A detailed assessment of the new UPND - PF alliance from the Times of Zambia. Naturally, not the most objective or logically consistent of articles, but it does contain one or two important points that are still worth pondering (provided you are willing to work through the mud). I leave the reader to find them :
The question is: do political party pacts work in Zambia? No, maybe the question should be: will the pact between the Patriotic Front (PF) and the United Party for National Development (UPND) be able to work?Agreed, the idea of pacts among political parties in Zambia is not new. The first pact in Zambia, and possibly the most important in its history, was when the African National Congress (ANC) was presented with an opportunity to participate in either a government led by a settler party- the United Federal Party (UFP)- or that by the nationalist party- the United National Independence Party (UNIP). Although UNIP was a breakaway from the ANC, its leader, Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, decided to form a coalition government with Kenneth Kaunda’s UNIP because the major interest then was the formation of the first African government.The background to that is, firstly, Northern Rhodesia was a British dependency, and a white settler to boot. Almost all Africans were equally oppressed. Racial discrimination prevailed socially in the form of segregation, economically in the exclusion of Africans from skilled jobs and politically in the very restricted franchise– until 1959, only 11 Africans had the right to a vote. The African nationalist movement, therefore, faced an external political enemy, Britain, as the ultimate imperial sovereign, and the settler-dominated governments of Northern Rhodesia and Central African Federation. Therefore, two consequences followed; a great need for unity among the subject population, which the ANC recognised in its 1962 decision to form a coalition government with UNIP, and, secondly, the manifest political irrelevance of linguistic and provincial differences in the face of a uniform blanket face of racial oppression.However, this situation changed drastically at independence. British lordship and settler ownership both disappeared at independence, and the need for the continued pact between ANC and UNIP declined, and the political enemy now became internal. There was now competition between the ANC and UNIP, and sometimes within the ruling party itself, the more reason you will find the formation of the United Progressive Party (UPP) led by Simon Kapwepwe, Kaunda’s erstwhile friend.But that is all in the history now. What is in the news now is the pact between the PF and UPND.At a Press briefing last week, the two parties said they had agreed to work together at all levels on all matters of national importance and boasted that they were the only representatives of the Zambian people. “We have, therefore, started a long and difficult march in the same direction, not as one organisation but as two giants in Zambian politics,” they said. Mr Sata and Mr Hichilema further alleged that the MMD had in the past taken advantage of the differences within the opposition to entrench bad governance and massive inefficiency. They also said that in forming the pact, they were responding to the loud and growing appeal from the party members and the general public. Really?So, what is the Zambian public demanding? One opposition political party? Mr Michael Sata or Mr Hakainde Hichilema as president? Removal through early elections of President Rupiah Banda who was elected barely six months ago? It is a pity that this country still has pessimists who still do not believe that political alliances can work. But is it really true that alliances, in this case that of the PF and UPND cannot work? Yes it is. Put differently, no, they cannot work.That said, a critical look at the two opposition parties will reveal that they are poles apart. The only point where they trajectories intertwine is on their being regional political parties. It is a well-known fact that the stronghold of the PF, which in its near-decade of existence has never gone to the national convention, is largely in the northern parts of the country. On the other hand, the UNPD proved that its perceived tribal party tag by insisting on a southerner succeeding Mr Anderson Mazoka as president upon his death. If Mr Mazoka, a nationalist himself, was to come back to life today, some of the people in the leadership of the UPND would not have been able to look him straight in his eyes because of the tribal schemes they employed in finding his successor.That aside. Just where do the two political parties share common policies and ideologies for them to be able to form a pact? And, by this, one means detailed policy issues capable of moving the Zambian enterprise to the next level. Or just say their economic policies. And that is just for a start.From the outset, Mr Sata is a populist who leans more to the left while HH, as the UPND leader is affectionately called, a pro-business politician, almost to a point of being elitist.When Mr Sata contested the September 2006 election, he clearly appeared as a populist championing the causes of the poor in the face of Levy Mwanawasa’s economic reform policies, which he said tended to favour foreign investors. He also accused Mr Mwanawasa of “selling out” Zambia to international interests, and at one event, he referred to Hong Kong as a country and Taiwan as a sovereign state. In response, China, which is interested in Zambia’s copper reserves, threatened to cut off relations with Zambia if Mr Sata was elected.Now the China Mr Sata was talking about is one that has enjoyed cordial relations with Zambia dating back to the 1960s. Other than that, it is an emerging global power growing at a faster clip than any other major nation. You ignore China at your own peril because even super powers like the United States are clamouring to do business with this emerging economy. According to analysts, It is believed that China is growing fast and may surpass the United States as the world’s largest economy within 20 years. China-based factories already make 70 per cent of the world’s toys, 60 per cent of its bicycles, half its shoes, one-third of its luggage and already has an impressive amount of technological know-how and manufacturing capability. Huge companies from the United States, Japan and Europe have been eager to share their technology with China, with the hopes that they can penetrat the huge Chinese market. And that is the country Mr Sata has been antagonising.In the meantime, the UPND’s economic policies, at least under Mazoka, were built around prudent economic management. When the MMD won the 2001 elections with Mr Mwanawasa, some analysts said he had bought into Mr Mazoka’s message of prudent economic management and holistic approach to fighting corruption. In other words, Mr Mwanawasa was rigorously implementing policies away from the policies that saw him in office although, it must be said, some of them were modified. In fact, some UPND stalwarts have themselves said Mr Mwanawasa helped himself with its manifesto benchmarks that saw him reduce inflation and interest rates and enabled him fight corruption including introducing fiscal discipline in the public service. A check on Mr Hichilema’s personal website www.hakainde.com will reveal that the UPND is committed to running a mixed economy, particularly promoting increased but properly structured private/public local and foreign investments in sectors such as agriculture, mining, construction, energy, tourism and manufacturing.Even without going into the personal attributes of the two-Mr Sata and Mr Hichilema- it is clear that they cannot flock together. There is no guarantee that their marriage will last. In any case, it is not the first time that opposition political parties are entering into such pacts. Previous attempts, especially those in the Third Republic, have failed to yield their desired goal, which is: Entering Plot-One.Even though both parties- the PF and UPND- are regional parties, it is clearly in their interest, as well as that of democracy, for them to continue operating independently while providing checks and balances to the ruling party. While the need for an effective and vibrant opposition cannot be over-emphasised in this era, such a one only emerges naturally and out of genuine and true ideals, much the same way the MMD did in the run-up to multi-party politics. With that, one can say when the history channel of this country’s multi-party politics is written, it will go on to document how political party pacts have failed lamentably including that between the PF and the UPND.Political party mergers must be based on common political ideologies as in the case of the African National Congress in South Africa and its sister party, South African Communist Party whose camaraderie has remained unbroken for many years. It is just over three years since what was to be the strongest ever political marriage failed to deliver amid accusations of an insatiable appetite for power.Remember the UNIP, Forum and Democracy and Development and UPND kitchen party which never culminated into the anxiously anticipated wedding? The United Democratic Alliance, as the grouping was called, was nursing bruises by the time the 2006 elections were coming, with some major players accusing its leader Mr Hichilema of being power hungry and elitist and the UPND element of being tribal. Similarly, accusations of an autocratic rule are not new in the PF, which is why there is still a bitter war between the seemingly more enlightened and patriotic members of the party who have chosen to attend the National Constitutional Conference and Mr Sata’s loyalists.Is this an amalgamation of two tribal and regional parties or a merger of two power-hungry leaders? Already, the differences in PF between Mr Sata and the reformist members is a pointer to how far this alliance with UPND can go. It is no secret that the UPND boasts of some of the finest brains in this country, and these are the people who will be sitting around the table with PF members to plan the way forward. What a nightmare for the likes of David Matongo, Garry Nkombo, Given Lubinda, Emmanuel Hachipuka and Charles Kakoma!Can this marriage go all the way to 2011 and not break up the way a possible pact floundered just before it could be finalised in the run-up to last year’s presidential election? The Zambian people will be watching how this romance between Mr Sata and the man he called a calculator boy unfolds.