Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.
Professor of Sociology
I have been very busy with work. President Trump has been in power here in the United States for about 4 months. But many of us citizens who live with his reckless actions, poor governing, and ill-conceived twitter statements feel like he has already been in power for 5 long years. President Trump and his entire White House staff is under siege as the Russian hacking election scandal has cast a dark cloud on his administration. I have not been following Zambian politics since last October 2016. So when a friend sent me some news articles about politics in Zambia that perked my interest.
Some of the international news articles had alarming headlines that President Lungu was becoming authoritarian; that democracy was in danger in Zambia. Some articles said Lungu was becoming a dictator locking up his opposition opponent because of trumped up charges. These articles never give you actual details because many of them are used to just throwing labels around like “authoritarian”, “dictator” on
African countries without bothering about details. When I saw a headline that said the opposition leader had been charged with treason and thrown in jail for a simple traffic stop that sparked my interest to dig deeper.
What I found out just looking on line is that there were so many news stories published within Zambia reported from the government, from the police, from the opposition leaders and other public commentators. Opposing ideas, allegations of the PF and President Lungu abuse of power, public protests, court trials, demonstrations, reports of police arrests and torture, strong opinions, and even insults are being expressed freely through the press and public conversations. The international press and those who are saying President Lungu and Zambia are descending into authoritarianism and dictatorship are not telling the truth. At worst this is being disingenuous and intellectual laziness in reporting.
Treason Charge Stunning
When I looked at the events surrounding the treason charge, I was stunned. I was even more stunned when apparently one of UPND and HH’s cadres decided to put video clips of the incident on the internet on YouTube. The aim of the video tapes was to show how President’s Lungu’s motorcade police car with its flashing lights nearly rammed into Hakainde’s car. I have driven on those narrow tarred roads in rural Zambia. As recently as July 2016 I personally drove from rural Lundazi all the way to Solwezi. How can an opposition leaders’ 60 car long motorcade drive next to the President’s motorcade? This should no longer be about election results but about 14 million Zambians respecting the security of the individual who is occupying the Office of the President. The incident looked more dangerous on the YouTube video clip than when you read descriptions about it. People who instigate these things should think seriously many times. There could easily have been a dangerous incident during the motorcade fiasco that could have sparked the whole Zambian nation on fire. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_fOxZNHWtI
2016 Presidential Elections
During the August Presidential election the PF and Edgar Lungu won 1,860,877 which was 50.35%of the vote; the UPND and Hakainde Hichilema won 1,760,347 which was 47.35% of the votes. The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) declared the PF and Edgar Lungu the winner. The UPND lodged a petition alleging massive rigging by the PF. Both UPND and the PF were ready to present their cases in court. The Zambian Constitutional Court threw out the petition because the 14 days within which it is legally allowed to adjudicate and rule on the case had expired. The UPND supporters have staged protests and lodged court filings since then. National elections will never be squeaky clean. It might help for the opposition in Zambia to look at how opposition leaders both in Zambia and in other countries have handled similar situations.
In the 1960 American Presidential elections, President Kennedy won the national popular vote by 112,827 a narrow margin of 0.17% against Richard Nixon. After his loss, Nixon and the Republican Party discovered that in the crucial state of Illinois, thousands of dead voters had voted in that election. Richardson Nixon refused to file charges in court to protest the election result. He did not want to plunge the nation into chaos. Nixon peacefully worked very hard in opposition and won the Presidency 8 years later.
Respect the Office
Everyone understands that UPND and Hakainde have not made it a secret that they won’t recognize President Lungu. But creating a near dangerous Presidential motorcade incident should not be one of the ways to protest or resist. The courts also should never be used to overturn an election that was in August 2016.
What Mr. Hakainde Hachilema should have done during the very dangerous motorcade incident, was for him to order his own supporters in the long motorcade (See it on YouTube) to pull over and stop. His own supporters would probably have loudly opposed him. But then he should have stood up on a car with a megaphone and said something like: “We are not respecting Lungu personally as an individual but the Office of the President. He is the current leader of our country, let his motorcade pass safely.” That’s what a good strong leader and opposition would do from now up to the next election. That would improve the chances of Hakainde and UPND winning the next presidential election.