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Monday, 8 April 2013

Political Defections

Education Deputy Minister Patrick Ngoma recently defected from MMD to PF . He cited lack of leadership in MMD as well as "progressive development programmes initiated by the PF Government" as his reasons for leaving MMD. Media reports suggested that more than 1,200 MMD members in Luangwa went along with him. For their part, MMD had already moved to expel him having anticipated the defection.

Earlier this year we had another defection. More than 400 MMD members in Mwansabombwe District of Luapula province have defected to the Patriotic Front. The defectors were led by six constituency officials and their District Chairman Fredrick Mwenya and former MMD Provincial chairman Emmanuel Chungu. They defected because they were allegedly "impressed with the way the PF Government has solved the problem of non payments of salaries at Kawambwa Tea Company".

What do these two defections (and countless others) have in common? The defections are always led by "leaders" (e.g. MP or councillor) from the former ruling party. And nearly always these defections come with many other people -  it is usually a mass defection.  These two features should remind us that the phenomenon of defections in Zambia are not driven by changes in political viewpoints or competing visions  about Zambia, rather these defections are essentially economic and cultural.

It is economic because our democracy is a form of deeply entrenched patronage. It is based on a system where political leaders are supported by a network of "clients" who have put them there in exchange for personal rewards (or sustenance). When the senior members of the party defect they carry along with them their clients. The people have to defect as a group because if they defected alone they would be "stranded" without their clients. Similarly, the clients cannot defect for themselves without these senior patrons because that is like a dead body without a beating heart. In the examples above, it is the MP, district chairman, etc.

It is cultural because it borrows heavily from our village culture. It is centred around the idea of the "big man" politics - borrowed from our traditional leaders. The big politician is effectively the chief supported by people who have become his political subjects. 

The two things of course converge because one reinforces the other. Where there's rampant poverty people will place their hope in other human beings to lift them out of the dire straits. And as they do that their poverty worsens because these unrestrained power hungry politicians only care about one thing: grabbing more power for themselves - which means making people poorer and the political system  as non-inclusive  as possible.  

Question : What can be done to change this syndrome of political patronage in Zambia?

Copyright © Zambian Economist 2013

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with the analysis presented. We have defections largely for economical reasons not because of values or principles. Hon Mukombwe recently underpinned this view that we are in govt to eat!! I think addressing poverty levels and having in place legal framework that prevents mps defecting from standing is critical to reducing patronage.

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