|ZAMBIA ENDS LONG CAMPAIGN AMID GROWING SIGNS OF POLITICAL MATURITY.
Updated: 26 December 2001
by By Hugh McCullum in LUSAKA
They came in their thousands under a blistering sun on the Boxing Day holiday to cheer their favourite candidates for tomorrow's presidential, parliamentary and local government elections.
Zambians packed themselves into townships fields, garbage-strewn yet glittering with banners, posters, many hued T-shirts and baseball caps, women and men both draped in their party colours, turning the last day of this country's third multi-party election in a decade into a blaze of good-natured, yet highly partisan, democratic politicking as at least seven major rallies occurred across Lusaka.
The main candidates - there are 11 seeking the presidency soon to be vacated by two-term President Frederick Chiluba - were without exception tremendous crowd-pleasers and more than one observer was heard to say that it was a pity there could only be one winner. Most of the candidates this writer saw and heard at five major rallies would be a valuable addition to anyone else's administration, and one of those, the venerable Kenneth Kaunda, was not even running.
Zambia may be one of the poorest countries in SADC but it has achieved a level of political maturity and democratic understanding that should be a shining light to southern African political systems.
Although only 2.6 million voters have registered, Lusaka and to a lesser extent towns and cities across this highly urbanized country, came, listened, cheered, sang, danced, roared approval and waited endlessly for their favoured presidential candidate to arrive, invariably two hours or so late. Traditional dancers, choirs, bands, singers and party hacks kept the crowds lively until, with clouds of dust and enormous cheering, the guest of honor showed up.
Politics was the name of the game as the speakers blasted the current administration for every sin in the governance book ranging from incompetence, through corruption to hunger, disease and down the line to bad water, potholes and unemployment and flawed agriculture and economic policies.
And the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) gave back as good as it got, blaming many of the problems on former President Kaunda, South Africa, the international community and donor agencies, globalization, foreigners and a host of other demons.
Each candidate bellowed out promises, solutions, accusations and clich÷s by basket full. It was pure party politics all the way and probably somewhere around 50,000 -- or possibly much more because who could count the weaving, squatting, sitting, climbing hordes who endured exhausting weather and dusty fields to play the democratic game.
As one made cynical too often by politicians, Zambians proved yet again that where people are tolerant and free, they want to make democratic choices and they had much to choose from on Boxing Day. But at the end of the day, the winner was still too close to call.
Emotions were at a fever pitch it seemed, as the speakers played their crowds like maestros. In some ways it could be called pure demagoguery and such were the charges and counter-charges that in a less tolerant society one could well expect the crowds to turn violent. But, there was not so much as a scuffle as people good-naturedly pushed and shoved to get a closer glimpse, or even a handshake, of their hopeful candidate, although most of them were surrounded by hangers-on. The few police in evidence strolled around, gently prodding an overly enthusiastic fan away from the on-coming traffic of yet another motorcade.
In some ways it goes back to 1991, when Kaunda opted for multi-party elections and was rudely pushed from office after 27 years as the founder president by the upstart trade unionist, the young Chiluba. But Kaunda accepted his loss with grace and, although some say he was badly treated over the years by Chiluba, retains to this day the love and respect of most Zambians.
Ten years later it is Chiluba who is blamed for Zambia's woes by all of his opponents but in a lively seven-minute speech to perhaps 10,000 people at an MMD rally for his chosen successor, Levy Mwanawasa, the out-going president paid tribute to Zambians for their patience, their tolerance and their political maturity.
Mwanawasa, who has been badly battered by some elements of the mass media who claim he is less than physically fit due to a car accident some years ago, is in a tricky situation. Sharing the platform with Chiluba who remains MMD president, he had to stick to the party platform while promising to effect majoir changes in Zambia.
"Of course mistakes have been made, " he said, "but the party has the capacity to correct these mistakes. My leadership will be selfless, hard-working and willing to go beyond the bounds of duty."
Kaunda, at 77 still fit and ever the politician, left son Tilyenji, the former ruling party's presidential candidate, to address his own rally, while the "old man" as all Zambians call him, spoke to several thousand UNIP (United National Independence Party) supporters after keeping them waiting for about two hours and changing venues twice in the same day without much notice.
His arrival down Lumumba Road was like a royal procession. Clad in trendy black jeans and open-necked shirt, waving his trademark white linen handerchief from the open sun roof of a huge four-wheeled drive vehicle, KK swept into a large field and people went wild.
"If he was running I'd vote for him all over again," a young woman said. And Kaunda, his gleaming smile ate it up as he has for more than half his life. And then he lambasted his old enemy, Chiluba, claiming he had "ruined the country I left him in such good shape. How could that man allow such outright corruption and mismanagement for 10 long years until Zambia is in the worst mess it has ever been in its history?"
Perhaps the largest rally in terms of numbers was that of the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) where General (and former MMD national vice-president) Christon Tembo told a rapturous audience packed around his podium and extending in waves as far as the eye could see the reason why he and some 80 MMD parliamentarians walked out of the ruling party.
"We are a constitutional republic. We have laws and we have rules and we must obey them. It was wrong for Dr. Chiluba to try and force a third term down our throats and we told him so and Zambians told him it was wrong in no uncertain terms. Now we offer you a real alternative. Let the people govern, is our slogan and if I am elected I will guarantee that slogan is kept."
In open-necked striped business shirt, Tembo is still every inch the soldier but his words were drowned out as the crowd roared back: "Let the people govern!"
Not far away in another township the United Party for National Development (UPND), the party one poll has pegged to come close to ousting MMD from its hold on the presidency, was holding one of the noisiest and most colourful rallies of the day. Another huge crowd heard Anderson Mazoka, the brilliant businessman-turned politician, outline what he would do in his first 100 days in office. Speaking English and exchanging microphones with a translator, Mazoka was clearly the man who saw himself best equipped to turn around Zambia's poverty-stricken economy.
Zambia he said, and the rally belted out its approval, needs a manager, someone who knows how to create wealth "and I am that man."
On the other side of Lusaka, the Heritage Party, decked out in canary yellow T-shirts and baseball caps so that Mtandere township looked like a sun-burst, another retired army general was seeking the people's approval. Brigadier-General Godfrey Miyanda says he wants to break down old party affiliations and "revive, rekindle, promote, encourage and maintain the spirit of nationhood and pride in Zambia's heritage."
Considered a "soldier's soldier", Miyanda played down his military background and sought to become very much a man of the people, pausing in his walk from podium to motorcade to talk earnestly with two young men about their futures and embrace a thin elderly woman as she whispered her support.
Criss-crossing Lusaka's streets, trying to avoid hurtling motorcades, blaring horns and screaming crowds undoubtedly made the last campaign day of this controversial and heavily contested election was the most exciting Boxing Day the capital has seen in years.
It was also a tribute to Zambians' faith that they can choose the government they want whether the pundits and pollsters agree with them or not. (SARDC)
This article can be reproduced with credit to SARDC and the author
Mail Editorial for comments and queries.