By Tapiwa Gomo
THE dust has now settled after the inauguration of Hakainde Hichilema as the seventh President of Zambia. There are lessons to be drawn from how Hichilema rose to power. He showed resilience and tenacity to remain focused in the face of adversity. In addition to five losses in previous elections, he was detained 15 times since he joined politics. In 2016 he was charged for treason.
Since Hichilema’s victory and inauguration, there has been numerous attempts to compare our politics with developments in Zambia.
I find these comparisons ambitious, childish and far-fetched because the political dynamics are completely different.
We should be frank to ourselves and push for reforms that will make us comparable with Zambia.
Hichilema and his United Party for National Development (UPND) won the recent elections via a well-structured campaigning that reached people with the right message of hope.
He took time to explain why it was time for change.
Former President Edgar Lungu was an easy target for Hichilema’s campaign message which made it less complicated for the youth and the undecided voters to give United Party for National Development (UPND) their votes.
Hichilema used his business acumen and experience to demonstrate the type of leadership Zambia needed against how the country was being run by Lungu.
In one campaign video entitled: “The tale of two professionals…”, Hichilema told voters how he was a prolific and responsible businessperson, while Lungu was extravagant leader who spent money drinking alcohol. Generally, such a video would be viewed as dirty, but Hichilema substantiated his case by presenting evidence of how he has grown his business, including how he became a successful farmer.
This should be easy for our opposition considering the ruling poor’s bad economic and political record. The more than 40 years of economic decline in Zimbabwe should be enough ammunition for any politician to destroy the incumbent. But that expertise is not as strong as it should be in our opposition ranks.
And our opposition parties choose to cruse on various assumptions some of which include that people know how bad and carnivorous the ruling party is, so there is no need to remind them, neither do they need to articulate their party vision nor think outside the box.
The other lesson, which has been raised on several occasions is lack of party structures and election agents in the rural areas. In one of his recent statements, Hichilema mentioned the critical role played by volunteers who were deployed or engaged to do underground campaigns at the grassroots level.
By the time the ruling party tried to impede access to certain areas, the UPND underground volunteers had already penetrated important constituencies and the damage was already done.
In our last election, one of the reasons that led to the MDC-Alliance losses was lack of election agents in some rural areas which made it easy to stuff up ballots and ramp up the numbers.
To cover up for its weakness, the opposition claimed voter intimidation and rigging which to some of us now represents a strategy of accepting defeat without making a public concession. The story repeats itself after every election.
The other issue that our opposition parties and civil society organisations evade and pretend not to pay attention to now if election reforms.
For the avoidance of clouding our minds with the same old hymns of reforms, it is important to note that what made Lungu concede defeat was the conditions allowed and empowered him to do so in consultation with his party. Yet in our case, such a decision would be made in consultation with the security sector.
And the position of the security sector, with regards to election results, has been made clear since the last two decades.
It was in January 2002, when our army generals announced that they would “not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone” who did not possess liberation war credentials. This statement is repeated on several occasions.
Now let’s do a proper summary of this in a scenario format. In the first scenario, the opposition in Zimbabwe can decide to sharpen their campaign messages the same way as Hichilema and the UPND did in Zambia but may be impeded from accessing the voters physically or via the media. Navigating this requires reforms now.
In the second scenario, the opposition may decide to start recruiting their army of underground volunteers, hoping to deploy to all areas countrywide.
Biased traditional leaders and possible deployment of security sector may thwart those efforts.
That may stifle the opposition of possible inroads in rural areas making it easy for the ruling party to win fairly or otherwise. Again, reforms will help ensure traditional leaders and security sector remain apolitical.
In the last scenario, assuming articulate campaign messages and the deployment of army of underground volunteers have enabled the opposition to win the hearts and minds of the voters across the country, the buck stops at two stages.
First the processing and announcement of final results by the electoral body and second, the concession and the handover of power which the security sector is known to have a strong hand. More work needs to be done before an aspiring leader dream of campaign trails.