Thursday, October 30, 2008, is the day set aside in Zambia as a presidential ‘by-election’ date to replace the just deceased President Levy Mwanawasa (Levy). Mwanawasa had a stroke and passed away in a Paris hospital on August 19, 2008.
In the race to replace him you have – the VP, who is acting as President, Hon Rupiah Bwezani Banda for Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD); Michael Chilufya Sata (King Cobra) of Patriotic Front (PF); Hakaimbe Hichilema (HH) of United Party for National Development (UPND); and Brigadier Gen Godfrey Miyanda of Heritage Party (HP).
When Levy Mwanawasa died, he was heavily mourned by Zambians, such that when his body was shunted from province to province – thousands came to pay their last respects. Levy was leading Zambia when fresh economic Asian Tigers like China and India were thirst for natural resources like – copper, cobalt, uranium and others.
Consequently, world commodity prices improved. Copper prices rose to as much as US$10,000 per MT on London Metal Exchange. This boosted the government revenues. Mwanawasa gets credit for having presided over good economic times because it is though his policies anchored on Fredrick Jacob Chiluba’s (FTJ) economic liberalization and privatization concepts - he crafted policies, which were sellable to the investors. It is estimated that during Mwanawasa’s regime, Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) peaked at over US$1.5 billion per year.
Attracting foreign investors is a good thing. In fact a lot of these investments found its way in renovating old mines and opening up new ones.
In addition, even though the war on corruption still remains elusive, Mwanawasa’s efforts in trying to contain this vice, has earned him a good name. Thus, at the end of the day, Zambians are looking forward to someone, who at least must perform as well as Levy Mwanawasa. And choosing a new president is being done against this background.
There are three things that a politician needs to be – to win in today’s volatile political climate.
- He must be inspirational and persuasive. These attributes are essential for swaying, say doubting Thomases and useful when raising campaign funds.
- A successful politician must also be imaginative, one who is able to link political talk to the solutions he/she is proposing.
- Finally, he must be representative across the board. A national leader, who is multi-provincial in approach. What this entails is that – whoever is to be a Zambian president must be fairly acceptable in ALL provinces. Otherwise it would be difficult for him/her to implement development programs.
When analyzing what lies behind these postulates – as regards to the first requirement: a persuasive communicator, is in another description – a charismatic speaker. This category includes people like Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, JFK, Pierre Trudeau, Malcolm X, Fidel Castro, Martin Luther King, Kenneth Kaunda, FTJ, and currently Barack Obama.
Using this as a yardstick to measure the Zambian candidates, Michael Sata seems to be best of them all. Therefore, it is no wonder he is pulling mammoth crowds wherever he goes. Sata articulates the voice of ordinary people, even though he flounders when it comes to foreign policy issues. In 2006, China/Taiwan issue and open support for Robert Mugabe, worked against him. No wonder he is more careful this time round.
On the second requirement of being imaginative and pragmatic: Again Sata seems to be the better one. Wherever Sata goes during the campaign – he tries to demonstrate how he can solve local people’s daily problems.
In Mpulungu and Luapula for example, he talked about fish nets and the elimination of taxes on fishermen. In Kabwe, he talked about his economic plans to revive the moribund town. Re-opening of Mulungushi Textiles, rehabilitation of Railways, and elevation of Chindwin Barracks - are some of his ideas. These issues resonate well with local residents.
Contrast that to Acting President Rupiah Banda’s message of – “I will keep Mwanawasa’s legacy by continuing with his programs”. Or Hakaimbe Hichilema’s (HH) – “I will improve civil servants conditions”, or yet a more generic message from UPND – that education will be universally free because UPND understands the value of education. Everybody talks about education and health, so nothing is special about that.
A funnier one from Hichilema is that – “vote for me and not Bashikulu, pantu nabanaka lekeni baye batushe”. [Vote for me because these others are too old and tired, let them go and rest]. True, HH is the freshest – youthful and untainted leader politically. But age alone can’t persuade voters to turn your way. Some might. Hichilema’s biggest drawback is lack of political experience and the perception that he is a regional oriented leader.
In the case of Gen Godfrey Miyanda, I think his chances of winning are very remote. His Heritage Party lacks both money and machinery to put on a credible campaign.
Assuming that these party leaders’ messages reach the people in equal sound bites (i.e. fairly) – whom do you think people would go for? Currently Sata seems to be taking the lead. RB’s electability chances wane as the campaign matured. He started off as the strongest candidate. He had many things going in his favor such as – incumbency, experience with government, seasoned diplomat, and investor’s preference.
Since the goal of each leader is to try and sell what’s contained in their Manifestos – their vision so to speak, whoever wins the believability contest will scoop the day. But since people these days are not totally stupid – the believability must be accompanied by the probability of promises being made to be fulfilled. People end up asking this question – who is going to do what he says he’ll do?
In this category too, it is my feeling that people are flocking to Sata because they believe that he might be the guy to deliver. People remember what he did as Lusaka District Governor, as well as his performance at Ministries of Local Government and Health. Not to mention his position as MMD Party Secretary General.
His shrewdness at MMD could have in fact reconverted Zambia to a one-party-state had it not been due to the intelligence of Anderson Mazoka, who challenged MMD with his UPND. The only thing which made Andy fail to rule Zambia was his failure to break out of his ‘Tonga enclave’. Over reliance on Tonga loyalty eventually broke him down.
So it remains to be seen if Sata’s party organizing ability will propel him to presidency. And if indeed he does become one, we will hope that he doesn’t become the “bully boy” of Southern Africa.
The consolation to other candidates however, is that – experience alone cannot get you elected – as we are even witnessing in the American elections. Both Hilary Clinton and now John McCain have failed to slow down Obama’s march to White House. It turns out that charisma, good communication, command of knowledge about peoples’ needs, become important qualities.
Strictly speaking in terms of being knowledgeable about world matters – RB, HH, and Miyanda - they are far better than Sata, but yet they are trailing.
The third attribute I referred to, is that of being a president for everybody. In USA to be a leader of main stream political party – one has to appeal to many interest, class, and racial groups. For example in the case of Obama – he had to make inroads even in traditionally GOP (Republican) States such as Virginia and Ohio to be regarded as ‘national’. People tend to identify themselves with a leader who’s fairly known and respected.
Basically one needs to be a ‘household name’, which in technical terms means becoming a recognizable brand name. In the Zambian context, Daniel Munkombwe put it succinctly when he de-campaigned HH in Southern Province by calling him a ‘regional leader’ who “does not wear national colors”. [See Post, Oct 19, 2008].
During the UNIP days, having multi-provincial recognition is what separated KK from many other potential candidates. For only him was well known and respected in all provinces.
If you were to ask me about this one – I would say that Rupiah Banda scores better on acceptability. Only recently, in some provinces Sata was not very welcome. That may only change because of overwhelming votes in other places.
Before Sata started pulling large crowds in areas where PF has no strong hold like in N Western and Western Provinces, many pundits projected VP Banda to win handily. But things are now looking different – that Sata has a possibility to pull it off.
If RB loses, that would spell disaster for MMD, an indication that the party is on way to obliteration – the fate which befell UNIP in 1991. It will at least show that MMD machinery is now rusty, because by and large Zambians identify with a ruling party.
Banda’s loss would be reflected in two-three things. First, that even though he seemed to have been nearly unanimously chosen as MMD leader – the party is not united. And the perception that he is an-outsider factor, might have inhibited party stalwarts from energetically campaigning for him. Lastly, that would indicate weak leadership on his part. This is not surprising considering the fact that he is brand new at the helm of the party.
Maureen factor/death of Mwanawasa could be another angle in explaining his position. Levy’s death and Maureen factor could influence RB political fortunes either way. It will be his bonanza – if the death of President Mwanawasa and his body shunted around the country, makes the sympathy vote swings his way. It would be a net loss if the ‘Maureen factor’ makes him lose. In this camp you have people like: Brian Chituwo, Shakapwasha, Mpombo, Siakafuswa, and Ng’andu Magande – some of these lost to RB in NEC. More significantly, The Post also belongs to this camp.
As soon as the battle for Plot 1 began with RB beating Magande, this group got upset and the Post sharpened its attacks on RB. Just about every Post editorial since, is anti-RB/MMD. It remains to be seen if the Post still enjoys the power of influence and as ‘opinion kingmaker’ it once had. If they do, then RB is in trouble. He would lose elections if Zambian people were to judge RB based on its editorials. In particular, Post paints RB and MMD under him, as heading for big corruption.
Lumping RB with Chiluba is very damaging, because the late president did manage to label FTJ as corrupt. Unfortunately, VP RB hasn’t come up with a good strategy to counteract the Post’s attacks. Reacting in a combatant fashion or threatening Post as a newspaper, has made things worse. Trying to silence newspapers or opponents using State powers usually backfires. Banda should have consulted Chiluba, who ended up earning derogatory names such as – “thief, corrupt, stupid minion” and others for trying to fight Post.
That said, I personally feel that the Post has taken its wars against RB too far. Actually this should be taken as “an abuse” of its power of the pen. The role of the media such as – print, TV or radio, is to act as a conduit of information to the people so that they can make informed choices and decisions. The Post, ZNBC, Radio Phoenix and others are crucial in helping people in raising awareness.
Note that – while government (VP RB) complains against private media – such as Post, the opposition parties also criticize the unfair and biased news reporting by State controlled media. A balance must be found.
In the Post editorial of Tuesday, September 30, 2008 it said – “The radio, television, and newspapers must be at the service of the truth, justice and all the best values of our people….because when the media are used for other purposes, then the trust disappears and lies flourish. Unity is broken”.
If this is valid, then the goal of having neutral, impartial, objective and balanced reporting even from independent media like Post is also true. We do not need a media that is biased and tilts towards one side. People can’t make proper decisions if they have to rely on skewed information.
In terms of outcome – if on the other hand Sata loses elections after pulling so many thousands at his rallies – if riots don’t’ break out, it would finally prove two things: Firstly, that KK is right when he says that he is a non-presidential material. And secondly, that he is not a good strategist. A good strategist takes advantage of all opportunities coming his way – including maintaining popular support.
When you lead in polls as Sata is alleged or perceived to be, it is your job to solidify that ‘leadership position’. You do that by watching what you say or propose. That means selecting words and presenting your programs/platform in such a way to consolidate that support. In addition you try to win over the undecided voters, whom strangely, do exist even in a Zambian context.
If that is not done, it would be a failure of Sata’s strategists’ team, if he has any.
To conclude, if in the remaining days Sata does not utter anything damaging, to send many voters either the VP or HH’s way, he will win on Thursday. On the other hand, since the incumbency is so powerful, having a lot resources and options at his hand – Banda, will continue to be President of Zambia. Given these probabilities, some people fear that MMD will do every thing possible to keep the power – including use of short cuts. We hope not, because we must avoid what happened next door.
To some readers, this discussion may sound as if I am watching the American presidential election. Yes, I am – who is not? It is historic – and because of it I am sure Zambians will be extra careful when choosing their own leader. And I am convinced that the Zambian voter of today is more informed and clever than the politicians think.
Kaela B Mulenga (Guest Blogger)