The Zambian election has come and gone, and with tears in his eyes Zambia’s graceful loser, Rupiah Banda, achieved a rare thing in African politics by conceding defeat — with his gaze firmly on the future, not the past.
The peaceful and democratic transition to the Patriotic Front in a region known for autocrats clinging to power by subverting the ballot box and impoverishing their people is a hopeful sign for African politics.
Banda avoided the temptation of entrenching his position by refusing to hand over power to his nemesis, Michael Sata, as has happened in many parts of Africa, including Zimbabwe.
Furthermore, in his concession speech, Banda may have been delivering a message to President Robert Mugabe, who in 2008 refused to concede defeat at the hands of his longtime protagonist MDC-T leader Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, and it took the efforts of neighbouring countries to force an inclusive government, although with the loser dictating what role he wanted to play in the new government.
That the Zambian election was peaceful is clear, although incidents of violence were sporadic owing to the delay in opening of polling stations and the delivery of ballot boxes.
It is important to note when told of these issues, the Electoral Commission of Zambia was quick to rectify some of the problems identified – one thing the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission needs to learn.
Judging from the way things moved, it is clear the Zambian elections were held in a conducive and peaceful environment, and one can only applaud the outgoing Zambian government, security forces and political parties for respecting the will of the voting public.
Ironically, facing imminent defeat in 2008, President Mugabe and Zanu PF had gone on to suppress democracy by using deadly force to crush the then opposition MDC-T supporters.
But Banda has sent a clear message saying: “My generation — the generation of the independence struggle — must now give way to new ideas; ideas for the 21st century.
Did we become grey and lacking in ideas? Did we lose momentum? Our duty now is to go away and reflect on any mistakes we may have made and learn from them. If we do not, we do not deserve to contest power again.”
The former Zambian president took part in his country’s biggest transfer of power since one-party rule ended in 1991 and the MMD, a party he would eventually lead, took over.
By so doing, Banda has shown how leaders can gladly hand over power to a fellow countryman without shedding blood. After all, blood was already shed during the liberation struggle.
One would think that Zimbabwean leaders would learn a thing or two from the Zambian election, especially with threats of bloodshed by some military leaders who strongly believe Zimbabwe can only be superintended by them and them alone at the expense of the majority who also bore the brunt of colonialism.
Since the country will be going into an election soon, Banda’s stance should help, especially among Zanu PF politicians, to accept defeat gracefully. Elections should not be a time for violence and retribution; they should be a time to unite and build the country’s future without fear from political animals.
Kudos should go to Zambia for its peaceful transfer of power. Banda did not seek to cling to power while his country became an economic basket case.
Like Banda, what President Mugabe could give to the struggle for democracy in Africa is to fade into retirement and serve as an example of humble defeat.
What else would Africa need with such leaders amongst us?