu's re-election the country has the opportunity to reorganize and strengthen the opposition and find credible alternatives. If the PF does not redeem itself in the next five years kuya bebele in 2021. UPND has to get past the paranoia, pick themselves up and reorganize. I strongly believe that starts with replacing HH whose record losses do not serve him well and in whom the majority does not have confidence even against a weak PF. Taking a leaf from other democracies such as the USA, you notice that even the best of candidates leave the stage allowing others the opportunity to also try their bid to win the white house. The wamuyayaya syndrome must end, and this must be true of intraparty democracy. Individuals are not saviors or more important than the cause they advance. Sometimes it is important to step aside for others to step in, because if one truly loves the country, they quickly realize that it is not about them but about the country and that there are more ways than one to contribute to the development of our country. Respectfully, Mr. Hichilema needs to start pondering these questions. Mr. Lungu, you came close to ejection at statehouse although with slightly better performance than the bye-election. Your task, Mr. Lungu is to reunite the country by earning people's affection as LPM did, through the demonstration of patriotism and the fight against corruption. Zambia is at a crossroads and Mr. Lungu you happen to be in the driver's seat at this juncture. The seed you choose to plant now, the direction you decide to take, will have consequences for many generations to come.

The constitutional court is sowing; they can determine the Harvest

The constitutional court (ConCourt) has a major task ahead. Although I am not exactly sure about the mandate the ConCourt is charged with, my understanding (and I may be mistaken) is that it plays the role of interpreting the constitution. If that is strictly the case, then I am of the opinion that it is not the right venue to challenge the elections, if the challenge will have anything to do with rigging allegations. It would be more appropriate to take to the ConCourt disputes on issues like who should act as president during a petition, disputes on if the 50%+1 rule was correctly applied etc., so that rulings from this court are more derivative of its guidance on the correct interpretation of the law than it is about the adjudication itself. The high and supreme courts can deliberate on adjudication of interparty disputes to assess losses and determine appropriate remediation. Therefore if the argument is about rigging then the proper venue should be the high court. If the petition is anchored in some constitutional issues, the ConCourt is the appropriate venue. If this case goes before them, the ConCourt should be careful the way they proceed because they are setting precedence. I agreed with their interpretation of the ministerial tenure upon dissolution of parliament, but I have questions about their interpretation of disposition of cases that commenced under the old constitution. The principle of grandfathering allows for stability and continuity during constitutional transition to avoid confusion. To apply old cases to new rules creates confusion and sets a precedent that has serious consequences. For instance, since the PF was not elected under a 50%+1 rule which was required under the amended constitution, they would have ceased to be legal the day the constitution was enacted. That was not the case, and would not be in any other country. Similarly, that interpretation potentially sets a precedent to allow Lungu to run for one additional term.

The constitutional Court is setting precedence that will have lasting effects. They are sowing and should sow wisely because the fruit, good or bad will be harvested by many generations long after they are all gone.

I would like to conclude by encouraging us all, as a nation, not to run away from the truth or make up convenient truths. Let us call a spade a spade, learn some tough lessons from our shortcomings and vow never to let them blur our vision or affect the success of our future. God bless the great, hospitable and peaceful nation of Zambia.

Dr. Joshua Nyirenda is a Health Services researcher based in the USA, with training in Public Policy Analysis and Health Policy.

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