Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Zambia’s Rotten Political System


By Michael Chishala

Of late, there has been very harsh criticism of the ruling patriotic Front (PF) government from many quarters, local and international, after the recent arrest and incarceration of United Party for National Development (UPND) President Hakainde Hichilema for what is believed by some to be trumped up treason charges.

I submit that as much as PF have made a lot of mistakes and will ultimately be judged by Zambians at the polls, a lot of what is happening currently is not their fault. Not exactly. I know this sounds an incredible statement to make but allow me to elaborate.

The PF is simply playing by the rules and systems that have been set by people and forces before them. They are simply using the power that lies in the Executive branch of government. They are benefiting from weak institutions of governance. Instead of focussing on blaming the PF, we must blame the system.

Take an example of the Public Order Act of 1953 that was created to stifle efforts of the native blacks to gain equality and attain fair majority rule. The POA made it difficult for the natives to organize a strong resistance to an unjust system that made whites richer and kept blacks poor.

The United National Independence Party (UNIP) government of Kenneth Kaunda had 27 years to dismantle the POA but did not. KK used the law to the maximum and even went further than the colonialists by creating a one party state and imposing a state of emergency for his entire presidency which he use to crush all opposition to his rule.

The Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) government similarly used the POA against its political enemies including the PF itself! And when the PF came into power, they also used the POA to maximum effect against their opponents. Every single government since the white colonialists have used the POA to advantage themselves and stifle opposition. So rather than blame the PF, we must blame the entire system of Zambia with its weak institutions of governance.

Therefore, I am inclined to think that even if the UPND under HH were elected, the same problems would continue. It seems to me that the UPND could potentially be worse than PF in this regard because they have a huge axe to grind and are upset beyond measure, especially with the incarceration of HH.

Many people in the UPND support base are annoyed with long standing historical problems from 1964 whereby potential Presidents from the South Western part of Zambia (Harry Nkumbula, Arthur Wina, Anderson Mazoka, Hakainde Hichilema) are apparently always “dribbled” in favour of North Eastern or Central candidates (Kenneth Kaunda, Frederick Chiluba, Levy Mwanawasa, Edgar Lungu). Under a UPND government, public officers like the Police Inspector General or the Electoral Commission of Zambia Chairperson would be fired immediately and very likely harassed thereafter using the courts. Lots of political scores would be settled.

Every single party in power will overuse state power to some extent. It would have to take a very special “Messiah President” in the mould of Nelson Mandela to resist using the excessive powers of the Executive. Even the man of rule of law and integrity Levy Mwanawasa used the powers of the state to try to deport Roy Clarke over satire pieces that likened him to an elephant called “Muwelewele”. LPM threw out from MMD his former Vice-President Nevers Mumba when he got wind of an impending challenge for the party presidency at the 2005 convention.

The default position by any ruling party and sitting president is to preserve power. Even Americans or Europeans do it. The powers of the Zambian state are so extensive that they have a corrupting and seducing effect. Those of you who have seen the movie “Lord of the Rings” would understand what I mean. There was a character in the move called Gollum who got corrupted by a magical ring with strange irresistible powers.

Fixing the problems we have with governance in Zambia requires reforming the system and not just heaping blame on the ruling party as if they created the system. Hate the game and not the players, as they say on the streets. Zambians should not be fooled by the current crop of opposition that they would be any different. It is all just a game of political musical chairs, hence the need to change the system. How do we do it?

Well, a good constitution and more robust laws is a step in the right direction, but even good laws are only as powerful as their enforcement. If the Judiciary, Police and Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) are not independent of the Executive, then everything is useless. Strengthening these arms of government by giving security of tenure to office bearers is cardinal.

So for example, judges should be nominated by the Judiciary itself, seconded by the President and ratified by Parliament. After that, to remove a judge should only be done by an independent body and not the President. The Police Chief position can also be safe-guarded by removing the power to fire from the president’s office. Other independent mechanisms for removal can be created. Similarly, the ECZ, Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) or Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) should be made completely independent so that the Executive cannot misuse any of those offices to settle political scores.

Cabinet should be removed from Parliament as was proposed in the draft constitution of the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) and the Technical Committee under the PF. This clause was thrown out by selfish parliamentarians who want the chance to be appointed Ministers while remaining MPs. They want to do a “Double Tobela”.

The trouble is that a president holds influence over Parliament since they have the power to appoint Ministers. Once they appoint 30 Ministers, none of them would ever go against the President and the rest also want to be appointed. This is why the law on impeaching a president for example is useless and redundant. We need full separation of powers like in the USA where Cabinet is appointed outside Congress. Full independence of institutions, separation of powers and a freedom of information law is what will fix the current broken system and prevent all the excesses we have witnessed the last 50 years plus.

All these reforms I am suggesting would require the cooperation of the ruling party to ever see the light of day. Some of the reforms may at first appear to work against the interests of the current office bearers. However, taking a long term view means that it is actually in the interest of PF to enact these kinds of proposals because no matter what they do or do not do, they will eventually lose power to another party in future. They can create a nice landing for themselves by ensuring that the party which succeeds them cannot misuse state powers against them.

Both UNIP and MMD made this mistake and were punished for it. I hope the PF can learn the lessons of history well.

Articles Originally posted here

The Author is a Zambian blogger, entrepreneur and ICT Specialist in web and database technologies. He is a University of Manchester graduate in Engineering. Email: michael [at] zambia [dot] co [dot] zm


  1. Stop shifting blame you rotten pf cadre. Lung who claims to be a lawyer should have taken a proactive stance to correct the errors. So just because there is a law that states it is OK to sleep with your mother and dog, are you going to do it? Mwanawasa had the same laws at his disposal but because he was a learned man who respected natural justice he took a proactive role in ensuring freedoms of his people both economically socially and legally. Lungu and pf are dictators who stole elections chapwa

    • Edgar Lungu has failed to provide leadership. That is the bottomline. Excuses from failed passed policy won’t help. We saw things change when Mwanawasa was president.Truth is Edgar Lungu neither has the will nor capacity to lead.

    • I’m just from speaking with my old friend on whatsapp fone. I started speaking about the political situation in Zambia. He got scared & asked we speak about something else bcoz “they” may be listening.

      I tried to explain that Whatsapp is encrypted, but she said no, she’s scared of being in trouble.

      it’s official, Zambia is back in Unip one party dictatorship days.

    • “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions”: President Obama’s Speech to Ghana’s Parliament
      – An independent ECZ Not one controlled by lungu used to defraud political opponents
      – An independent police Not one controlled by PF00l cadres like kamba or mumbi phiri used to fight political opponents
      – An independent ZNBC Not a DeadNBC one controlled by PF00ls used to fight political opponents
      – An independent ZRA Not one used to fight political opponents
      – A professional ZAF Not one used to block opposition campaigns & alter ballot boxes in transit
      – An independent ERB Not one that increases electricity fares just becoz lungu want to $1.6 billion from IMF for their corrupt road contracts
      – An independent ZICTA Not one that threatens the citizens that they are…

    • CONT’D..

      – An independent ZICTA Not one that threatens the citizens that they are listening to their conversations in order protect lungu’s illegal dictatorship
      – An independent parliament Not a rubberstamp
      – An independent ConCourt Not a shamelessly biased kangaroo court

    • NEZ you are the worst example of bantu botatwe politics. Mwanawasa did not change the POA but because he spoke your language he is God. Rubbish.

    • Maloza it not just your friend who is so scared to talk politics in public, am just from one of Lusaka highly populated markets, one minibus driver was playing pilato’s songs, guess what all his friends were telling him, iwe bazakulonga, balekuponona isho inyimbo ulelisha, we back to those kk days were people used to hiss to each other when speaking and having a camera in public and taking pictures in public places was almost treasonous.

    • Mr. Chishala’s article is simplistic and full of partisan sentiments. He says we shouldn’t blame PF but the institutions. He goes on to list a number of measures that should be taken to correct the problem. In the final paragraph, he makes a suggestion that the PF should take a long term view and implement reform. The fact is PF is now in government and they have all that is required to implement the reforms that you suggest. However, the truth is they cannot do it because they do not have the political will to do so. You go on to judge the UPND suggesting that they’ll equally do the same. You are wrong. UPND is not a vindictive party, they want to change Zambia for the better. No political prisoners, no POA, no intimidation only freedoms of speech, assembly, access to information and…

    • How come he is hiding his identity…. Anyways, whatever his sources are they are not factual. HH does not represent the politics he is taking about. Dear author find another reason to support the current madness going on in the country. Stop patronizing the Zambians with your tribal line of thinking.

  2. Michael, this is a better effort than the last one.

    Here is the thing, this is a lot of theory, that has little to no meaning at Zambia’s current political landscape.

    Being a University of Manchester University graduate is not an achievement, being PhD graduate is.

    again, I am not having a go at you, just a reminder at sticking what you know best.

    You have done a better job, this time around

    I just completed my PhD



    • Little Mushota who or whatever you are dont you think its better to stop your sensless comments which are brainless and sickening.Please stop it.Thank you in the name of the whole community.

    • Why not ignore the person. When you ignore an irritating person or child they get hurt. IGNORE, never insult,anyone let alone the President lets blog constructively and influence our nation positively.Things are not going well.

    • You always advertising your PhD as if you’re the first to graduate from Europe. We are sick and tired of your childish rantings over your so called PhD. At one point using your so called names, i google to search for you but i didnt find any academic writing in your name. You are a fake PhD holder

    • But why not ignore?Indeed no academic would boast.Which means this person is not but is obsessed with dreams day and night to get PhD !!!

  3. Well articulated, HOWEVER PF will not litsen.Kaunda to his credit did litsen under pressure over Scientific Socialism in about 1983 and of course 1991 for multiparty. I will bet you that PF will not litsen to anyone local or international.They’re convinced they’ll forever.All advice including this article is rubbish, PF is infallible, eternal, innerant…is my observation.

  4. Institutions are more sustainable than personalities. Institution by definition are enduring. If you strengthen institutions, then you build a democratic society. However, institutions oftentimes show signs of personalities. It is an oversimplification to place institutions in a vacuum where personalities do not exist. What is needed is integrity, accountability and transparency as Gorbachev argued in his work “Perestroika”. If you take kids to cabinet, kids will show you kid stuff. If you take kids to congress, kids will show you kid stuff. If you take kids to senate, kids will show you kid stuff. If you take kids to fishing, kids will show you kid stuff. In a nutshell, harness personalities in running successful institutions.

    • Strong controls are still important. That is why even in organisations, there are rules and policies to ensure that employees are accountable. Why wait for goodness when you can enforce it.

    • The complaint is that in the Republic, institutions are not performing according to expectations of their creators. The way forward is to address the human resource deficit. Good human resource management is founded on what Marx summed as: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” (German original: Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen). In other words, if you can not drive, then at least let someone capable of good driving take you where you want to go. Among farmers, give chance to a good farmer to provide leadership. Among lawyers, let a good lawyer provide leadership. Among pilots, let a good pilot provide leadership. There is no need to re-invent the wheel. Boys will be boys.

    • “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions”:
      President Obama’s Speech to Ghana’s Parliament

  5. This is close to the truth. Zambia has a rotten political system and must learn from countries like South Africa which practise a people’s democracy. Most laws in zambia are created to help government rule over people, not to empower or provide service to people. Infact, apart from Elections, which usher in leaders( and are also usually marred by abuse of state power by those in power) Zambia is not any different from monarchs or autocratic states. Democrasy lies in institutions that are independent Like the Police, the Courts, the Public Protector, Parliament,the media which must all operate in line with a constitution that gives power to them and the people. Politicians must serve the country, not the country to serve them. therefore until such a time when we have independent…

    • Good one Michael Chishala, an attempt was made at reforming the Zambian constitution through the many submissions by the public however those that put final touches attached faces to proposed articles throwing all the progressive ideas under the bus! It will only take a real woman or man of integrity to look beyond their nose to give another try at restructuring the constitution so the people can get something close to what they hope were existing! As for the POA it breeds a despot used by the president of a ruling party to act above the other two arms of government, Legislative and Judiciary. The Zambian Constitution still needs some serious tweaking to it if not with home grown competence a little help from the Commonwealth Club can do! I agree completely if judges were to be nominated…

    • contd…. by the Judiciary and then ratified by Parliament however the President (Executive) should be the last in the process expectedly to just rubber stamp! Ministers chosen from outside parliament should be the President who takes lead to nominate then Parliament ratifies after of course the necessary grilling by the appropriate parliamentary committees who they’d be answerable to for accountability, this would give the country the right and competent people whose office tenure would not be easily abused by the president!

  6. Who does not know Chishala, he has some good points but he has been a PF cadre from the word go. No need to blame institutions: Lungu is just a devil’s agent who destroyed Zambia. IG will be proscuted no matter if we have POA or not.

  7. Author,
    Yes one party system was created and Kapwepwe was beaten (Physically) by the UNIP Cadres never to participate in Zambian Politics. To day this Government is celebrating the life of Salome Kapwepwe? Will they be celebrating the life of HH tomorrow?


  9. Bravo Michael Chishala for telling us all the truth.indeed we should not only criticise those in power but our rotten system.many things should be changed if our democracy is to things are,the opposition parties will keep on crying while former leaders also shall dance to their tune when a new Govnt is ushered in!!!


  10. I no longer recognize hh the 6 times record losing candidate as president of upnd until we go for a convention I also hope he has enjoyed state hospitality which should help sober him up….

  11. I agree on the Ministers appointed from outside Parliament. I would go a step further and say the American system where the two main parties only elect a presidential candidate a few months before polls. This will avoid the current problem we have in which an opposition party is synonymous with an individual. Such individuals don’t give space to an incumbent President to perform as they are constantly decampaigning . This will also effectively deal with intra party politics.

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