By Nkonkomalimba Kafunda
Towards the end of 2001, after President Frederick Chiluba’s futile attempt to unconstitutionally extend his stay in office through an illegal third term, the self-proclaimed political engineer and master dribbler anointed Levy Mwanawasa, his first Vice President who had resigned from government in July 1994 out of disgust for Chiluba’s tolerance of Michael Sata’s corrupt ways, as his successor and set the end of December as polling day.
As a crack young intrepid reporter from the Post newspaper, on the evening of his resignation I spent over two hours interviewing the newly resigned Veep as trucks moved his personal possessions from his official residence, government house, to his private residence in Olympia Park. (That story is told in full in my upcoming book: 30 years of multi_partism, Zambia 1991-2021).
At the end of day Mwanawasa emerged victorious with cigarette paper thin margin, leading to an acrimonious and widely embarrassing election petition. The petitioners, by and large ,showed that Anderson Mazoka had won the election but in the minds of the Supreme Court bench, reversing the decision after Mwanawasa had been sworn in and was serving as president would be unhealthy for the country, politically, comically and socially.
Before the election, I was appointed project team leader of an Electoral Commission of Zambia project to produce a newspaper for civic education and voter sensitization called ‘The Choice’ . The European Union funded project entailed the interviewing of all presidential candidates and then producing 100,000 copies to be distributed to all 9 provinces at no cost to the reader, allowing voters to have greater insight into the policies of the candidates for what was expected to be informed voting, there after.
In what was then unprecedented and at the time quite honestly shocking, 13 individuals aspired for the presidency and qualified to have their names on the ballot, far more significant a number than 1991 when the ballot paper had UNIP’s Kenneth Kaunda and MMD’s Chiluba and 1996 when Chiluba faced ZADECO’s Dean Mung’omba.
Of the 13 candidates two were women, Innonge Mbikusita Lewanika and Gwendoline Konnie. Prominent candidates were Anderson Mazoka of the United Party for National Development (UPND) immediate past MMD National secretary Michael Sata (Patriotic Front), former defence minister Ben Mwila (Zambia Republican Party) and three former Vice president’s Mwanawasa (MMD), General Christon Tembo Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD), and General Godfrey Miyanda (Heritage party) (I personally interviewed Mr. Sata, Mr. Mwanawasa and General Miyamda’s representatives on the general’s behalf (the late Joe Kuluneta, the late Bright Chunga and current heritage party president and candidate Chishala Kateka) Needless to say the other candidates were so inconsequential that even their names have now been long forgotten. The highly disputed election result and the contentious post election petition that followed are similarly in the annuls of history.
Fast forward to 2021, and an astounding 20 candidates have stated their intentions to stand by paying the nomination fees. This is astonishing because only incumbent Edgar Chagwa Lungu (ECL) and opposition UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema (HH) have any realistic chance of carrying the day.
Even more interesting is that one candidate has withdrawn from the race while another has gone into an alliance with the UPND pledging to support the UPND’s candidate HH and his running mate former deputy speaker Mutale Nalumango.
The question is who has put up money for candidates who even had difficulty finding the requisite 100 registered voters per province for pre nomination formalities? In what can only be described as gross abuse of poverty stricken gullible voters over 80 individuals some with infants in tow, were left stranded in Lusaka after being ferried from Solwezi by an independent Presidential aspirant to make up the numbers required by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) forcing the Lusaka District Commissioner’s office to intervene with help from the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit DMMU to feed the hapless, starving multitude while arranging transport for their return to North Western province . Theis unfortunate incident came to an almost comical end when the 87 North Westerners joined the PF in a public display of desperation televised on ZNBC TV main news. Armed with means to go back and a little extra for incidentals, the erstwhile destitutes showered praises on the Samaritan PF and it’s leadership, breaking into song and dance, oblivious of the political expediency of this act of supposed charity.
While Felix Mutati’s camp has explained that the non refundable nomination fee was paid before the alliance was cemented, Pastor Peter Chanda’s reasoning raises suspicions. This is the same pastor who with Dan Pule and others went to the Constitutional Court to get the court to determine President Lungu’s status in relation to standing in the upcoming election getting a ruling that was in the incumbent’s favour, amidst jubilation and fanfare from the petitioners and their supporters. The ruling, nonetheless, remains a borne of contention the underlaying question being is being sworn in twice equivalent to holding office twice?
The sponsoring of candidates to weaken the opposition vote can not be ruled out, as shenanigans of this nature are right up the PF sleeve as is the buying of opposition leaders and members in the name of defectors who cite the lack of leadership and vision such as that found in the PF and the humble leader as reason for their exit.
I have already pointed out that only ECL and HH have any realistic chance of wining but this does mot mean all the other contenders are charlatans, puppets with PF as the Puppeteer.
Clearly my former boss and one time mentor Fred M’membe and others like Harry Kalaba. Anford Banda, Shone Tembo, Steve Nyirenda and the only woman Chishala Kateka are genuine candidates though it beats me what deluded them either individually or collectively, into believing they had a chance. Their money, in my considered view, would have been better spent helping children in orphanages, the blind, the handicapped and the elderly. In nutshell members of society who are victims of a lack of a sensible working social safety net, who might include council workers and unpaid long suffering government retirees, now that I think about it.
Regardless of the skullduggery in the back ground, the election will be won on economic issues particularly the dismal economic performance of the last ten years. The PF’s claims of huge infrastructure projects hold no water. Firstly, the projects were financed through debt. The government’s insatiable appetite for borrowing has put the country in the precarious position of seeking help to restructure or cancel debt, a situation every sovereign nation should avoid like the plague, avoid as if it were covid, cancer and Aids combined. Secondly, the infrastructure projects have been grossly inflated. In the road sector, for instance, roads that cost around US$500,000 per kilometre in the sub region, cost in excess of US$1 million here. Thirdly, roads have been built that have no tangible economic benefit and traffic volumes, existing or derived, will not generate the kind of resources required to pay for their construction. Additionally, hospitals have been built without requisite health care professionals and drugs.
The doctor patient ratio stands at one doctor to twelve thousand Zambians, while thousands of doctors, nurses and other care givers remain unemployed because government claims it has no money to recruit and renumerate them. The hospitals are devoid pf medicines rendering health institutions mere prescription issuing centres yet as elections approach millions are being dished out to informal sector traders, youth and women groups in the guise of empowerment funds without clear or defined criteria or repayment schedules, if any. Correspondingly, Corruption at all levels has become the norm, endemic and accepted if not expected and fortunes have been amassed. Inappropriately, institutions charged with f fighting these vices like the Anti Corruption Commission have been compromised and in extreme cases corrupted.
In a recent case a key prosecution witness an investigating officer in the ACC pleaded ignorance on why he was called to testify as the minister charged with multiple cases of contortion had done no wrong, in the witness’ opinion, forcing the magistrate to acquit the erring minister. Administrative disciplinary measures attempted by the head of the institution against the turncoat officer earned her summons to show cause why she should not be cited for contempt of court for interfering with a witness. A sick note accompanied by a profuse apology was promptly delivered to the court by her lawyers, a stern admonishing from the magistrate ostensibly ended the matter, at least for now.
Inevitably. the government has sought help from the IMF to get out of this self inflicted economic malaise, particularly the US$12.7 billion external public debt, with little success thus far. Hopes of attaining the much coveted or sought after Extended Credit Facility (ECF) seem indistinct, as conditions such as good, accountable, transparent government appear to be impossible to meet, unachievable by the current government.
In the minds of right thinking Zambians and well meaning foreigners the presidential election is more about attaining ECF rather than retaining ECL.