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Lessons from Zambia’s opposition landslide win



THE outcome of the 12 August Zambian election, which saw the opposition ousting a ruling party, is relevant to Zimbabwe, as the two countries share a lot of similarities, with analysts saying the opposition in Zimbabwe can take some notes.
The two countries share geographical, cultural and demographic resemblances.
First, they are neighbours separated by the Zambezi River and the two capitals Harare and Lusaka are only 471km apart by road and 399km apart by air.
Zimbabwe and Zambia together with Malawi were once under one administration, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
The federation, which officially ended on 31 December 1963, was established on 1 August 1953 with a governor-general as the Queen’s representative at the centre.
As a result of the geographical proximity and having been part of one country, there was a lot of movement between the two countries.
Zimbabwe is generally known to have about five million people of Zambian, Malawian and Mozambican origin, at least according to a former Malawian minister, Patricia Kaliati.
This means there are a lot of shared cultural values between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The populations are almost the same, at around 15 million for Zimbabwe and 17 million for Zambia. In addition, the demographics in both countries are similar, with the youth constituting the majority of voters.
The size of the economy is another similarity. Although Zimbabwe used to have a bigger economy, it has shrunk.
There is also a lot of unemployment in Zambia, with the youth, who were a key population in the election, facing immense hardships in finding employment after graduation and being forced into the informal sector.
Some of them even turned to the polling stations to vote in their graduation gowns to protest the lack of economic opportunities.
As in Zimbabwe, Zambia is also experiencing high levels of poverty, poor social service delivery. The election also came at a time when the economy had been battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, which in a way gave the opposition an advantage.
For these reasons and more, the Zambian election carries an important lesion for Zimbabwe. There are a few opposition leaders who have won elections in the Sadc region apart from Zambia, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Seychelles in the past two years.
With 155 of 156 constituencies counted, official results on Monday showed Hakainde Hichilema had secured 2.8 million votes against Edgar Lungu’s 1.8 million.
It is the third time that power has shifted peacefully from a ruling party to the opposition since Zambia’s independence from Britain in 1964.
Among the lessons analysts said the Zimbabwe opposition should learn is  how to capture the youth vote, which was a critical element in elections.
Alex Mwamba Ng’oma, a lecturer, researcher and political analyst with the University of Zambia said ignoring the needs of young people results in the youths ignoring politicians in elections.
“The youths are the majority in many countries. They are also the majority voters. The Zambian youths need educational and employment opportunities. That is the turf where you can meet them. The fallen government largely ignored them and paid the ultimate price,” Ng’oma said.
“The outgoing government was a runaway government; that is why it has lost the election. It had run away with unprecedented infrastructure development, but neglected the social needs of the people. The Zambian economy was/is in a bad state; food has become expensive, and families are struggling to have three meals a day. Economic performance is a sure predictor of electoral outcomes. When the economy is bad, the incumbent is blamed and will lose the election. Research has proved that fact.”
He said the opposition must also form strong and functional alliances and work with the electoral commission.
“The opposition must learn to form electoral alliances — functional ones, based on trust and selflessness. It is usually difficult for a single party to unseat an incumbent government,” Ng’oma said.
A political science lecturer with the University of Zambia, Lee Habasonda, said it was necessary for the opposition to build strong structures to the lowest levels as these will be instrumental in safeguarding the vote.
“One of the lessons is that the opposition has to bring itself up to the lowest of the structures so that people feel a sense of ownership and safeguard the vote. They must organise themselves to the lowest structure,” Habasonda said.
“The other lesson that can be learnt is that of perseverance. Hichilema was thrown in prison about 15 times, he was assaulted but continued with the ordinary people. The people were ready to safeguard the vote. The opposition was not allowed to campaign freely and were not given time on the national broadcaster, but they were only doing drive-by campaigns.”
Habasonda said the people should be aware that the election was not about the opposition but about them standing up to arrogance, wrongdoing and corruption in government.
According to a youth representative of Hichilema’s United Party for National Development, Joseph Kalimbwe, four million young people between the ages of 18 to 24 registered to vote and turned out in large numbers in a bid to ensure the mistakes of their parents were corrected.
While Zimbabwe and Zambia have similarities, there are also issues that stand out in Zambia, including how the opposition was organised in terms of resources, structures and campaign messaging.
In Zimbabwe, the opposition is in disarray, with the leadership of the main opposition MDC lacking unity, bereft of resources and weakened by successive bouts of infighting.
Douglas Mwonzora’s outfit seized the party’s finances and offices.
In the 12 August election, the Zambian opposition not only had a solid candidate who had experience as it was his sixth attempt, but he also has a good record himself, being an economist and a multi-millionaire.
In addition, the Zambian army is neither highly politicised nor dangerously invested in politics. That country’s electoral body is not as militarised as in Zimbabwe.
In comparison, Zimbabweans must contend with a former liberation movement which came to power through the barrel of the gun and has used violence, brutality and intimidation to cling on to office. This was not the case in Zambia as the outgoing ruling party had no such history.
There was willingness by the officials in the electoral commission to thwart rigging.
There was also a clear willingness by the losing political leaders to hand over power when the writing was on the wall, a complete difference with Zimbabwe where losers have refused to leave office.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, speaking in Manicaland on Thursday this week, mocked the idea the idea that Zimbabwe’s opposition could do a Zambia on him.
“There are those who think that because it has happened in Zambia, it will also happen in Zimbabwe. Let me tell you: stop dreaming about what happened in Zambia,” said Mnangagwa to rapturous applause from his largely Zanu PF crowd.
Main opposition MDC Alliance leader Chamisa told a Twitter Spaces meeting this week that the Zambian election provides an important benchmark, particularly for the young people of Africa, who are determined to break the shackles of oppression, corruption and economic suffering.