Zambia consolidates the way to democracy with smooth transitionBy FRED OLUOCH | Friday, September 23 2011 at 18:18
For the second time, Zambia has led Africa by example by conducting free and fair elections that resulted in regime change.
Opposition candidate Michael Sata of Patriotic Front Party (PFP) beat incumbent Rupiah Banda in the elections held on September 20, and the latter easily conceded defeat.
The first time Zambia showed political maturity was in 1991, when at the height of the agitation for multi-party, it became one of the first African countries to embrace pluralism and immediately organise election.
The diminutive former trade unionist, Mr Frederick Chiluba, easily beat liberation hero Kenneth Kaunda, who easily conceded defeat.
Indeed, former Zairean (DRC) strongman Mobutu Sese Seko, was thoroughly upset with Kaunda’s “lack of foresight” as he wondered how an African president could lose in an election he himself organised.
But then, Kaunda still remains one of the most respected African statesmen for respecting democracy.
Zambia is unlike other African countries where incumbents either routinely rig elections or cling to power even after defeat, leading to political upheaval. The recent example is Cote d'Ivoire.
A smooth transition is a rare commodity in Africa, leave alone holding free and fair elections. The copper-rich Central African country has now joined Ghana, Malawi and Kenya in 2002 as some few examples that have peacefully managed a regime change.
For example, there is little chance that the opposition in Angola, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea, just to mention a few, will dislodge the incumbents. The skewed playing field, coupled with state machinery and intimidation, have ensured that the opposition are nowhere near power.
For instance, President of Equatorial Guinea Theodoro Obiang Nguema, recently exhibited open contempt for the opposition when celebrating his 32 years in power. He bragged that he will only leave power when his people were tired of him, meaning he had no time for free and fair elections.
Thus, the fact that Mr Sata beat the incumbent by over 188,249 vote margin, even before votes in seven constituencies were counted, was a clear manifestation of deepening democratic culture in Zambia.
Mr Sata anchored his campaign on populist ideals like tax reduction for ordinary people, while increasing the same for mines and foreign firms, as well as employment creation. Mr Sata,74, becomes the country's fifth president since the nation's independence from Britain in 1964.
Again in 2001, Zambians showed their capacity to stand for democracy when they fiercely resisted attempts by President Frederick Chiluba, to change the constitution for him to run for unconstitutional third term.
This was unlike the neighbouring Uganda, where the opposition had no capacity to block President Yoweri Museveni from changing the constitution to delete the two-term limit.
Mr Sata has now joined Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who contested the elections several times without success, but was eventually rewarded with a win.
But just like most African countries, the polling did not lack ugly incidents. The election was marred by riots in the capital Lusaka and the copper mining towns of Kitwe and Ndola, as the opposition supporters got impatient with the delay in announcing results.
The decision by the outgoing President Rupiah Banda, to quickly concede defeat, might have reduced the chance of more violence.
Looking at the results, one would wonder that perhaps, Mr Banda, who was just finishing the mandate of President Levy Mwanawasa, did not have time to remove himself from the shadows of his predecessor. Unlike the maverick Mwanawasa, Banda was rather laid back and less inspiring.
The mining sector
While conceding defeat, Mr Banda accepted that his party, the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) that was started by Mr Chiluba, may have become complacent after “liberating” Zambia in 1991 and that the party was no longer listening to the people’s aspirations.
Yet, there is likely to be a debate whether Mr Sata, known as “King Cobra”, should tone down his rhetoric against the Chinese who dominate the copper mining industry, or initiate reforms in the mining sector as he had promised.
He has been known as the face of the anti-Chinese sentiments in Zambia, accusing them of exploiting the resources at the expense of Zambians. He believes that the Chinese in the Zambian copper industry, but an extension of Chinese parastatals, are out to exploit the country.
One of the fears among his opponents was that as a head of state, he could create a hostile climate for international investors if he implemented what he had been preaching. Yet, many countries in Africa have complained about Chinese operations in Africa and Mr Sata was not an exception.
As a darling of the urban poor, Mr Sata will have to address the 10 per cent unemployment rate, otherwise he might find himself one-term president, couple with the fact that he is among the few freedom fighters that were still active in politics in Africa.
Sata’s challenges aside, the upshot is that other Africa countries that are yet to fully embrace democracy, have a lot to learn from Zambia. More so fellow Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries like Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, where the liberation parties have unshaken hold on power.
Unlike Zimbabwe where the veteran freedom fighter Robert Mugabe is still struggling to remain in power, Zambia had done away with liberation leader Kaunda in 1991 and ushered in new thinking.
Zambia and Zimbabwe share history. They were known as Northern Rhodesia and Southern Rhodesia, respectively.
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Beyond the ballot