It was in 1991 when everyone was shouting “The Hour Has Come”! A new era had just dawn in post independent Zambia. The torch of a one party-participatory democracy, a conveniently crafted political ideology that united 73 ethnic people groups into a one party-ruled united Zambia, diminished and was about to be replaced by a multi-party democracy floodlight.
I recall very well how excited we were as university students who just survived a Mwamba Luchembe one hour coup and food riots that left some students severely maimed and three dead, with two uniformed men uniform in Kalingalinga. My aging grandpa had to brave his lung cancer to travel to his birthplace, 800km from Lusaka, to cast his vote as he believed that vote had power enough to contribute to the end of UNIP and KK’s 27-year rule. The Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) got 76% votes, winning by a landslide victory (125 of the 150 seats, with UNIP only 25). We saw our first president peacefully handing over power to a much
younger charismatic trade unionist and preacher, in Fredrick Titus Jacob Chiluba (popularly known as FTJ). I will forever honour this great man Dr Kenneth David Kaunda (KK) for conceding defeat and passing the mantle to FTJ. FTJ later on even caged super KK, took him to court, declared stateless in 1999 (Imagine!) which he challenged successfully in 2000. Later his dignity was restored as father of the nation by the late Patrick Levy Mwanawasa (LPM). FTJ tasted power and used it to do this. You may ask: Is this possible in a multi-party democratic Christian nation? Oh yes, it happened and written in history to haunt us.
The year 1991 brought so much hope to many Zambians, young and old, who at that time, were hungry and urgent to push the frontiers of development and achieve their dreams of being proud and free. I was one of those that believed into this new experiment as a second-year student of engineering at UNZA. I was very optimistic that the long queues of waiting to buy a tablet of soap and the hassles of jumping onto those unsafe Tata buses run by vigilantes without losing a shoe, would soon be a thing of the past. And, indeed, the policy of liberalisation and privatisation (though not a policy preference of TFJ and the MMD but a part of the
packaged conditions for development finance) brought good relief to some of the basic ugly evils that were prevalent especially late 80s and building up to 1991. We saw the advent of DCM’s on the road and some weird brands of buses, sweets from Pakistan, eggs and cabbage from Zimbabwe and mealie meal from far places like Canada as if we lived on mass.
The question you may be asking is: Did the dawn of multi-party democracy and its MMD government,captained by FTJ, bring real development to mother Zambia? I believe the answer to this question would be a mixed one, depending on which wing of the stadium you were sitting or are sitting now. If you were in grandstand, multi-party democracy did not get you soaked wet but cushioned you from the pangs of the structural adjustment programme (SAP). SAP brought untold misery to the people that were shouting loudest “pa nkoloko” during campaigns and voted in numbers to give KK a red card that was partially self-inflicted due
to his failure to listen to advice from his technocrats, the likes of Musokotwane, Mwanakatwe, Goma, Luke Mwananshiku and others.
The policy of liberalisation created competition to newly privatized parastatals and most of them folded belly up or shifted their production capitals to neighbouring Zimbabwe. Others simply closed and assets sold to pay off the debt that was inherited at acquisition. Driving through industrial areas in Luanshya, Ndola, Kitwe,Kabwe, Livingstone and others brought so much tears. In Kitwe, Mwekera Forest disappeared in 4 years due to the booming charcoal market driven by retrenched mine workers who resorted to renting out their acquired houses as part of the severance package from ZCCM via an IFC induced Future Search Programme. They built shacks in Mulenga compound but had no access to electricity and so charcoal became the primary energy source. The impact of the closure of industries on the people’s livelihoods and the effect on the environment is still with us to this day, 28 years after the advent of plural political system.
On the other hand, we saw a steady emergence of entrepreneurs that had a bit of capital and some tenacity to withstand bullying rates from banks and shrinking consumer expenditure. They formed huge trading companies and invested in warehouses to import bulk commodities from far and wide and distribute to the open market. With the mines privatised, some mine suppliers, that could not get their money from ZCCM run copper mines, now had their claims paid and so started flourishing. Hammers and other luxury vehicles became a common site on the Copperbelt. We also saw the advent of Shoprite and other South African brand chain stores spring up like mushrooms. The market for these stores was so good that they expanded very quickly in all provincial capitals of Zambia. Even Mazabuka and Mansa saw a Shoprite and Pep Stores, and this became some measure of development in FTJ’s era. For sure, there were no more basic grocery shortages and no more queuing for buses. There was plenty of choice for household commodities and freedom to trade anywhere. People became empowered to form tutemba and make money from them and this had significant impact on aggravated crime which reduced significantly as people could somehow earn a living. They earned a living either as vendors, taxi drivers, conductors or callboys. Some managed to get good jobs in those companies that survived the liberalisation and it’s SAP. It is the glimpse of hope in the masses that gave FTJ another victory in the 1996 elections and condemned UNIP to its final resting place when MMD won 131 seats and UNIP lost all 25 seats it had won in 1991. I don’t know how UNIP managed to do this but it happened!
On the macro-economic front, Zambia did not do as well as was expected, especially towards the end of 2000,to the disappointment of the massive voters. Some of the MMD founders criticized FTJ’s policy and warned that Zambia’s economy was being run like a bus limping on five wheels with loose nuts. In a matter of 4 years, the reality of the struggle of ‘the hour has come’ became apparent. MMD political tactics changed and the MMD government slid into partisan politics and corruption that eroded both the confidence of some of its founding architects and supporters alike. Opposition to the ruling MMD grew steadily with resignation of some key pioneers and an increasing tension among the ruling elites. Again, FTJ did not heed to the crispy advice that was pouring into state house and this became the beginning of the end to his rule that ushered back vigilantism and cadre-is-king mentality.
FTJ tried to hold on to power, crafted a third term campaign that saw him compromise some of highly regarded clergy who joined and conducted the chorus of third term even in pulpits. This cost MMD its dominance in parliament in the 2001 general elections. MMD’s candidate LPM won the presidential elections with just 29% of the vote in a field of eleven presidential candidates, including
Mr Chama Chakomboka. The MMD survived a political catastrophe as a part and its dominance was reduced to 69 seats in the National Assembly, with opposition parties gaining a majority. Luckily, LPM’s policies brought back some confidence and the economy started breathing again. He rounded up a very strong team of experienced technocrats who managed the economic machinery much better than in FTJ’s era. FTJ was stripped of his immunity that saw him charged with corruption and abuse of power to such an extent that he had to attend series of court sessions most of his last days on earth. What a legacy!
2006 elections provided the litmus test for LPM as he managed to double his votes from 29% in 2001 to 43% in 2006. However, it is worth noting that MMD has not recovered fully from the impact of FTJ’s rule, and after RB back peddled on LPM’s policies and the war against corruption. MMD lost its supremacy in 2011 when the people gave the king cobra 42% of the votes. And we are yet to see whether MMD will recover back to its glory days since up to now there it is not clear who its president is.
But something positive was happening in the background. There was growing confidence in the civil service and to some degree the rule of law was slowly taking its shape in the country that was used to vigilantes. One thing that the MMD government can take credit for is the commitment they made to the HIPC initiative, a pledge to relook at Zambian’s external debt at the time of completion. I will analyse the significance of this in PART II of these series.
What lesson can we draw from the first few years of the multi-party democracy experiment?
Well, there are several. The first and obvious one is that when the people of Zambia say enough is enough, it is difficult to
stop them. Trying to do so is like trying to stop a speeding train with your arms. The result is definitely fatal.KK experienced this and soon MMD experienced it. MMD had a very good support but they totally took that for granted. When the people got tired of FTJ and his political dribbling, they kicked him out. This is one of the benefits and gain brought by our constitutional multi-party democracy. FTJ could be challenged by both internal and external candidates and we can celebrate this new reality in Zambia even today.
The second and maybe more significant lesson is that embracing multi-party democracy and rule of law is one thing and governing by its tenets is another. We saw MMD leadership before 2001 preaching rule of law and democracy but lived completely opposite and even in denial of the same. FTJ almost single handedly legalized theft, corruption, bribery and nepotism in his approach to governance and the administration of the economy. He tasted power and confessed that it was sweet publicly and so it blinded his (and those with him) vision.Instead of delivering on the promises, political power was used it for self-enrichment of the elite ruling families and those sitting with them in the grandstand. Therefore, it is important that when people come to us and
campaign in the name of multi-party democracy and rule of law, we must listen to them with a pinch of salt.Check their track record and see whether they have the integrity to walk the talk. Charisma does not necessarily mean that the person has integrity. “Ichisungu cha mu miona” (if I can borrow Dr Katele Kalumba’s song) is not what we must look for in a good leader but credible references and track record of integrity.
The third lesson is that a nation cannot develop by short term strategies and heavy dependency on externalities, competencies and investments. Although external investment and competencies are critical in the short term, it is important to grow your own internal capacities and competencies for long term benefits.A consistent, predictable, reliable and humane socio-economic development framework with a suite of longterm strategies that put the local people at the core is non-negotiable. We can see how other nations are reaping the benefits of long-term investment in their people and systems. The Kaonde’s have a saying: “baja
na ba nzoro, bankanga ba tumbuka” (literal translation: Eat with chickens, guinea fowls will fly away). We have living examples of nations that believes, up to today, in building its people and systems. I am not for once promoting xenophobia, far from it. Actually, when a nation develops and is economically stable, it tends to attract more external investment and skills. The issue is whether the local people are merely labourers in their own country or flourishing entrepreneurs, business leaders, innovators and competitive employers (not just self-employed).
If multi-party democracy is not underpinned by deliberate policies that support a robust set of policies and strategies, directed and administered by a cadre of highly motivated, skilled and competent people of integrity, it becomes a failed experiment. And it would be a pipe dream to even think of achieving a sustainable socio-economic status without this precondition. We can see pockets of good things here and there but at wholesome level, majority would be wallowing in poverty wearing campaign chitengi materials with begging bowls along the streets. This is becoming apparent in the recent days of our multi-party democratic nation.
You may ask me but sir, we have a very good policy and development frameworks underpinned by regular democratic elections. What are you talking about? Well, when I cast my eyes on the horizon and look both behind and forward, I see a very mixed perhaps even confused multi-party democratic nation. Our development is like a roller coaster, very slow when climbing up and then cruises down very fast. We take a long time to correct, build and develop but only a few years to destroy what was built. And this cycle has
continued as it seems we cannot learn from our own mistakes. At the same time, we see a new elite of grandstand members fattening from a dying calf, with majority open wing members drooling to scramble for the carcass like hungry vultures. And these grandstand members are a product of our so-called multi-party democracy. This is what I am seeing from my humble lenses. There seem to be a denial that again the bus is wobbling this time on 3 wheels with loose nuts on the front axle and the driver still pushing the peddle as if all is well. Passengers are screaming their lungs out for their lives, but the driver and its entire crew are saying
all is under control. Is this the meaning of under control really?
Worse still, we are more divided as a nation than in 1973, which is very sad and worrying. Who would like their children to inherit a nation full of hate and tribalism, intolerance and even apostacy? No one, not even the members of the grandstand can afford this!
Therefore, the question I asked in the title: “Is multi-party democracy an experiment gone wrong for Zambia?”
is a relevant one. Unless we question this and become brutally honest with ourselves, we will only have ourselves to blame when the wheels finally come off and the Zambian bus crashes with major fatalities as collateral damage. We have the ability to fix this, but we lack the will.Zambia can only become great again if current leaders (political and apolitical alike) plant trees whose shade they know they will never enjoy. This is what we must all commit and aspire to do as a nation!
Let me end with this prayer: “May we have the hindsight to know where we’ve been, the foresight to known where we are going and the insight to know when we have gone too far”.
God bless you all and see you in Part II.
Dr. L Mwewa Jr.