Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night. My mind takes me to the political landscape that is shaping the current economic woes and societal despondency in Zambia. My heart bleeds for my beloved country. What have we done to deserve what we are going through? Life is hard. The cost of living is skyrocketing and beyond the reach of many. Industries are closing down and workers are thrown into the cold. Jobs for many graduates from our education institutions are non- existent. Those who hack out a living through self-help entrepreneurship are bearing the brunt of power load shading. The political scene is no better. Violence has become the order of the day. We have seen the kind of political violence never experienced in Zambia before. Gun toting and use of live bullets to threaten political opponents is slowly becoming part of Zambia’s political culture. Lawlessness is getting entrenched. Those entrusted with maintaining law and order have sometimes been in the forefront, breaking the law. The very process of electing our leaders is fraught with impunity. The lawless and powerful are registering under aged children as voters. The list of woes continues so you can fill the gaps.
Although the misery Zambians are going through is caused by a few, the rest of citizens are watching, powerless to do anything. Paralyzed, they become tools in the very hands of the few. Confused as to the way things ought to be, they become cheerers of the cause of their own death. The leaders they looked to for better life are caught up into the frenzy of making hay while the sun shines. The thought of life outside government is unbearable. So, everything must be done to maintain the status quo. Those who gather courage to question illegality must be brutalized and silenced. With the national elections coming in a few months from now the gag machinery is going into full throttle. This is why I am worried. I am not worried for myself but for the millions of Zambians for what await us. There is writing on the wall. Are Zambians seeing it? Have you heard of children in Zambia and other nationals from neighboring countries that are being registered as voters in Zambia? Have you heard of what has happened to gallant Zambians that wanted to investigate these happenings? The writing is on the wall and if we ignore it more misery will visit us.
If we merely watch and do not organize ourselves to counter the rot going on right now in the political arena we should not cry when the worst hits us.
Here is my humble suggestion. Every institution and individual Zambians desiring peace and prosperity of our land must unite and protect legitimate processes of electing our leaders into councils, parliament, and the presidency. NGOCC, FODEP, Women’s Lobby, Oasis, Transparency International, the Church, chiefs, LAZ, and many others hear this clarion call. The sign is on the wall. If we merely watch and do not organize ourselves to counter the rot going on right now in the political arena we should not cry when the worst hits us. We must protect the will and choices of Zambians against partisan interests.
Elections are not rigged on the voting day only. Summoning all our energies to monitor actual voting even with international elections observers is too little too late. There is need to get organized now, creating mechanisms to document and report violence and malpractices taking place from issuing of registration and voters cards up to the day of elections. What we need is a body of evidence to fall on if and when our systems fail us because they choose to side with political parties and not the people. Many Zambians want to collect evidence of wrong-doing but have nowhere reliable to report it to for documentation and use. Sometimes they have no skill in collecting evidence that could be used in courts of law and international human rights institutions.
I call upon all civil society organizations in Zambia to take the challenge and save the country from sliding into chaos. Mobilize us for action against electoral lawlessness. I do not want to wake up some day, in the middle of the night and say, “The writing was on the wall but Zambians ignored it.”
By Mapanza H Nkwilimba
The author was among the founding members of the Zambia Elections Monitoring Coordinating Committee (ZEMEC) now Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP).