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Hichilema’s electoral win a triumph for Zambian democ...

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Opinionista

Hichilema’s electoral win a triumph for Zambian democracy, but don’t hold out any hope for Zimbabwe

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Kudakwashe Magezi is a Zimbabwean human rights activist and independent reporter. His work has appeared in Rest of World. 

To conclude that Zimbabwe’s opposition is next in line and likely to win the 2023 elections, borders on blind optimism and a skewed interpretation of Zimbabwean politics. To win an election in Zimbabwe is something that cannot be hoped for without an acknowledgment of the brutal and militaristic nature of the country’s electoral system.

The decisive defeat of Zambia’s incumbent President Edgar Lungu by the leader of the opposition UPND Hakainde Hichilema, who raked in nearly three million votes compared to Lungu’s 1,814,201, is a clear indication of Zambia’s credible steps to a civilian-driven democracy. But swirling hopes that the transparent politics witnessed in Zambia will spill over into neighbouring Zimbabwe in 2023 are delusional.

First, the people of Zambia deserve to be congratulated for participating and remaining vigilant to ensure that their electoral systems pronounced an honest outcome. An electoral turnout of 83% of registered voters in Zambia is a thrilling display of citizens’ healthy interest in civic governance, compared to Zimbabwe and South Africa where voter apathy is worryingly growing.

Secondly, the swift decision by Lungu to concede defeat is a silver lining for a president whose turn to autocracy was well underway. As the respected Stephen Chan, former British diplomat and professor of politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, says of Zambia’s ousted president: “to his credit, he conceded with dignity and did not do a ‘Trump’. Style and democracy remain in Zambia’s politics.”

But when it comes to Zimbabwe, that’s where the similarities with Zambia’s democracy echo ends. “I can’t imagine this happening anytime soon in Zimbabwe or Uganda,” lamented Prof Chan.

Notwithstanding the recent political trend of opposition parties ousting ruling regimes in Africa, Zimbabwe’s political terrain, in both shape and form, is systemically different. Zimbabwe is a brutal military-led regime that does not shy away from using crude violence and spilling blood to overturn the will of its voters.

In 2008, Zimbabwe’s security regime went to great lengths to commit horrific crimes against the UN Convention on Human Rights, and thus keep the late Robert Mugabe in office.

In contrast, Zambia’s army doesn’t draw weapons on voters.

The leader of the main opposition in Zimbabwe Nelson Chamisa, was one of the first to joyously congratulate HH, the new Zambian president. He exclaimed that Zambia inspires Zimbabweans and, “We are next. Our turn as Zimbabwe is coming. We won’t disappoint!”

Mr Chamisa is rather too wishful here.

To conclude that Zimbabwe’s opposition is next in line and is likely to win the general elections in 2023 borders on blind optimism and a skewed interpretation of Zimbabwean politics. To win an election in Zimbabwe is something that cannot be hoped for without the acknowledgement of the brutal and militaristic nature of the country’s electoral system.

The Zanu-PF party that morphed into a military dictatorship, arguably from the onset of the post-colonial dispensation in 1980, has an intense desire to safeguard its elitist interests by any means possible, including the rigging of elections and outright state-organised violence. The military elites in Zimbabwe, who openly call themselves “stockholders of the constitution and security guarantors”, are at the centre of the facilitation of electoral processes that are crudely exclusive and are at all times meant to keep the opposition, no matter how popular it is, out of power.

Zimbabwe is a securitised regime in the leagues of Iran or Eritrea. Zambia is blessed to have an army that doesn’t put down lives to defend a losing election candidate. That’s the key difference.

Hence, in 2023, in Zimbabwe, a Zambia-style outcome won’t occur. DM

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  • As someone who used to stand below a Zambian flag at boarding school, and sing the national anthem once a week, I am so pleased that Zambia has – again – set an example in the peaceful and democratic transfer of power in Africa. Stand and sing of Zambia…B-)

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