Maverick Citizen Op-ed

People’s power triumphed in Zambia: ‘Can you breathe now?’

People’s power triumphed in Zambia: ‘Can you breathe now?’
Pilato (Photo: Thom Pierce)

In recent years, Zambian ‘artivist’ and activist PilAto has endured threats and the risk of imprisonment for using rap to speak out against political thuggery and corruption. He refuses to shut up, inspiring Zambia’s youth — particularly with the need to remain engaged with the country’s future by voting. In this article, he reflects on the people’s victory in voting out former president Edgar Lungu, but warns against repeating past mistakes by putting too much trust in politicians.


Fumba Chama is executive director of the People’s Action for Accountability and Good Governance in Zambia (PAAGZ). He is also the well known poet and musician known as People in Lyrical Area Taking Over, or PilAto for short.

My vote is not for sale! 

Democracy is not a political party, or even activism. “Democracy is government of the people, by the people, for the people (Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the US).

In towns and villages, in the East, West, North and Southern provinces, The People of Zambia silently worked together to translate Lincoln’s words into reality on 12 August 2021. This revolution was not televised. To their shock, extravagant expenditure on the 2021 election campaign did not secure victory for members of the confidently assured ruling party.

The voice of The People was loud and clear: “My vote is not for sale!” Weeks after The People voted for a change of government, I continue to receive congratulatory messages from within our beautiful country and abroad. These messages are reaffirming my unshakable belief that our cause for a fair and inclusive Zambia is worth sacrificing my time, my career and my life.

Fight and flight

The public and private outpouring of kindness, solidarity and love are new to me.

Over the years, I have grown accustomed to insults, threats, intimidation and loneliness. The struggle to liberate Zambia from a tyrannical government has been tough for me and my family, just like for many others.

I have been excluded from economic opportunities and platforms. In social circles I have been treated like a leper — silently shunned and rejected. I now know who my real friends are.

For years, I have travelled in vehicles with tinted windows. I am fearful of being followed when I am driving, or on foot. I am constantly aware of potential threats, while working or even in my own home, which should be my sanctuary.

What I believe

When exercising my democratic right to use my voice to speak through my music, poetry, on social media or on television, I have done my best to be articulate, consistent and authentic. 

I have always and continue to stand with The People of Zambia. I did not join the liberation struggle because I hated the ruling party, the Patriotic Front (PF). Nor did I join the struggle because I wanted to advance the opposition, the United Party for National Development (UPND). 

I joined the struggle because I believe that Zambia has enough mineral resources and human capital to deliver a decent standard of living for all. Economic equality should not depend on our connections but on merit. 

My opposition to the PF was based on the fact that The People had given them the mandate to serve us. Instead, the PF betrayed The People, stole from The People, terrorised The People and silenced The People. The PF used poverty, hunger, defective contraceptives and expired drugs as weapons of mass destruction against The People.

Shangombo matters too

There is no justification for us to construct world-class roads in Lusaka but fail to provide clean drinking water in townships such as Shangombo;

There is no justification why we should have clinics and hospitals that do not have medicines; 

There is no justification for children to be going to bed with an empty stomach;

There is no justification for children not having desks and chairs in their classrooms.

A silent revolution

Despite the brutalisation, or perhaps because of it, The People woke up very early in order to secure their vote. The People stood with dignity and patiently waited in line for up to 12 hours. 

Women carried babies on their backs supported by colourful Chitenges. The unemployed youth wore their best shoes, vibrant graduation gowns, and mortarboards. Retirees were graceful, just as they have done despite being robbed of their rightful pensions.

This was the long-awaited fight between The People and the PF. This was The People’s second Independence Day. We The People denied the PF the opportunity to redeem themselves from their sins and wash the fresh blood of our dead and injured brothers and sisters from their hands.

How did we get here?                                                                

If only we The People had criticised Mr Lungu when he was wrong.

If only we The People had not cheered on Mr Lungu when he abused us.

If only we The People had not made Mr Lungu an icon to be revered.

Our collective silence, our indifference and our unconditional support amplified Mr Lungu’s personal weaknesses. Consequently, public institutions such as the Electoral Commission of Zambia and the police service were compromised. Good governance was discarded.

A time to exhale

Moving forward, we all have an opportunity to start afresh with the progressive leadership of His Excellency (HE) Mr Hakainde Hilchilema, our seventh president. The trauma, economic and social challenges that we face cannot be solved by HE Mr Hichilema alone, or indeed the UPND.

He is an educated man with noble intentions for The People. However, if we remain passive and silent, we will unintentionally damage him too. We will find ourselves being governed by another oppressive administration. I am appealing to the good People of Zambia not to give unconditional love or support to HE Mr Hichilema. We must hold him accountable.

A time to work

I continue to be overwhelmed by the warm messages, but I am not a superhero with a cape. I do not have any superpowers. I am just an ordinary man. I am a patriot. I have pledged to work with others to build a fair and inclusive Zambia. This is worth sacrificing my life for. The struggle must continue.

A time to heal

If this Article resonates with you, I encourage you to exercise your Civic Duty, even if you do not live in Zambia. We must scrutinise those whom we have entrusted with our power. Young People, I encourage you to regularly meet with your newly elected members of parliament and city mayors. Get to know them. 

Use your voice. “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful” (Malala Yousafzai, activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, born 1997).

People taking over

The one takeaway from this election, as young people, must be that those in power will never willingly give it up.

Power is ours to take.

Power is ours to give.

People power is our democratic right.

Can you breathe now? If so, you are experiencing freedom! DM/MC

This article has been copy-edited from that first published on 20 August 2021 on the iampilato Facebook account.


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