As a secondary student, one of the compulsory literature texts that my set read for the West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE) was a book titled Zambia Shall Be Free by Kenneth Kaunda. Our teacher had a funny way of pronouncing Zambia. He would turn Zambia into “Zam-bi-u Shar-lll -Be Friii” by Kerr-nnerthi- Kar uuun dar”. Till today, some of my old classmates in that literature class still refer to Zambia as “Zam-bi-u”. Fond memories of those old days. Kenneth Kaunda, the author of that literature text, in which he documented the independence struggle in his country, died recently at 97. He was Zambia’s President from 1964 – 1991. There have been six Presidents in Zambia since 1964. The seventh was elected this past weekend, August 12, and it was the third time power has shifted peacefully from a ruling party to the opposition since independence. It is unfortunate that Zambia like other African countries gained flag independence from colonial rule, but the dream of concrete freedom articulated by Kaunda and other African leaders has not yet been realised. Zambia in particular has been unfortunate. Rich in copper but poor in leadership. I see the election that was concluded on August 12 as an attempt by Zambians to take back their country. They made a powerful statement about people power. They resolved that Zambians deserve to be free from the grips of corruption, nepotism, neo-colonialism and the forces of retrogression. The just-concluded parliamentary and presidential elections in Zambia offer an indication that the people’s voices and choice should matter most in a democratic process.
It was a referendum on President Edgar Lungu’s languid leadership. When Lungu succeeded Michael Sata in 2015, he promised to put an end to nepotism and inefficiency. He was hailed as a reformist but he ended up as a hypocrite. As recently as last month, when he went to London for a Global Education Summit, he had three members of his immediate family in his entourage and he shamelessly tried to defend himself. He even forced an amendment of the Constitution to allow him have a third term in office. He is leader of a Pentecostal Assembly with a Ph. D in Theology but he ran Zambia like the chief priest of a local cult. He readily boasts about the infrastructure that he has provided, but Lungu sold the soul of Zambia’s commodity sector to the Chinese. He incurred debts. The country went into recession. Ahead of the August 12 elections, he deployed the military to intimidate the opposition. He shut down the internet. He threatened to jail Hakainde Hichilema, Presidential candidate of the main opposition party, the United Party for National Development (UPND). In 2016, Hichilema lost the Presidential contest to Lungu by a mere 100, 000 votes.
Last week, and as announced yesterday by the Zambian Electoral Commission, this time around, Lungu lost to Hichilema, 1.8 million votes (39%) to 2.8 million votes (59%). The defeated incumbent President is now saying the election was not “free and fair” and that his supporters were intimidated. The same Lungu is condemning an election that he controlled by every means possible. Zambia has a registered voter population of 7 million out of a total population of 19 million citizens. Voter turn-out was 70% on election day, mostly youths who have now sent a strong and clear message that Lungu has overstayed his welcome. Hichilema, 59, has his job cut out for him: to ensure the freedom of Zambia from the forces of neo-colonialism, economic failure, nepotism, cronyism, incompetence, COVID-19, and elite stupidity. Above all, he must learn from the mistakes of Edgar Lungu.