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Alba Iulia
Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Zambian Multi-Party Democracy: An experiment gone wrong? Part I

Columns Zambian Multi-Party Democracy: An experiment gone wrong? Part I

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.


  1. Quote: 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.

    • Good writing.. on division l blame the our selves. We seem to entertain tribal leaders like CK and applaud to his useless talk..

  2. Which MMD is this, I guess the Mumba’s MMD because of word “hope”
    “The hour of New hope”
    President Nostra.
    Tomorrow Heritage Party

  3. I agree with economist Damibisa Moyo, she said Africans are not yet ready for democracy. Until our population is educated they can not be given the task to vote for credible candidates. But we need a visionary dictatorship like Rwanda not this current crop of leaders selling the country.


  4. Benzu Zulu: have you really interrogated your statement. Have have enlightened citizens in Zambia who have joined politics been serving us? Education is good but it is not enough without morality. Who is stealing public funds? Is it illiterate peasants or those they have entrusted with political power to serve their fellow citizens?

    • Voter education is most effective when linked with a programme of civic education that puts the election into context for voters and provides an explanation of the election’s purpose, the surrounding issues, and their significance. Ideally, civic education will be built into a country’s educational system so that when children reach voting age they will already understand the basis of the national and local political and electoral systems. However, since this is not always the case, and since these systems may change over time, it is vital to have a continuing programme of civic education linked to electoral processes. Moreover, if women are disadvantaged in a country’s educational system, they may not have received the civic education necessary to enable them to participate in elections…

    • Look at politicians like Elias Chipimo Jr and KBF, these are clever politicians with a vision for Zambia, yet if these two went to Mandevu compound and explained their vision with ECL Lungu dancing with beer flowing who do you honestly think the electorate will vote for? ECL and his dancing Queens of course.

  5. Dr. L Mwewa Jr. what a piece!!!!. It would be interesting to know what Emmanuel Mwamba thinks about this. I am saying this because I tend to think Emmanuel has a different perspective of Zambia history even though we lived in the same period

    • Good writing.. on division l blame the our selves. We seem to entertain tribal leaders like CK and applaud to his useless talk..

  6. Good reflections Dr Mwewa on the Zambia Multi-Party Democracy and entry of MMD into Zambian politics in 1991. Change was inevitable the masses had had enough of UNIP and KK by 1990. Just before the elections that ushered MMD into office, during KKs’ last campaign, he warned the people of Zambia saying, “beware of wolves in sheep skin”. He described MMD as a composition of; Coup Plotters, failed Businessmen, Drug Dealers, fired CEOs’ and fired Ministers’ and wondered what the younger founder members the likes of Dean Mung’omba, Chitala, Aka, Baldwin and Mwiinga saw in such people to invite them into the party. That is where the highly anticipated and sought after democracy the people were expecting took a different turn. Some of the old guards who joined MMD had scores to settle…

  7. Good premise for the article, but if Part 11 sticks to 500 words that will be very good.

    Yes, Multi-party politics in Zambia has gone wrong because of the correctly identified; quote, ‘elite of grandstand members drooling to scramble for the carcass like hungry vultures.’

    And these grandstand members are the CESS POOL product of our so-called multi-party democracy!!

    We are doing fine under His Excellency President Lungu, but CORRUPTION is compromising our Democratic system. The answer to Musa Mwenye’s article arguing against multiparty is that WE NEED TO STOP THE MULTIPARTY MADNESS!!!

    • Correction…. The answer to Musa Mwenye’s article arguing FOR multiparty is that WE NEED TO STOP THE MULTIPARTY MADNESS!!!

      If President Lungu can stop awarding corrupt officials with a nonchalant attitude when suspected; his govt is just what we need. There is a reason why God gave Kenneth Kaunda longevity to witness to us our folly of falling for Western, ‘Divide and rule ‘ ploy. Even one party states can be Democratic if we empower the Constitutional Court to remove reluctant encumbents. We are Tribal people……what can the West expect than this Zambian mess? Bane, Fake Party Presidents causing divisions amongst us drooling to be President!!!! No, No please….ENOUGH!

  8. Cont. scores to settle with KK, others saw an opportunity to turn their fortunes around, it wasn’t long into MMD stay in office before one of the Ministers very close to FTJ was caught trying to smuggle loads of cash in a trunk from a bank, also it wasn’t long before some key founder members resigned from MMD on account of things going in totally different direction at very fast pace, departing from what had been laid down on the table at formation stage. One Minister even took Tshala Mwana into his household during time she came to perform at victory of MMD. Such was the caliber of some of the Ministers’ under FTJ who had significant influence on what sort of leader he was going to turn out to be.

    • ,@ ZOZI-A-ZOZI , when you want to continue your thread, you must press the Reply button on Your thread otherwise you publish in the wrong place leaving your continuation without a head!

  9. MMD fulfilled it’s designed purpose of ending One Party rule and initiating change through political pluralism. It was a successful experiment which in my opinnion got marred by trying to overstretch their stay in power.

    Politics is not a science as widely assumed, but an art. While a scientist will not rest until he has exhausted all available possibilities of regularity, an artist will know when to honorably exit the stage, no matter how sweet the applause maybe. In most cases, the artist will retire as a legend while the scientist drifts into obscurity leaving only a putrid odour of what might be medicine or toxin.

  10. Patriot abroad, thank you so much. I take your advice and Part II will be shorter. I value the comments from all of you LT blogger. I am not a politician, nor a political scientist. Just a very concerned citizen. I am home almost every other month since I left in 2003 and my writing is based on that.

    • Very enjoyable piece, it sort of put things in perspective reminding us of the nostalgia of yester year. Good stuff very evocative. That hand sign of the clock was really naff to this day!

  11. There was a time when honor was putting country was before party and that time was before 1964. The 1968 elections showed us that party and kin was more important than country. It’s almost like colonialism never really happened.
    There is nothing wrong with multi party democracy other than the individuals participating in it. It’s the baseless loyalty to party, tribe and tribal hate that is killing multi party democracy in Zambia and Africa at large.
    If we are to see the benefits of multi party democracy we need to abandon putting our bellies, tribe, and party before ideas and democracy.

  12. The title of the article “Zambian Multi-Party Democracy: An experiment gone wrong?” clearly spells out that the author is ‘anti-democracy’. The author misguides himself by insinuating that democracy entails economic prosperity. Democracy is not negotiable. Perhaps the author should read up the evolution of human freedom, begining with the magna carta, the French and American revolution. In a speech in cairo Barrack Obama said” there is nothing American nor Western about democracy and freedom” freedom in a God given right.

    There is nothing wrong with Zambia that it cannot be cured by what is right with Zambia. Economic prosperity has nothing to do with a system of governance. Whether it is state capitalism in communist China or Private capital in the west, a country can still be…

    • Liberty I can’t agree with you more. I learn alot from such comments like yours no insult not inclined to any political party but simply facts and great observation

  13. Dear Dr. Mwewa this part pretty much sums up the Zambia of today and I quote “Worse still, we are more divided as a nation than in 1973… Who would like their children to inherit a nation full of hate and tribalism, intolerance and even apostacy?”
    These two points are our own undoing. There are people in Zambia who believe that because they speak a language of the majority they can exercise unbridled hegemony and unrestrained power of dictatorship. It is very easy to fix the divisive politics of Zambia. Treat all citizens with equality before the law, distribute national resources evenly across the country and ensure that all positions in government especially ministries, permanent secretaryship are deliberately allocated on regional quotas. The bottom of the Zambian bucket will one…

    • The bottom of the Zambian bucket will one day soon fall off and we will flee to become refugees in other countries. I hope leaders have read your piece and will heed advice.

  14. Liberty, thanks for your comments. I think it is premature to conclude that I am anti-democracy. Far from it. I am analysing what it means for us as a nation and what we can do to strengthen it. So this is Part I. Hold your fire for now. But thanks for your positive remarks. Warlord comments are also appreciated. You know, I have lived in almost all provinces in Zambia as a kid and also during my career. I speak 6 of our major languages. I have appreciated how we were welcomed as a family in Kasempa 1978, in Mazabuka in 1979, in Solwezi and Mwinilunga 1981, in Kawambwa in 1985, in Livingstone in 1986, Kitwe, Lusaka, Mongu, Chipata, Mfuwe, Kabompo, Kasama and felt at home like in my own village in Mansa. We were welcomed as Zambians. Some of my best friends are from other provinces. We…

  15. We have settled in Livingstone and we are very welcomed by the people in Chief Mukuni’s kingdom despite my wife (easterner) and I being from other tribes. This is the Zambia we must all aspire to and protect jealously. Differences in opinions should enrich our possibilities and not divide us.

  16. Great I hope CK reads this. The man can divide Zambia.. how do allow ourselves sink do low and entertain CKs comments of hate tribalism and racism. The killing of Chinese couple comes from such hate speeches from leaders.. they sink in people

  17. It is events outside KK’s control that made KK lose the elections. The first external factor was the price of copper which dropped drastically in 1973 and our Zambian run mines failed to adjust the cost of operation and the government had to subsidize the operation of the mines. The second factor was the price of oil which rose dramatically upwards when the Arabs after the Israel-Arab war realized they were selling their oil too cheaply. The third factor was the price of maintaining sanctions against Rhodesia and the cost of supporting liberation wars. Otherwise I was able to enjoy free education up to university level before the wheels came off.

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