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Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Impossibility of Opposition in Zambia

“The intimidation is incessant and has major effects; Law enforcement agencies including the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), the police, the Drug Enforcement Commission and the intelligence are used to curtail the freedom of assembly and association, police arrests and intimidation against the opposition, the public media are used as vehicles of personal slander and hate speeches...Government programmes are abused for campaign purposes even before the commencement, before announcement of election date. And of late, government and ruling party-induced physical violence is used to disrupt operations and programmes of opposition parties. Recent cases bear evidence of this. All these methods which are against the electoral legislation are used to cripple the opposition especially their leadership.”
Another revealing response from Mr Michael Sata at Oxford University. It is all too easy to criticise our opposition for failing to score points in some areas, but we must always maintain perspective. In Zambia, and much of Southern Africa, the ruling party uses all the machinery of government and directs its at the opposition. There's a good reason why one must stretch their memory far back to remember the last time an opposition party triumphed in the SADC region. 


  1. No credible opposition party would want to devote time and other valuable resources in a race it has no hope of winning. And yet we see that happen time and time again in Sub-Sahara Africa.

    Where do these opposition parties derive their motivation from? Why would they not, instead, devote time and resources to fight for a level play field with the ruling parties before "going for the kill"?

    Doesn't this tell us that being an opposition party in Sub-Sahara Africa means being an opposition party in perpertuity and purely as an end in itself? In other words, opposition leaders are happy to maintain the status quo because this affords them the opportunity to either accumulate wealth or earn a living.

    Otherwise, the first step any credible opposition party should undertake would be to fight for a proper constitution, such as the one recently adopted by Kenya.

    I do want to believe that in Kenya's next elections, an opposition party will scope that country's presidency. Why? The reason is clear -Kenya's new constitution makes it tenable for a level play field during presidential and general elections.

    Any opposition that agrees to enter the ring and fight with its legs and hands tied is suspect and not a credible opposition party.

    When MDC-T decided to withdraw from the elections in Zimbabwe, the ruling party won by a landslide, albeit the win was declared null and void by the international community. This paved the way for the ushering in of a unity government. For MDC-T and indeed for the country of Zimbabwe, this was a half evil. Mind you half of a slice is better than none. And why may it not be said that MDC-T is now in the driver's seat? Consequently, MDC-T now enjoys the liberty of being able to dictate the terms and rules to be followed in Zimbabwe's next general elections. And who knows if MDC-T will not scope Zimbabwe's presidential elections in 2012?

  2. It is not just the Opposition that is under the State MMD cosh, it is anyone who has something that an MMD ‘Big Man’ or his clients and pimps want. Foreign investors holding investment certificates, with Zambian partners, suddenly suffer the attentions of the Minister of Home Affairs and the Immigration Department, learning that their business is ‘not viable’ and having to pay endlessly for temporary permits, or are suddenly deported without warning as being a ‘threat to state security’, their enterprises and property carved up by the partners and distributed in the patrimonial food chain; or, if they are whistleblowers of State corruption, have the Shushu (Office of the President) dogs sicked on them, their e-mails intercepted, phones tapped, a watch put on their houses, their staff threatened and subverted, their accounts and files invaded, travel documents stolen, operating licenses cancelled, their labour put up to intimidation and vexatious legal actions, their international agents warned not to do business with them…the list is endless. Our only hope is the Patriotic Front. In their manifesto for the period 2011-2016, with an election looming in August 2011, they have summed up the great need for a working Christian state; something very different from the dishonourable and discredited MMD Party and Government that has been in power for 21 years. It will require a PF Government with a moral compass, one dedicated to the land and to the rural poor, to Christian ethical virtues – and completely welcoming and tolerant of other religions, ‘to a world of self realization in service to others, to institutional arrangements based in some sense of common interests, to technological and organisational innovations orientated to the pursuit of the common good’ – surely something revolutionary in a continent where revolution for the common good is so singularly absent.

  3. I am sorry to say that Mwiya Imakando's comment does not make much sense. Who else but the opposition party can bring about the reforms being demanded.

    One of the main problems with the manner in which the aid industry works right now is that it refuses to work through democratic institutions and prefers direct influence -there is an interesting case of DFID influencing Zambia's policy on user fees with little or no public debate ( Donors and NGOs like to claim impact but to me this is damaging: it undermines the public debate that is necessary in any democracy. And the formal opposition is essential to that debate -even if it lasts for ever (or almost ever as in the case of Mexico).

    There is also the case for think tanks (see with political positions and affinities -rather than the too often sanitised 'evidence based' research centres donors like to fund. Evidence does not change anything: arguments do. And arguments need the right mix of sense and sensibility.

  4. Sata makes a very valid point about the abuse of state resources to benefit the party in power.

    And even when these odds are surmounted you have to contend with ' the break in the counting'. Eg. In Zambia 2001,2006,2008 Zimbabwe at the last election, Kenya the last election as well. In the middle of the count you get this 5 to 7 hour break where no new results are released. You get this discontinuity in time and in patterns ( I am now using discontinuity in the mathematical sense(examine the statistical characteristics- party proportional votes,spoiled ballots , turnout etc and you can see that it is statistically improbable that you could have this huge shift without 'external agents' being responsible ) and suddenly the ruling party starts to get huge surpluses which continues until they scoop the election.

    That goes someway as well to explain why it is difficult to win elections as an opposition Party in the SADC region.


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