Welcome to Zambia’s political “mating season” – that time in our political calendar when bars, schools, homes and the general media are abuzz with talk about the need for unity among opposition parties for the primary purpose of saving the country from the tyranny of a government that has stopped caring about the people. This is the time when one politician after another fancies their chances at being able to attract the support of rival politicians to attain the elusive prize of becoming the republican president.
Some commentators have even gone as far as claiming the existence of an alliance among various political parties including NAREP that they now claim we have supposedly withdrawn from. This information is of course false but the truth is going to be hard to decipher when so much seems to be at stake in our current political climate. Before we address this issue of NAREP’s position on political alliances, however, let us look at a the short history of these alliances in Zambia.
Interestingly, the most memorable political alliance after Independence occurred in 1990 and did not even involve a single political party. When the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) was born, there was no such thing as opposition politics and few were prepared to be openly associated with the MMD, including its most famous leader Frederick Chiluba. One of the MMD’s principal founders, Akashambatwa Mbikusita Lewanika, faced several hurdles in convincing Chiluba and others of an idea whose time had come. That idea was multiparty democracy. Eventually, however, the momentum grew and groups from all walks of life and all sectors of society came together and were successful in unseating an administration that had been in power for 27 years. Sadly, the unity extended only as far as the resolve to remove Kaunda from power and in due course, it became clear that the party that spearheaded a return to plural politics had lost its relevance.
Since then various other political alliances have been attempted, with little or no success. When several parties came together to form the United Democratic Alliance in order to contest the 2006 elections under a single candidate, the battle as to who would be the flag-bearer resulted in acrimony and distrust and left bitter repercussions among the participants that persist to this day.
When we fast-forward to 2011, we see how the attempt by the Patriotic Front and the United Party for National Development collapsed spectacularly over the question of who the leader of this united force would be. The leadership question was really just the tip of the iceberg. Deeper problems of the lack of a common party culture, the lack of similar values and vision as well as a lack of commitment to establishing sound working committees to iron out the objectives were evident from the very beginning and persisted throughout the entire period that the two camps publicly pretended that the “Pact” existed.
The lasting legacy of these failed attempts at political union has been a deep suspicion among politicians. This suspicion is rooted in the bitterness and animosity that resulted from the failure of previous alliance partners to successfully resolve the question of who the leader would be without injuring one another in the process.
While it is indeed important, preoccupation with the question of leadership of a political alliance is a double-edged sword. Putting off the decision as to who the leader will be can help to move things along initially but it tends to create an environment of unhealthy competitiveness which if not handled correctly could destroy the very unity upon which the alliance depends. Further – and as already alluded to – it is not the only factor that makes for a successful alliance.
Entering a political alliance is not something that should be done lightly or in haste. If it is is to be done sustainably, it is something that should be based on a bigger motive that just removing a bad leader from power. We have repeatedly pointed out that coming together purely for the purpose of unseating a bad administration is a recipe for disaster and will only carry an organisation so far.
NAREP believes that for political alliances to work successfully in our current climate in Zambia, five things are critical and need to be fully ironed out not after but before any talk about an alliance can be concluded: (a) identification of a shared vision and values; (b) agreement on clear objectives; (c) agreement on structures and how the work of the alliance will be coordinated; (d) drafting of a roadmap; and (e) identification of a flag-bearer or leader.
It is for this reason that when we were invited for talks to form an alliance with a group of political players, we made ourselves available to explain our reservations about proceeding in the manner intended. This was the right thing to do and it is what we would expect from any self-respecting political party. It is therefore wholly incorrect to state that we have left any so-called alliance – for how can someone leave something that does not yet exist?
Too many politicians have made the mistake of rushing into marriages of political convenience only to regret the decision when the true nature of the participants emerges over the fight for who will be in charge. We do not want to be a part of such an outcome. The values that guided our journey into politics remain the values that will guide our continued belief that our country needs leadership that can focus on issues and not insults, problem-solving not personality-bashing, development and not disunity, people and not just politics.
Let us not lose sight of the real battle before us – putting in place at all levels of society, the leadership that will restore the fortunes of our nation and enable each and every Zambian to have the unfettered opportunity to pursue all their legitimate dreams and aspirations and live up to their full potential.
May God’s grace be with Zambia.
Elias C. Chipimo
National Restoration Party