It appears that the state of political polarisation today is not only unique to Zambia but is a global experience in these unfortunate times. There are many examples we can cite with regards to modern day political polarisation, but one that is on my mind is the United States of America which is scheduled to have elections in November this year. With almost one month left before the United States goes to the polls, it seems like there is nothing that can save this country from the political divisiveness.
It is a sad reality to watch how politics has ceased to be a noble profession of upright men and women competing in the market place of ideas, to petty personal attacks at the expense of discussing issues, and policies which affect real people. Zambia is not immune to this global vice of petty politics; as a country with a motto of One Zambia One Nation, we have fallen short living up to this promise. There is need for a serious introspection of what we have become and how we can do better, because such political polarisation has potential to destroy our ability to see humanity in all of us. The politics of our time seem to suggest that political opponents are enemies rather than competitors; a mindset we need to quickly change before it is too late.
The famous and respected iconic civil rights leader of the 60s, Malcolm X, once said that history is better qualified to reward all research. If we look back to 1964, one can notice that when we gained independence from the British, our people were so unified in the fight for liberation and the ushering in of a new dispensation of freedom. As the country progressed and matured, we made a transition from the one-party state to multi-party democracy in 1991 again as a unified force for change. Both these examples cited show the true spirit of our people in terms of coming together in doing what is right for the country. Even in 2011 when we changed the government, again, the people demonstrated respect for alternative views without any form of antagonism amongst ourselves.
Therefore, as we approach the elections next year in 2021, we need to look to history for all the relevant lessons we have learned so far about political tolerance and unity of purpose. However, if our people fail to learn anything from our positive experience in the past, I can safely say that we will find ourselves as a country in much deeper problems than anyone could ever have anticipated. In fact, what we are faced with right now is what I classify as a case of fire without flames, because it is not too long from now that we will begin to witness the consequences of such explosive conditions if we do not put our house in order. I think that it would be unreasonable for me to make such an analysis or claims without providing any evidence as to why I believe that we have a case of fire without flames in our current political space countrywide.
Therefore, let me highlight what I consider to be some of the explosive conditions which currently have the potential to set our country on fire if we continue to go down on this trajectory. Number one; the case, and behavior of the Electoral commission of Zambia (ECZ) is a major concern for our democracy. Any well-meaning Zambian knows that the proposals that the ECZ has put forward in the last few days and weeks are not only unsustainable, but they are also not in good faith. For example, the issue of trying to discard the current voter registration row and replacing it with a completely new voter registration row within 30 days is not only unrealistic but also unconstitutional. The electoral process act of 2016, which is the law of the land explicitly says that “The commission shall conduct a continuous registration of voters.” Which means that the only current mandate which the ECZ has is no other than to proceed forth and build upon the current voter registration row in a continuous process leading up to an election. At no point should this be interpreted as a process that calls for a complete cancellation or abandonment of one voter’s registration row for another. The word continuous in the electoral process Act is very crucial in the interpretation and application of this law and it should not be ignored. Other issues such as the ECZ making unilateral decisions pertaining to the preparations of the general elections, without consulting all stakeholders is unacceptable. The major stakeholders in any electoral process are all legally registered political parties, therefore the idea that the ECZ can consult some political parties and not all political parties about issues like voter registration and other important matter is unjust and unfair. The ECZ should or must be having constant meetings and engagements with all the political parties in Zambia between now and the elections of August 12, 2021. It is vital that we have a credible, independent, and fair electoral commission as we approach the elections, otherwise our country could be in a disastrous situation if the ECZ does not win the confidence of the people.
The unprofessional conduct or rather misconduct of the police in our nation too has potential to set this country on fire. Newton’s third law of motion states that; for every action (force), there is an equal but opposite reaction. Thus, If the police continues to misapply the law such as the Public Order Act (POA) where they allow some few citizens to fully exercise their freedoms while restricting other citizens from enjoying the same kind of freedoms, then it would be just a matter of time before we begin to see a reaction from the people whose freedoms are marginalized. The actions of the police are not only morally wrong but a receipt for chaos. For instance, if the police were able to allow some few people to march to State House and hand a petition to President Edgar Lungu, then the same police should allow everyone to peacefully assemble and peacefully protest. Unfortunately, the reality is different because not so long ago the Minister of Home Affairs and the police could not allow youths in Lusaka to undertake a peaceful demonstration. Also, look at the PF mobilization rally in Chiwempala, Chingola which was led by Bowman Lusambo just a few days ago. Usually Minister Lusambo has no problems having these rallies on the Copperbelt with or without the consent of the police, but the UPND and NDC youth leadership who have written and met with the police a few days ago are yet to be given authorization for their planned rally in Lusaka. This is hypocrisy of the highest order by the Patriotic Front (PF) government because we need to know why some people who are sympathizers of the PF should fully enjoy their freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, when those with opposing views are intimidated and not permitted to do likewise.
Zambia still has a chance to turn things around and avoid going down a destructive path. We must do everything we can to create a fair playing field for all our citizens who wish to participate in the electoral process especially in the upcoming elections next year. My prayer is that the good people of our Republic will put out these fires in our midst before the flames. This country is headed for a potentially dangerous election season because of the failures of the ECZ to enforce the electoral code of conduct, and because of the unprofessional conduct of some police officers when dealing with politicians and politics.