Zambia: Cobra becomes King in a telling result – By Jack Hogan
Shortly after 12 am local time on the 23rd of September 2011, the Electoral Commission of Zambia announced the results of this year’s tri-partite elections on ZNBC, the national broadcaster. In the presidential race, the results given were 1150045 (42%) to the leader of the opposition party, Michael Sata of the PF, and 961796 (36.1%) to the incumbent, Rupiah Banda of the MMD. Sata was announced the winner with seven constituencies outstanding. UPND showed strongly in Southern Province, as expected, although were pipped to the post by the MMD in Livingstone by only two votes.
The final parliamentary results were announced on Sunday 25th of September. Of 148 contested seats, the PF won 60 (40.1%), with the MMD a close second with 55 (37.2%), leaving UPND trailing with 28. Of the remaining 5 seats, three were taken by independents, and one apiece went to the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) and the Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD). 11% of MPs will be women, somewhat below the average of around 15% in sub-Saharan Africa generally and vastly below Rwanda’s level of female representation in parliament, currently at over 50%. But then Britain, that paragon of parliamentary virtue, boasts less that 25%. The PF now faces a difficult problem. Holding only a 5 seat majority over the MMD, the UPND is strongly placed to negotiate a deal with the new ruling party. Hakainde Hichilema (leader of the UPND) like Nkumbula before him may find himself a major player in the new dispensation.
Most informed observers, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, forecast an MMD presidential win, with a possible PF parliamentary majority. Likewise, Neo Simutanyi’s polls (from the Zambian “˜Center for Policy Dialogue’) proved to be well off the mark. The PF benefitted from the registration of 1,279,181 new voters, many of them young (out of a total electorate of 5,223,316), and a high turnout (around 60% or above) in Central, Northern, Luapula Provinces and on the Copperbelt, Sata’s traditional urban and ethnic strongholds, whose electorate dominate those of the remaining five provinces in sheer weight of numbers. Unlike the previous general election in 2006, this year the PF fielded candidates in every constituency, so undoubtedly garnered some votes in areas outside his strongholds, in rural areas where the MMD was expected to totally dominate.
Whilst it is perhaps a little hagiographic to claim, as one politico-cum-biographer of Sata has, that “Sata bestrides both government and independent media imperiously”, the support given to the PF campaign by The Post newspaper, Zambia’s only independent daily, and the airtime provided by Zambia’s growing number of independent local radio stations, undoubtedly provided a platform which would otherwise have been denied by public, or rather, government controlled media. This platform has allowed Sata to articulate his own brand of demagogy. Building upon ethno-populist appeals to his traditional constituency, coupled with political sniping and coup counting at a national level, Sata has also carefully played on local agendas, promising carefully targeted development and infrastructure projects in areas where previously the PF has had little support.
Elections are both won and lost, and Banda’s inability to control the MDD certainly contributed to his loss. Defections of major MMD players to the PF damaged both their image and control of former strongholds, gaining the PF much needed ground. As disparities in wealth become ever more visible in Zambia, resentment at the unequal distribution of the benefits of privatisation grows and, as the party which presided over this, the MMD is held responsible. There is no one to point the finger at if you’ve always been the ones in charge, and Sata capitalised on this fact.
Certain things are ubiquitous during elections, and often the most evocative of the mood are party slogans. One slogan more than any other has dominated Zambia’s 2011 elections, the PF’s “˜Don’t Kubeba!’, or “˜Don’t Tell!’. It lies at the heart of the PF’s seemingly successful campaign to negate the benefits of incumbency enjoyed by the MMD. It appeared on posters, on the lips of cadres and at rallies. Dandy Krazy’s “˜Donch Kubeba’ [J1] (with appropriate shushing dance move) has been one of the most popular tunes heard out and about during the last two months. In essence, it encouraged voters to take the chitenge, maize meal, oil, or even bribes offered by the government, even attend the rallies, but not feel they couldn’t vote against them anyway. As a way of upholding the secrecy of the ballot, and running a campaign against an opponent with resources far in excess of your own, it is a risky, but clever strategy. Indeed, the EU Observer Mission stated that unequal access to resources meant a “level playing field” was distinctly lacking during campaigning. Despite this, it appears “Dont Kubeba!” paid off.
The rumour mill, ever a feature of elections, went into overdrive in the weeks preceding it, and contributed considerably to tension across the country. Reports of Zimbabwean police crossing into Zambia via the Victoria Falls bridge and Katangese mercenaries coming south across the border were amongst the most outlandish. More serious were the accusations of corruption or malfeasance in the tendering process for ballot paper printing, and their production (by UPG, a South African based company) and distribution (by the ECZ). Whilst violence did break out on the Copperbelt, a political hot-spot of long standing, the elections were generally peaceful. Most of the unrest was caused by the long delay, longer than in any previous election, between the closing of the polls and the announcement of the results. This led many to fear a repeat of the rigging suspected in previous elections. However, all observer missions, with some reservations, declared the election to have been well run.
The way forward
Banda delivered his final address to the nation with not inconsiderable gravitas, if with some bare-faced lies thrown in, and stated that the MMD would see a new leadership, drawn from a younger generation. With the UPND likely to retain their comparatively youthful leader until the 2016 elections, it may well be that five years from now Zambia’s generation of liberation-era dinosaurs will have become largely extinct. However, having waited so long for power, the spectre of Sata as yet another African leader determined to die in office, regardless of cost, looms on the horizon.
It will be interesting to see what happens over the course of the next few months. Sata has always gravitated towards power, and whilst in the course of his orbit has undoubtedly served in a wide range of government and ministerial positions, what the outcome will be when he himself is in charge remains to be seen. Arrayed behind the PF are a coalition of Zambian nouveaux-riches, politicos and business men of various stripes, some of whom were facing prosecution or already embroiled in legal and political problems under the previous government. Despite producing a manifesto, the PF has not expounded any clearly defined policies per se, despite the huge numbers of pre-election promises, including the initiation of serious development projects within 90 days.
In his inaugural speech, Sata also continued the policy of toning down his earlier pseudo-nationalist rhetoric; “We will continue to work in fair partnership with the investors already in the country and welcome new ones. It’s our hope that investors will abide by the labour laws of the country ensuring that Zambians are not disadvantaged.” Sata also promised, amongst other things, that “our fight against corruption will go beyond rhetoric and pious hope. Corruption is morally unacceptable and those charged with the responsibility of looking after our resources should guard it jealously.” Clearly, Sata is attempting to steady the boat, as his strident criticism of the actions of foreign investors before the election led some to fear the renegotiation of mining contracts or worse. However, one suspects that the financial clout of Chinese, Australian and South African mining and investment interests will be irresistible. Political capital is expended far faster than its financial counterpart. But anything is possible in Zambia, bearing in mind the adage that where there’s a will, you must pay.
In general, the result of these elections has been greeted with surprise by those in the country to observe it, and scenes of wild celebrations by those who hoped for it. One imagines that MMD supporters are nonplussed. In a continent where incumbents invariably win, the fact that Zambia has held not only largely peaceful, but seemingly quite free and fair elections is shining example in the region.
Jack Hogan is PhD candidate, University of Kent