By Kapya Kaoma
Democratic elections are business transactions between politicians and the electorate. After months of opprobrium and violent campaigns, in less than 3 weeks, Zambians will finally settle their accounts. Thereafter, the electorate will have to wait for another five years to recite the ZNBC mantra: “If you pay, it will show.”
In 2016, the elections showed. Protruding bellies of unexpecting male politicians and cadres as if expecting mothers; except the curse of Eve reversed to give birth to corruption and in competencies untold. Dying and starving babies in overcrowded hospitals attract no mercy, in a nation where painkillers are a luxury, while politicians drive oversized cars, give themselves unwarranted allowances and cadres are above the law. Nefariously, they salute each other as honorables, when their faecal souls even Satan is embarrassed to accept.
As masses die from the COVID-19 Pandemic, they await August 12 to steal more and more. T-shirts, fitenges, Chibuku and Kachasu, for Mosi is a luxury, Kwachas and of course, Sunday Amens, are their favorite tools. And how can a starving person refuse a meal from a witch if it can keep him alive for a day, or a thirsty soul refuse a drink from the devil if it gives it enough energy to reach a stream? So our enslaving poverty, to these soulless politicians, a secret weapon. In our impoverishment they joyfully dance, demanding unearned encomiums from us, by throwing stolen Kwachas, chitenge, T-shirts at us in broad daylight, while buying our voter’s cards to ensure we don’t vote them out. On election eve, they hypnotize us with nshima, kachasu and chibuku so that the following day, we cast our votes under a deadly spell–after all, natulyamo! With that they bid us farewell until another election is in sight.
Audacious PF cadres are the most identified, but these actions are well established across the political spectrum. Presidential, Parliamentary and local government elections involve vote buying. Even the process of selecting contestants is influenced by bank accounts–you can’t campaign with empty pockets. It is what it is! I respect the advocacy against “votes for cash.” But we must not pretend our politics are clean–campaigns are influenced by cash payments and other bribes and benefits.
Economic depravity is not evenly spread. For the poor whose access to income is highly restricted, for example, giving them K200 in exchange for a voter’s card, or a vote is better than voting for a great candidate who promises to end poverty once in office. This is also true with chitenges, and T-shirts. The poor receive them with great pride–the attires add to their wardrobes. The concept that benefits of the elections will be felt after one is in office is not engraved in our political system–ours is the ZNBC mantra–“if you pay, it will show.” The majority of Zambians wants immediate benefits from politicians. Tribal identification may override this factor, but the electorate must be kept happy with some of these items if one has to remain competitive.
Throwing cash on the poor in exchange for votes may be wrong. But the cultural virtue of sharing is at play. As a rich person, for instance, HH is in an awkward position. He is expected to thrash out Kwachas across the country. If he doesn’t, he would be characterized as a close fisted politician–a vituperative title his opponents employ to define him. It is not how many times we share, but what matters most is that we have shared when we meet. Sharing once in five years is not that bad–after all, many of us do so with our relatives. We may educate people, but the truth remains–T-shirts, fitenges, cash, and of course, Chibuku and Kachasu–ukulyamo move votes. You can’t win without them. Be it Chiluba, Mwanawasa, Banda, Sata, Lungu, HH Kalaba, and M’membe, they all know this truth–without these four, even Jesus wouldn’t win Zambian elections!
Importantly, the rural voter does not experience economic challenges as an urban voter. The PF stratagem has been to marry its cash payments to socio-cultural expectations–rural folks interpret it as cultural altruism. A video from a UPND member from Luapula teasing the PF’s distribution of cash payments to people is an example. That giving money by the well-to-do to the less fortunate is an established cultural expectation, the opposition may demean it, but the poor view it as a true expression of kindness. Sadly candidates who don’t give money to the electorate are viewed as having a voracious African character, and undeserving of political office. Thus the UPND and other parties are forced to join in dishing out cash, while criticizing the PF for doing the same. It is not the cash which is an issue, rather how much cash PF is handing out to the electorate. Since PF is in power, it is exploiting government resources to win favor from the electorate. This is the problem which the opposition is highlighting, but not the act itself.
So what is the way forward? Political strategists ought to take these four into consideration. Zambians will always sell and buy votes. Opposition politicians may tease the electorate for accepting salt, sugar, and cash from the Party in power in exchange for votes. To a poor voter, however, it is simply flapdoodle–a good and caring person is the one who gives a cup of salt or sugar rather than the one who promises a good road once in power. As Bembas say, “batasha ico wiketeko” (you say thanks for what is in your hands). So how political strategists negotiate this culture is critical to winning future elections.