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Zambian democracy gives Africans hope for change



THE just-ended elections in Zambia and subsequent acceptance of defeat by the incumbent Edgar Lungu, paving way for long-time opposition leader Hikainde Hichilema to ascend to the presidency, is set to embolden opposition politics reeling under dictatorship across Africa.
Hichilema’s win provides the right tonic for much-needed change across the continent, where “big men” drunk on power are riding roughshod over democratic stipulations. They have a penchant for overstaying in office — to the detriment of Africa’s young population.
While Africa is forever indebted to liberation movements for unseating colonial rule, the majority of the old generation of leaders have however failed to ensure institutional transformation that sets the continent on a path to growth.
Obsessed with the need to cling on to power, at all costs, dragging state institutions like the army and the judiciary into treacherous arrangements for the incumbent, the older generation of leaders in countries like Zimbabwe, among others, have succeeded in smothering opposition politics.
Often labelled as merchants of the West, sellouts, saboteurs and sometimes charged with treason, many opposition leaders in Africa have struggled to get their voices heard, thanks to state-sponsored brutality.
In the run up to most elections, opposition leaders have been brutalised, arrested, and tortured by heavyhanded African leaders whose obsession with power makes accepting defeat a bitter pill.
But Zambia has for the third time unseated an incumbent and it is good for democracy, as fresh blood is infused into the politics.
Zambia is a special case in many ways — comparable only to Ghana — with changes in government and the ruling party happening regularly.
The late former President Kenneth Kaunda gracefully stepped down after electoral defeat in 1991, and this established a Zambian tradition of accepting what an election means.
Despite concerted efforts to make campaigning hard for Hichilema, Lungu lost by almost 60% of the vote, making it difficult to challenge.
Gracefully stepping down and promising a smooth transition, showed that Lungu respects the will of the people.
Photos showing the two having a light-hearted moment is further testimony of political maturity that should be emulated elsewhere in Africa.
However, opposition politics has often suffered under repressive regimes. Hichilema himself, accused of treason on flimsy grounds, has endured imprisonment at the hands of Lungu’s repressive regime.
But for young politicians like the MDC Alliance’s Nelson Chamisa, Uganda’s Bobi Wine and South Africa’s Julius Malema, among other vibrant youthful opposition leaders, Hichilema’s win is a triumph for democracy on the continent.
While democracy is elusive in this part of the world, youthful leaders are hopeful that change is on the horizon.
Hichilema’s massive win by over a million votes proves that Zambians were ready for change and other opposition leaders can capitalise on the youthful vote.
Former Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane, a critic of repressive African governments like Zimbabwe, believes the winds of change are blowing.
“Zambia has had elections and they have shifted. We can look at it as a new era of transition. Democracy is fragile and should be protected,” Maimane told listeners on Twitter Spaces on Monday during a debate he hosted focussing on democracy in Africa. MDC Alliance leader Chamisa also took part in the debate, presenting his overarching vision for African democracy.
While there is little to guarantee a repeat of what happened in Zambia in other parts of Africa, there is hope that a new breed of African leaders is rising, hence change beckons for the continent.
“We must celebrate the victory, but also, we must make sure that the democratic practices are sustained,” Maimane said.
Incumbents across Africa have subverted institutions like the police and the army to crush dissent, with the Ugandan elections proving that Africa is lagging behind in upholding democratic principles.
President Yoweri Museveni won a largely violent election early this year which (Ugandan opposition leader) Wine disputed but could not challenge in court.
A number of Wine’s supporters were abducted and tortured while some were killed. Wine was also arrested and brutalised several times.
The unholy alliance between the army and incumbents in Africa has negated the will of the people, to the detriment of future generations who are born into bleakness.
Uganda and Zimbabwe have successfully used the army to dictate the politics of the day, particularly since 2000 when the MDC started contesting elections.
The Zimbabwean army was also deployed in the early 1980s to crush PF Zapu, resulting in the Gukurahundi genocide in Matabeleland and Midlands regions which claimed an estimated 20 000 lives, mostly PF Zapu supporters.
Maimane urged opposition leaders to leverage on the youth vote.
Chamisa, who narrowly lost to President Emmerson Mnangagwa in 2018, in an election later controversially decided by the Constitutional Court, said the African promise is alive because of the youth.
“The Zambian election is an important benchmark for Africa. We are happy that the young people have shown the way. They have rejected incompetence. The days of the big men is gone, it is time for big ideas. The politics of repression must be swept away. The African promise is very much alive,” he said.
It may be that the youthful opposition leaders are realising that tapping into the fodder of the youth vote is the hope for change.
Although Lungu had made it difficult for Hichilema to campaign, he used social media to his advantage.
His messaging towards the youth was also clear, with well-thought-out deliverables.
This struck the right chord with the youth, who have endured years of unemployment. Interesting to see on voting day were pictures of a graduate, donning their graduation gown.
This was sending loud messages that the youths were ready for change.
“Hichilema was both a cattle herder and a well-educated technocrat who became a highly successful businessman. He is very adept at social media and knows how to speak the language of the young,” political analyst Stephen Chan said.
“This victory gives people hope everywhere, but there is very little guarantee it can be replicated very easily elsewhere in Africa.”
While the whole of Africa applauds the swift transition in Zambia, Hichilema is flying into a storm.
Zambia is saddled with a huge debt overhang, and it would be interesting how he deals with the Chinese, whose business interests were entrenched during Lungu’s tenure in office.
But whichever way Zambia goes, this election has proven that there is hope for opposition movements across Africa.