We are all gripped by the goings on in MMD as the vacuum of Party President is being contested by 15 candidates. Of the 15 candidates, two seem to be the front runners. These are the Acting President Hon. Rupiah Banda and the Minister of Finance Hon. Ngandu Magande. These two candidates are both university graduate economists but are different in several ways.
Ngandu Magande is renowned for his prudent management of our nation’s finances over the last 7 years and has been hailed as the best finance minister since independence. He is the chief executive of our country’s economic reform process which has resulted in greater investor confidence and macroeconomic stability. Whilst many learned colleagues appreciate his prudence and callous approach to developing the Zambian economy, many people in the country are unconcerned with this and are more interested in the development of their welfare from a microeconomic perspective. With poverty at 68%, it is no wonder why they do not appreciate the positive effects of Magande’s policy implementation. Furthermore, Magande has no political stronghold. When he joined MMD and ditched UPND, he was castigated by his own people and branded a traitor. To this day, Magande is rejected by his people for this betrayal. As a result, he did not stand a chance at winning in a Southern Province constituency and as such, was forced to pick a constituency near Lusaka. Even there, his election victory was marred by vote buying but he was cleared of these allegations by the high court.
Rupiah Banda was a retired UNIP senior member who was not in support of turning the party into a family business. He was not in support of the idea that the sons of the party’s founder member, Dr. Keneth Kaunda, take over the presidency of the party. Like the Late Levy Mwanawasa, Banda retired from active politics and settled on his farm in Chipata before being called to service in the second highest position in government in 2006. He is renowned for his role in securing mass votes for the late president garnered from the Eastern Province. Since his appointment as vice-president of Zambia, he has helped the late president to unite people in the party and government, and has been instrumental by filling in where the late president failed due to his poor health condition following a stroke he sustained in early 2006. Banda, who is a very tolerant and calm person, brought about political harmony where the late president would rile up those against his ideas. Since the late president fell ill in Egypt, Banda has filled his shoes seamlessly and has managed to continue there on. Banda, whose political reputation is well established and whose character is non-aggressive, has been hailed by the opposition and the party for his role in maintaining peace and harmony in the political arena.
From a distance, the current controversy with regard to choosing a candidate for party presidency in MMD is that of a choice between political stability and enhanced economic development.
One major faction in the party supports a Magande driven government so that economic development is enhanced over the next three years whilst another major faction is supporting Banda who is easier to sell to the electorate and victory for MMD is eminent.
There are several angles that must be examined in order to clearly understand the contention that stands before our ruling party. The key issues are as follows:-
- Based on past experience during the 2001 and 2006 elections, it is very clear that selling the likes of Magande will be a very difficult task for the MMD and government machinery will need to be utilized in order for him to win. On the other hand, Banda hailing from the east, is tribally neutral and as such, the north, west, east and south are more than likely to support his candidature.
- Based on the last two years, Banda has successfully filled in for the Late President Mwanawasa and more recently he has taken over as acting president seamlessly. On the other hand, since Magande was adopted after the 2001 election, he has never deputized the late president and neither has he had any experience in the presidential political front.
- Magande is known by the electorate as the person responsible for the high taxes that negatively impact on their earnings. The electorate has been forced to push the opposition Patriotic Front not to allow the upward tax adjustments proposed by Magande’s ministry. Magande is seen as a tax collector as depicted in the scriptures and Zambia is predominantly Christian.
- Banda is just over 70 years of age and this works to his disadvantage as Magande is much younger. Never-the-less, the most prominent opposition leader is slightly older than Banda and he was a close contender to the late president during the 2006 election. It appears that the electorate is not as affected by the age of the candidates as envisaged by the party.
- By virtue of the fact that Banda has been Vice President of Zambia and party trustee for the last two years, he has established himself well amongst party organs. Furthermore, his ex-UNIP back ground gives him the ability to sensitize the party and foster unity within the party. MMD had lost party unity when the late president was forced on the party as its presidential candidate for the 2001 election. Banda seems to have revived this lost unity.
- Banda is a supporter of party structures and believes these structures need to be developed in order to strengthen political position on the ground. Magande has not shown interest in developing the party and its structures, and as such he is not supported by lower level party organs. The late president was also seen as one who did not give party organs the attention they needed in order to establish themselves at grassroots level. It was this weakness that the opposition targeted during the 2006 election that nearly cost the MMD its victory.
- Magande is well vested in the direction and needs of the country’s economic goals. He has been tirelessly strategizing and developing Zambians economic path to growth. He is responsible for the macroeconomic stability currently being experienced. Never-the-less, he has not received recognition from the grassroots because of the lack of microeconomic growth and development. He has repeatedly stated that economic strides will eventually trickle down and microeconomic growth will eventually foster itself. Many in the private sector are of the opinion that government needs to catalyse microeconomic growth or the nation will sit in limbo for many years before meaningful development is achieved.
- Banda has praised the economic direction that the MMD had adopted in 1991 and has said that he is impressed with the Late Presidents stance on corruption as well as his economic vision for Zambia. As an economist, he has also praised Magande’s strides in pushing for a better economy and has vowed to work closely with him to take Zambia to the next level. Magande has never complained about working with Banda in cabinet and has received the full support of the office of the vice-president.
- Magande has been in the new deal government for 6 years and has worked with the late president in developing and implementing national economic vision and policy. Magande was entrusted by the late president to take Zambia out of its economic woes and he executed this request diligently. Magande has been strategic in assuring that Zambia’s economic growth increases and exceeds levels seen over 30 years ago.
- Banda was a UNIP member prior to being appointed Vice President by the late President. He was also a retired politician turned peasant farmer. His political career was awaken by this appointment and as such, many believe that he was only supposed to serve as acting president and go back into retirement. Banda has instead been supported by ministers and senior party officials who feel he should succeed the late president before retiring.
- Magande’s loyalty is questionable as he was known to have been very close to the late Anderson Mazoka and yet he abandoned him to join MMD and become Finance Minister. Because of this, many see Magande as an opportunist who will sell out for little pieces of gold and silver. Magande has defended himself by stating that his choice to join MMD was based purely on service to the country and government. Many have accused him of jumping ship in search of greener pastures.
Then there are other circumstantial factors that need to be examined as well. These are issues that are not directly related to the candidates but have a great bearing on the leadership crisis in the party. They are as follows:-
- It is evident that the former first lady had strategic influence over her late husband. This is proved by the number of government appointments that were made of her direct relatives. Even when these relatives erred, the late president could not act to have them removed or punished in any way. Toward the end of his life, the late president began to disregard his own family and appoint most of her family into strategic positions. This family tree has openly supported the candidature of Magande and the former first lady has endorsed Magande as the late presidents preferred successor. Banda is known not to have supported these family appointments and as such many in the first lady’s family tree feel threatened by his successful election into the office of the president.
- It is also clear that the MMD are desperate to stay in office and as such they are looking for the easiest candidate to support. The party seems to be primarily concerned with winning the by-election free and fairly more than they are concerned with picking a candidate that can deliver as per the MMD manifesto on economic development. This situation can put a person into office who may not be good for the economy but is very good for the party and political arena. The upside of this situation is that both candidates have an economic back ground and are both university graduates who appreciate the importance of economic stability and development.
- With the threat of Patriotic Front that seems to have more support in urban areas through its campaign strategy which focuses on empowering party structures from the grassroots, it seems quite evident that if MMD does not empower its organs down to the grassroots, their exit will be eminent.
For the majority of us who have adopted neither a political nor an economic only approach to deciding the fate of our country, we hope that the MMD president, once elected into office, will continue where the late president left off. We hope that the economic stability that Magande and his team have achieved is maintained and further enhanced. We also hope that the MMD, if re-elected, will evolve in to a party that represents the majority and develops grassroots support systems so that everyone is heard. We hope that the MMD will regain the political strength it once had and that they will deliver to the people thus leaving no room for the opposition to take away their representation of the people of Zambia. We also hope the MMD will bring unity amongst all tribes and finally do away with tribal politics as a means to gain votes, as exhibited by the opposition. We hope the MMD will become what it was in 1990 when it stood for all and assured we were all given an equal opportunity to take part in the governing of this country we so love.
We hope MMD will be able to develop itself politically as well as develop Zambia economically so as to assure tribal divisions are eradicated and economic growth is accelerated. We hope Banda and Magande will be able to work together once the MMD NEC picks its candidate.