IF the last ten years of the Patriotic Front’s period in office is aptly described as Zambia’s lost decade, it is because Zambians bore witness to a dark period of how not to govern a country.
Without being cynical, Zambians therefore ought to be grateful to the PF for the insights that the party’s governance offered, and the phrase “never again!” takes on an emphatic new twist.
The outgoing Patriotic Front (PF) fell on its own sword largely due to the age-old vice of self-love bordering on narcissistic short-sightedness.
Big lies were also told, with straight faces and practiced ease by the party’s professional spin doctors and nurses, who had perfected to an art form, political double-speak, lies and deception.
So much so that in the end, they succeeded in hoodwinking their leader, President Edgar Chagwa Lungu. Unknowingly, he was so far-removed from the reality on the ground, his vision clouded by the mist of unbridled propaganda within the PF’s internal party structures, that he failed to fathom the severity of the gathering political tsunami.
By the time he realised that the writing was on the wall, the barriers had already been breached, and his fall was all but a matter of time.
With early results trickling in and suggesting an early lead by the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), Davies Mwila, the embattled PF Secretary General, made a last-ditch attempt with a wild prediction that “PF will carry the day!” Yet the fear in his eyes and his cagey body language, told a different story.
Clearly, he didn’t believe his own words. He was simply grandstanding for the gallery. Still, the PF is advised to refrain from stringing its Secretary General up to dry for losing the election.
The tragedy of the whole saga, is that the PF committed the cardinal sin of banishing all criticism of its governance, reminiscent of the notorious totalitarian regimes that litter the political landscape of the old Africa.
That the old Africa of silence, where citizens are cowed into mute submission is no longer tenable, appears to have eluded the PF’s strategists.
The forcible closure of critical voices such as The Post in 2016 and Prime Television in 2020, together with the storming and bombardment of numerous radio stations by unruly PF cadres serves to illuminate the PF’s lost opportunity.
In that respect, state-run Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) and the adjunct daily newspapers – Times of Zambia, Zambia Daily Mail and the privately owned Daily Nation, were used to drum up and drive a single idea all the time – 24/7 and 365 days a year.
The message was that Lungu was not only the one, but the one and only.
All others were banished into oblivion. The drumming in of this one-pointed single idea was an immensely powerful tool. If used for the wrong reasons and in the wrong hands, it was also dangerous.
Through these actions, the PF succeeded in plugging the valve of media freedom and civil liberties.
With citizens unable to let off steam, their voices stifled by censorship and state media propaganda, the steam in the kettle was an explosion waiting – and the results of the election are a symptom of that overwhelming backlash.
The incoming government of the United Party for National Development (UPND) is advised to take heed of the lesson at hand.
Which is that a government that only surrounds itself with uncritical voices does so at its own peril, for the simple reason that the truth hidden from view, as happened in the final years of the PF’s governance, will surely hasten such a government’s political exit.
For democracy to survive, the media must be unshackled and allowed to roam the social and political space unhindered.
In many respects, democracy in Africa is a clever illusion.
Historically, one has simply to look at the Zambian case, where the liberation United National Independence Party (UNIP) succeeded in laying the foundations of the country’s governance.
Thereafter, all political parties that have since evolved have largely been newer editions of the same party, UNIP.
This is highlighted in the politically convenient and opportunistic culture of party political “defections.”
This culture of defections speaks volumes of who we are as Zambians, and what we stand for.
The political turncoat, who deserts his or her party, in order to join an opposing one, announces to the world that they do not believe in any cause.
They float like the wind, drifting towards the direction of wherever the wind appears to be blowing strongest. They have no morals. No principles. Political prostitutes.
More fundamentally, the closure of media and newspapers by governments is not a show of strength but to the contrary, a sign of weakness.
Its corollary is the erosion of a political party’s durability, because it is built on sand, a victim of its own lies and deception.
It should be recalled that when UNIP went under, defectors decamped to the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) and from MMD to PF, and as we shall increasingly witness, from PF to UPND. Hence democracy is a fallacy. Yes, parties do indeed change. But it can equally be argued that the change is more superficial than real.
The danger it poses to our democracy is that politics is therefore couched in the language and culture of “winner takes all”. As with the UPND victory, there is a clean sweep.
Anything less than that opens the floodgates for judicial contestation – with the losers claiming they have not lost, the election was rigged. Unless the win for the victors is a landslide, it is often difficult to convince the losers that indeed, they lost.
When the erstwhile governing party loses massively, reduced to pygmy political proportions, likewise, the former opposition party emerges stronger, like a colossus.
With their new parliamentary majority, the new bosses behave like playground bullies, the opposition too weak to provide real checks and balances.
Yet again, the cycle begins anew, to end with another cataclysmic implosion, when as sure as night follows day, just like the PF before it, the UPND is one day destined to come crashing down to pave way for the next kids on the block.
But this need not be the case. The PF need not disappear forever into the twilight. For all its faults, it can still play its role as a viable opposition, providing the necessary checks and balances to the government of the day, with the ultimate hope that one day, it too shall re-claim its lost position as a governing party.
Should it manage that feat, it can make history as the first Zambian party to manage a successful electoral come-back.
Not only did UNIP fail, but so too did the MMD. While UNIP’s failure was in part the result of the MMD’s vindictive stance against its leader, Kenneth Kaunda, who boycotted the decisive 1996 election, the same cannot be said for the MMD’s 2011 loss to the PF.
On its part, the UPND can prove us all wrong, by showing up when Zambia needs it most, and by demonstrating to all doubters that good government is possible. At a time such as this, Zambia needs such a turn for the better.