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Just Politics by Aaron Ng’ambi: Cadres and the Theatrics of Politics in Zambia

We have a clear and present danger to our democracy which is also a threat to the peace and stability that we have enjoyed as Zambians for an exceptionally long period of time. Unfortunately for us, we live at a time when Zambian politics seems to have taken a turn for the worse. Not so long ago, it would have been unthinkable to imagine that this vice of unruly cadres would be a problem in our political spheres because since the days of UNIP led by Dr Kenneth Kaunda, up until the days of MMD with Dr Frederick Chiluba, and then Levy Mwanawasa, Zambians had nothing but political sanity. Therefore, in order for us to examine this problem, perhaps we must consider its genesis, and where we went wrong in terms of allowing cadres to play a pivotal role in our country’s political affairs with impunity. These chaps have hijacked all sectors of our society and infiltrated our government at all levels without question.

I believe that the unfortunate theatrics of political cadres began with the Patriotic Front under Mr Michael Sata while he was in the opposition. Because under President Mwanawasa, it was evident that the MMD members, party officials and cadres were under strict discipline and were never unruly at all. Levy Mwanawasa had set the tone from the top so much so that any cadres from the then ruling party who were found breaking the law were not exempted from prosecution and subsequent punishment. In his own words, Mwanawasa told his followers and his political party that “I condemn violence in the strongest terms. If you are MMD and you engage in violence, I will not protect you. I will let the law take its course.”
Sadly, when President Mwanawasa died and Ruphia Banda (RB) took over the leadership of the MMD we began to see a shift in the behaviour of cadres not just within the MMD but in all other political parties. At that time, Mr Sata’s popularity was surging as the opposition leader, especially among the so-called jerabos on the Copperbelt, who seemed to be young, impatient, and militant. The rise of Patriotic Front’s popularity was threatening to the RB regime, and so it was almost rational for Mr Banda to become more tolerant of MMD party cadres in an attempt to counter react to the cadres of the Patriotic Front (PF) who were growing in numbers. But more importantly, RB was desperate to defeat Mr Sata and the PF at all costs, even if it meant that he had to allow cadres to be reckless and unruly. But after the 2011 general elections, in which Mr Sata won a decisive victory, we saw that the culture of cadres and violence becoming much more pronounced. The late president Sata did not take a strong position on violence from cadres as did president Mwanawasa for whatever reasons.

Therefore, this problem went on unchecked for years and got us to the place where we are now.
Today we keep witnessing the sad reality of unprecedented cadre agitation and violence, largely because those in power since 2011 have not shown any seriousness in taking care of this issue once and for all. I think that we should all be deeply concerned about this matter as citizens of this beloved country, because come next year during the general elections our situation will become so dire and desperate. We need to push this government to condemn violence in its strongest terms and have the President himself set the tone for the country by sending a clear message to both the PF cadres and cadres of all political parties.

If one thinks that the culture of political violence as perpetuated by cadres is the only major problem we are faced with then such a one should take a closer look at what is happening within this government. We have a much bigger problem with cadres besides the violence because this government has eliminated any form of professionalism required in the running of government affairs only to be substituted with pathetic services provided by the cadres. Let us examine a few examples here, consider institutions such as local government and how it functions today under this regime. There is no doubt that our local government institutions have been infiltrated by political cadres to an extent that when you go to the intercity bus terminals, you will never find a council worker or people authorised by law collecting levies or managing the bus terminal. The PF cadres are now in charge of running marketplaces, bus terminals and other entities, which are supposed to be run by the local government. This is a classic example of a dysfunctional government, one in which there is no place for professionalism at all in any government work place. Even when we look at the foreign service, it used to be that people appointed back in the days and sent into foreign missions abroad were appointed on merit. The ambassadors/ high commissioners and other diplomats who served in the previous regimes were men and women of integrity with qualifications of some sort, equal to the task and very professional. Today, one does not need to have any qualifications or even some knowledge of diplomacy to be tapped as a diplomat; all they need to do or rather be is a cadre in good standing with the appointing authority. This kind of system only allows for mediocre and poor performance because these unqualified people who are put in such positions understand one thing and one thing only, which is pleasing the appointing authority at the expense of ethical and professional standards. We should never forget that Fr Frank Bwalya was appointed ambassador to Australia simply because he was the number one PF cadre and bootlicker to the president, not because the man is qualified or capable of doing the job. This is the same for Bowman Lusambo, the current provincial minister for Lusaka who is on record as a self-proclaimed bootlicker of President Lungu. Zambia should go back to the days when people were appointed to positions of public service based on merit and qualification rather than their connections to power.
It is not a coincidence that the culture of political violence is synonymous with cadres of the ruling party. For example, we have witnessed of late cadres of the PF storming radio stations that were hosting leaders of the opposition political parties and threatening violence. Such acts and many others must be condemned by all well-meaning Zambians.

Threatening of physical violence is not the only form of violence we are to condemn; even linguistic violence can be or rather is just as dangerous and should be addressed too.

Otherwise, if this violence does not stop, the ordinary Zambian people will pay a huge price while the rich and the powerful escape when the country degenerates into chaos. The attempt to stop violence should be the responsibility of all of us and not just for those in the ruling party, but at the same time it should be done knowing that we all have the right of self-defense when attacked. This is no different from what the president of UPND Hakahinde Hichilema said not so long ago as he appealed to his followers, cadres, and party members to defend themselves against what he referred to as violence from the PF cadres. In fact, I should add to Mr. HH’s pronouncements that self-preservation is not just a constitutional right, but it is also a God given right and the first law of nature. So, let us do the right thing by stopping any form of political violence and caging those unruly cadres. It is not too late for us to emulate the leadership of Levy Mwanawasa and his administration in dealing with political cadres as we go forward.

Email; aaronngambi@yahoo.com

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