The rural vs urban vote
By Mingeli Palata
It is a fresh and new week, pretty different from last week’s campaigns, energy and enthusiasm; at least Zambians had something on their minds that kept them away from their poverty. Zambia voted and a new president has been elected. Rupiah Bwezani Banda is Zambia’s fourth. Hate it or love it!
Yes the election is done and over with but there are a lot of issues that have come out in this election that merit our serious consideration.
Everybody agrees that this has been a tight race, very close. The voting patterns are not so different from what most us had predicted. Michael Sata claims his own along the line of rail plus the Northern and Luapula provinces, Hikainde gets his Southern province, Rupiah wins Eastern, Central Western and North Western provinces. Yes not so different from the 2006 election.
Notice how easy it was for any political strategist to predict the results or the voting pattern in a similar vein it doesn’t take a pundit to see that Zambians voted on regional lines. As expected the easterners went yako ni yako, the Northern and Luapula provinces went for their own Sata and the Southern province maintained their default voting pattern. Of course there may have been some who voted purely on competence but the dynamics of rural politics all point to regionalism in the voting pattern. This comrades is a very vicious reality. Regionalism or any form of tribalism is detrimental to national development and risks disturbing the much talked about peace that our beloved country enjoys.
From regionalism, another issue that has re-surfaced in this election is the divide between the rural and urban votes and this has been the trend in most African countries, talk of Kenya, Zimbabwe and now Zambia. In any given election that has taken place in the last 15 years, the urban population has gone for the opposition while the rural population has voted for the ruling party. This is the trend, did you notice? For me this shows that the urban population are not satisfied with the way the ruling party have been governing this country. The urban voters are not happy and this is a big failure on the part of government or the ruling party; they have lost the urban vote in three elections in not more than 10 years.
Fine, you can talk about the country having registered a 5% annual economic growth rate, having reduced inflation and so forth but the question is how that translates to the common man. The people in Kanyama and Mwanabombwe don’t care about the inflation; they don’t care about 5% economic growth, what is 5% economic growth when they are buying mealie meal at K50, 000.00 per bag? What is inflation below 10% when every time they get on a bus the fare is increased? All the much chorused economic gains the country has made don’t mean a thing if the average pay is K300, 000.00 per month and the minimum standard of living is rated at K1, 800, 000.00 if not even higher.
Education is illusive for many, the two universities cannot accommodate the demand and the available private schools are too expensive for the common man. Graduates have been reduced to corporate kaponyas moving around the streets of Cairo road and doing briefcase businesses. They are no jobs in Zambia. No jobs. Most of my colleagues some of whom are reading this article have been reduced to doing jobs abroad that they otherwise wouldn’t have done back home.
In my view, this explains the voting pattern visa-vies the divide between the urban and rural votes. Our colleagues in the rural areas don’t feel the pinch of a capitalist economy or is it that their conditions are subject to manipulation by fraudulent politicians? While the urban voters have access to LusakaTimes, the rural voters have to rely on government controlled media to know what is happening and the truth is that any media will only tell you what they want you to know. It’s really issues of information and the sugar. The dynamics of rural politics are very different from urban politics. In the rural areas it’s mostly what the chief says and who distributes the most sugar. I had visitors from Chipata a week before the elections and I took the time to ask them who they were going to vote for and they told ‘kaili amfumu anena kale’ in an apparent reference to an instruction given to them by the local chief to vote for Rupiah Banda.
Development is relative to the situation. What urban voters see as issues very differently from rural voters and that is one thing the MMD knows very well.
Moving on, the voting pattern also raises questions about capitalism. If you look at the Sata vote; you will realise that it is more of protest vote than anything. Sata has a very simple message; ‘I want to empower you economically’. Is it time for Africans to begin rethinking wealth distribution? Is it time we tried to regulate the economy more to spread wealth to everyone?
Sata’s message is not ideologically different from that of Robert Mugabe, they both are saying that it is time we Africans became a little selfish and enjoyed some economic power. Like the cliché saying goes’ who so ever has the money has the power’. If you give investors 3 years tax exemption then why don’t you do the same to the local investors? The truth is that Zambians are over taxed well over three times. Think about it! The government cries of not having money but one thing they don’t realise is that there is a huge informal sector out there which is not taxed. Why? Because the taxes are high so people don’t register their businesses? The best way to widen the tax base is to reduce tax and provide an environment that will help grow local industry. Then you will have more money to build school. Simple.
Perhaps it’s time for Africans to begin implementing economic policies that favour us and not the west. Economic policies are models, there are other models, and Americans have their own models which has plunged them into the crises they are in. Why don’t we seek models we can benefit from? The thing is the current economic policies favour either foreigners or the rich few, nothing for a poor me living in Kabwata. There is need for us to seriously re-consider and find ways of creating an environment in which all Zambians can be wealthy. Maybe then, the urban voter will rejoice when they hear our economy has grown by 5%.