Have we Zambians reached the stage at which the country got to between 1970 and 1973 when First President, Dr Kenneth Kaunda decided to do away with multiparty politics inherited from the colonial era in 1964?
Up to the time of the Choma Declaration of 1972 at which the decision to do away with plural politics was reached, forcing other political parties to join the ruling United National Independence Party (UNIP), the Africa National Congress (ANC) led by veteran politician Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula had been in existent while the United Progressive Party (UPP) led by former Vice President Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe had been proscribed.
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UNIP and ANC did not see eye to eye even before independence and the members of the two parties frequently clashed sometimes violently. Things were made worse with the arrival of UPP on the political scene. Kapwepwe was getting increasingly disillusioned with his childhood friend, Kaunda’s policies going on to form UPP between 1970 and 1971. UNIP members did not take kindly to this and resulted in serious physical clashes between members of the two parties on the Copperbelt and Lusaka where the opposition party had a sizeable following.
It was increasingly becoming clear that the ANC and UPP were fragmenting into ethnic entities based on the origins of the leaders—the Bantu Botatwe of Tonga, Ila and Lenje following Nkumbula and the Bemba grouping aligning itself with Kapwepwe. Only UNIP seemed to have a national character in outlook.
Sensing the fragmented political direction that was emerging, Kaunda banned UPP and detained its leaders including Kapwepwe and at the same time went into negotiations with the ANC to merge with UNIP which resulted into the Choma Declaration. This was followed by the appointment of the Mainza Chona Constitution Review Commission that recommended a one party state which was formally introduced in 1973.
For the next 17 years, Zambia was to remain a one party state which, to a very large extent, was repressive of dissenting views. There were a lot of detentions of those who voiced opposition to the status quo until events of one November evening in 1989 thousands of miles away, in Europe, blew a wind of change across the world. At that time, the Berlin Wall that effectively separated the capitalist west from the communist east came down, countries including the once mighty USSR, disintegrated with new countries coming up altogether.
In Africa in general, and Zambia in particular, activists became emboldened and challenged the political status quo and demanded the re-introduction of a plural political dispensation. As pressure mounted, Dr Kaunda had no choice but to repeal an article in the constitution that outlawed the existence of opposing political parties other than UNIP.
Those of us who were politically conscious celebrated the rebirth of a multiparty political dispensation which was aptly called the third republic—the second republic was the period from 1973 to 1991—which we thought would bring about a free political choice for citizens to belong to political parties of their choice and voting for candidates they agreed with. For 10 years until the 2001 elections, the political scenario was seemingly normal until it appeared the elections of that year were stolen from UPND leader the late Anderson Mazoka.
Mazoka reigned in his supporters who briefly took to the streets to protest the election results and decided to continue mobilizing for the next elections due in 2006. Incidentally, Mazoka died a few months before the elections and it was his succession that probably triggered the divisions we are witnessing in the nation a decade later.
Mazoka was a Tonga and during the race to succeed him, one of his vice presidents, Sakwiba Sikota, a lawyer, was pitted with a non-executive member, Hakainde Hichilema, a businessman. At the height of the race to elect a new leader, some people were quoted saying that it was time for a Tonga to take over the republican presidency and therefore, Mazoka, the party founder, should be replaced by another Tonga.
Although not the official position of the party, that statement did not go down well with Sikota and a number of other leaders who were not of Tonga origin. They resigned their membership of the party in a move that left the UPND stigmatized and to date, anybody who wants to pour mud on the party just brings up that issue.
On the other hand, Michael Sata, the man who was elected as Zambia’s fifth president after 10 years in opposition, also contributed a lot in bringing tribalism to the fore by virtue of his appointing not only members of his tribe but his kith and kin to government positions in the civil service, diplomatic service and the parastatal sector. He famously declared that he balanced brains rather than tribes.
In fact, the man who succeeded Sata on his passing, President Edgar Chagwa Lungu, acknowledge the nepotistic nature of hispredecessor’s appointments.
What Is really difficult to understand is when things went from bad to worse between the now ruling PF and the opposition UPND as these two parties were once in a “pact” until a few months before the 2011 elections in which they working towards removing the MMD government by combing their efforts.
The pact collapsed few months to the elections and members of the two parties ever since that time cadres of the two parties never miss an opportunity to insult, beat, and in some unfortunate, but thankfully rare, circumstances even kill each other.
But will these still be rare circumstances considering the steep slope we are on even though Zambia has been voted one of the mostpeaceful countries in the world. Added to this is the incendiary combination of obtaining politics, ignorance of historical facts and social and civic media which allows anyone to post anything on the internet.
In view of the this, maybe the question to ask is that as Zambians, should we consider going back to one party politics so that no one is discriminated against for belonging to a political party of his choice and by so doing, reinforce the national slogan of ‘One Zambia, One Nation’ which the national broadcaster has been forced to revive?
[Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org]