Zambian elections: a win is a win


Time was when we, Zimbabweans, used to mock Zambians. “A beer is a beer,” we used to mimic them.

That was in the early 1980s when newly-independent Zimbabwe was on an optimistic high with an economic boom and goodwill from all over the world while Zambia was in a freefall following the collapse of world commodity prices as that country’s main foreign currency earner, copper, stockpiled.

Besides the disappearance of basics, Zimbabwean visitors to Zambia used to be aghast at the non-availability of various beer brands and that bars would serve warm beer.

“A beer is a beer!” Zambians shot back, exasperated by our fastidiousness and particularity which to them appeared fussy and petty.To the financially- battered Zambians, whether a Castle or a Lion, whether chilled or warm, what was important was that it was available.

But to us, who were spoilt for choice in the post-independence euphoria, it had to be a Castle or none; it had to be cold or none.

Zambians have come a long way since that period, but they haven’t lost that forthright or frank manner of saying and doing things.

Last week opposition leader Michael “King Cobra” Sata inflicted electoral defeat on incumbent President Rupiah Banda.

The beauty of it all is that it’s basically the same electorate which votes parties in and out depending on delivery of campaign policies.

People are free to shift support one way or the other, but some leaders tend to see things in black and white.

Sata did not take time to demand that the Chinese address their unfair business and labour practices. Sata, non-degreed as he is, has recognised this is akin to colonialism and imperialism.

But here, without sounding xenophobic, the Chinese operate almost with impunity because they have all the political protection they can get.

Flea markets were closed, but these have virtually been revived by the Chinese.

A parliamentary portfolio committee this week established that Chinese firms got chrome mining claims unprocedurally and there is hardly beneficiation from the mineral.

It’s been documented that some Chinese employers overwork and underpay their local staff and there have been cases of physical abuse.

We can’t that be desperate for friends to turn a blind eye to all this.

Sata was also direct in his victory speech, saying: “Seventy percent of our people live in poverty, a clear testimony of bad governance.”

But in the institutional jungle that Zimbabwe has become, Zanu PF is busy parcelling out flea market stands, sidelining local councils, in a bid to regain the urban vote.

Politics needn’t be that dirty and expedient. This is bad governance. This lawlessness offends the targeted voters and will boomerang on the architects.

On corruption, Sata said: “This culture should never be entertained at any level.” Here, a paltry amount of diamonds revenue is reaching Treasury, with most of it being reportedly pocketed by a powerful few.

They have the wallet, not the will, to spend for the benefit of the nation as a whole.

In another move, Sata immediately renamed the country’s three main airports after leaders from across the political spectrum, ranging from Harry Nkumbula, the pioneering nationalist who founded the Northern Rhodesia African National Congress; to Kenneth Kaunda, who broke from the ANC to form the United National Independence Party (Unip), which led the country to independence in 1964; to Simon Kapwepwe, Zambia’ first Vice-President, who split from Unip to form his own party to challenge Kaunda’s misguided imposition of a one-party State.

That is how broad-minded the uneducated Sata has proved to be; he can teach a thing or two to the highly educated political class here what heroism means in the national, not parochial, sense. So education per se can be meaningless without other qualities.

To educate a man’s mind but not his heart, as Theodore Roosevelt said, often produces an educated barbarian. Listening and feeling is most needed in leaders.

There are so many things right as logic but wrong as a whole. Everything can’t be grasped by logic. (Sorry, I digress).

Again in his victory speech, Sata was accommodating and magnanimous:

“We will heal this nation and reconcile all of us. We must not allow violence to separate us.”

But each time there is an election in Zimbabwe, there is a sickening sense of dread, from the poverty-stricken rural areas, crowded townships to the business community.

Almost everything comes to a standstill. All stops are pulled out to ensure the ruling class “wins”. They use any and every thing – including State and public resources, to ensure they remain in power.

There is need to balance political ambition with fairness.

Said Banda last week: “We must all face the reality that sometimes it is time for change. Did we become grey and lacking in ideas? My generation, the generation of the independence struggle, must now give way to new ideas, ideas for the 21st century.”

Here, voters have been told bluntly that the government will not be changed by “a mere pen”, defeating the whole purpose of voting.

Zambia was most fortunate in that its founding President, Kaunda, was a “feeling” leader.

He often broke down in tears publicly whenever overwhelmed by a situation.

Kaunda unselfishly sacrificed Zambia’s progress to assist liberation struggles in the region.

He was compassionate, not cold and distant. He set the tone by graciously stepping down after electoral defeat in 1991.

Today – 20 years later – he is still universally loved and respected in Zambia and beyond. Whenever he makes an appearance at Sadc, he immediately lights up the occasion.

Zambia is still reaping from this dividend of democracy bequeathed by Kaunda – as seen in the smooth transition from Banda to Sata. Zambia has shown us that the Presidency there is not a “straitjacket”.

Said Banda graciously but proudly in defeat: “The people of Zambia have spoken and we must all listen. It is not for us to deny the Zambian people. We never rigged, we never cheated.”

Yes, let’s be fastidious and particular about this: A loss is a loss; a win is a win.