Dr Guy Scott is a former vice-president and acting president of the Republic of Zambia.
The general elections scheduled for 12 August are set to be a decisive moment for Zambia. Almost 60 years since independence and 30 years since the reintroduction of multiparty elections, Zambians are once again demanding change and leadership that will meet their aspirations, redress the balance of power, and restore opportunity in the country.
In recent years Zambia has lost its way. The ruling Patriotic Front (PF) government has decimated the economy and severed its connection with the people. As a result, hunger and unemployment are on the rise even as prices of copper, our major export, have reached new highs.
Just as worrying are the attempts by those currently in power to cling to their positions using the politics of division and tribalism to gain political points and cynically divide Zambians. This threatens the very foundations of our peaceful nation and the treasured legacy of unity that was bestowed by our recently departed first president, Dr Kenneth Kaunda.
Ahead of next month’s elections the opposition is offering a stark departure from this track record of failure. The UPND Alliance, led by Hakainde Hichilema (HH), has much to offer the country. Their economic platform is informed by HH’s strong business track record, as well as his personal journey as a farmer.
As a leader, HH is open to advice and counsel; humble enough to seek guidance from those with more experience, yet confident in his ability to turn around the country with the support of his team and plenty of hard work. Having been arrested 15 times and spent over four months in prison following the 2016 elections, HH also has a resolute commitment to delivering a better and brighter future for Zambians which encompasses a strong protection of human rights.
Like so many of us, he has a strong sense of compassion, patriotism, and duty; a desire to see Zambians thrive. He has no time for those who enter politics simply to enrich themselves.
The people of Zambia are calling out for change. They will not be hoodwinked by the PF’s distribution of campaign material. I spoke to a young woman recently from Eastern province who explained that she and her fellow youth “will not be blinded by the simple distribution of chitenges [garments] and small packets of salt that the PF are dishing out”. People have seen that such handouts are unsustainable. Instead, they want leadership that will strengthen their capacity to farm and sustainably produce food. They are looking for a government that will prioritise job creation for our youth so they can be uplifted out of poverty. To achieve this, HH has surrounded himself with a dedicated team of experts, hailing from all 10 of the country’s provinces. This diverse and experienced coalition is committed to rooting out corruption, delivering opportunity and restoring Zambia’s natural wealth back into the hands of the people. No longer will the government be weighed down by ineptitude and graft, but will instead be lifted up to properly serve those who place their trust in it.
In response to the opposition’s growing strength the incumbent government has attempted to block our progress at every turn, denying voters the chance to hear our message wherever possible. Even before rallies and roadshows were banned on public health grounds the police were routinely deployed to block our passage, recently firing tear gas canisters at HH as he simply attempted to travel to church. Meanwhile, the president and his vice-president were touring the country, officiating at various non-essential events, suggesting they think only the opposition can spread Covid-19.
Restrictions on physical campaigns mean media access has never been more important. However, under President Edgar Lungu’s government media restrictions and shutdowns have become commonplace. It is no wonder that Zambia is one of the fastest autocratising countries in the world, according to the Varieties of Democracy Index.
Not content with shutting down the largest independent print publication ahead of the 2016 polls – The Post – Prime TV, Muvi TV and Komboni Radio have all since had their licences revoked or cancelled on either a permanent or temporary basis. In May Muvi TV was threatened with closure by the Independent Broadcasting Authority after hosting opposition politicians in a move criticised by domestic and international civil society groups alike. Meanwhile, governing party cadres are deployed to attack radio stations hosting opposition figures and have been caught on camera burning UPND materials.
Rather than facing its problems head-on, the government is becoming more and more oppressive by the day. It has run out of ideas and it has no positive track record upon which to run a credible campaign. When the PF lost its founding leader, President Michael Sata, in 2014, division and infighting took hold of the party. Those that came out on top are now seeking to use similarly thuggish tactics to maintain control and run roughshod over the country with little regard for Zambia’s hard-won freedoms, peace and unity. Taken together, this will have grave implications for the credibility of the upcoming poll.
Yet it remains the case that there is more that unites than divides us as a nation. Today Zambians are united in wanting opportunities to earn a good living; an end to the ever-rising cost of living; and access to the most basic services like education and healthcare.
On 12 August, our hope as the opposition is that Zambians will reject the politics of division and once again vote for democracy and embrace change. A new era beckons. DM