Many people who are fed up with the Patriotic Front feel 2021 is too far to wait before they can vote again. They want the PF out of government like yesterday. We understand their frustrations because they are barely surviving. An average Zambian today has to sin in order to put food on the table for their family.
Sadly, removing the PF from power means only one thing; voting-in another set of mortal beings. Our governance system entails that for PF to go, it has to lose to another political party, and citizens have only the current crop of opposition political parties to choose from. That is where our concern lies.
In Zambia today, the largest opposition political party capable of unseating the Patriotic Front is the United Party for National Development, led by Hakainde Hichilema. This party has the capacity to cause regime change. But in saying this, we don’t mean to suggest that our organisation favours the UPND and its leader; in fact there is no editor, since the establishment of News Diggers! who has ever spoken to Mr Hichilema. We will interview him in future when he decides to be available to us, but so far we are comfortable with the fact that we can, at least, still gather news from him and his party through the UPND press office. This is the same way that we cover President Edgar Lungu and his party through established media channels.
That explained, we would like to state that the election of Mr Hichilema would be a victory for the whole country, including those who detest him so much. How well or bad he would govern our country is a subject for another day, but if Mr Hichilema became President, Zambia would never be the same again. Easterners and Bembas would have to learn to politically respect other tribes better. It would give courage to so many other disregarded ethnic groupings in the country to rise and be counted. At that time, our national motto “One Zambia One Nation” would earnestly be felt and endorsed by the rest of the citizens.
The UPND leader therefore, has to realise that he is that light at the end of the tunnel for citizens who fear that they may never rule Zambia because they don’t belong to either of the two tribes that have recently dominated our politics. He has to be the political game changer. Already, the Bembas are rising again to replace their tribal cousin from the driving seat of this country; which we don’t mind because it’s within their democratic rights. In fact, we are amused to see what they have achieved within a short period under the National Democratic Congress.
But the UPND has to add velocity to its wheels if they have to remain the most formidable opposition. Yes, the PF is responsible for the economic and civil challenges that we face as a nation, and our anger and criticisms must be targeted towards the ruling party, rather than the opposition. But if we concentrate on pointing fingers at PF while ignoring those we call “alternative government” then we are fooling ourselves.
That is why we are here to tell Mr Hichilema that, “Sir, you have to up your game. You need to change your style of politics if you really want to lead this country one day. God has heard your presidential election petition, now move on!”
We say this because there are many reasons that have prevented Mr Hichilema from being elected Republican President. His supporters blame it mainly on election rigging and we agree with that notion, but reluctantly so. We believe that if the PF lost the last elections for example (which is a likely possibility), then they managed to rig because the margin was not so huge.
But there are other reasons why Mr Hichilema struggles to win and win convincingly beyond any rigging mathematics. While his support base remains rather intact across the regions where he is popular, the rest of the ‘undecided’ Zambians don’t quite feel Mr Hichilema. They don’t hate him, but they just don’t get his political vibe. Something is amiss with the packaging of his political messages.
We are not asking Mr Hichilema to start mesmerizing citizens with vernacular proverbs like Mr Chishimba Kambwili is trying to do. But he has to be effective and relevant in a unique way.
For example, one would expect that as a concerned citizen with due influence, Mr Hichilema would spend his energy calling the Minister of General Education to demand for an explanation over the teacher recruitment that has left applicants duped and their parents crying? You would expect Mr Hichilema, as a renowned farmer in this country, to engage Dora Siliya and demand answers as to why government has not yet distributed inputs to farmers; after which he would hold a press conference to give an update on his efforts to speak for the voiceless.
But no, he won’t do that. In his most recent statement, Mr Hichilema was calling on the United Nations and the African Union to intervene in the reported Libya slave trade. Mr Hichilema, with all his years of political experience knows that this was a rhetoric or insignificant message. If the UN or AU resolved to move into Libya and free the slaves, they will not do it because Mr HH from Zambia has said so. Mr HH will not even claim that UN acted because of him. So why waste his time issuing a statement on a matter that gives him no form of political mileage? If the slaves in Libya really matter that much to him than the cholera victims in Kanyama where he holds political rallies from, why not just write a letter to the UN or AU?
The UPND seems to have a strange problem. They have such a strong and loyal grassroot, but with a weak and disoriented leadership. To be very frank, the UPND secretariat is non-existent. They don’t seem to have a proper think-tank that can follow political developments and make meaningful contributions to debates. There is kafwafwa at the UPND secretariat when it comes to issuing statements. Everyone wants to impress the boss, but they end up annoying the masses.
Perhaps senior officials don’t want to be too vocal for fear of being accused of overshadowing Mr Hichilema. In the end, they are creating a one-man party. A party that is so dependent on its one leader, such that in his absence it has no direction.
We have said it before that it’s not a crime to be rich, but Mr Hichilema needs to lower himself a little further so that he can be accepted as an ordinary Zambian facing the same struggles (in some way) as everyone else. We appreciate that Mr Hichilema does not take alcohol and neither does he smoke, but he needs to find a common pastime where common citizens can regularly interact and have a feel of him. Going to Church on the Sabbath is not enough.
When you see President Lungu going to watch soccer every chance he gets, don’t think he is completely stupid. He knows that buying tickets for the whole stadium earns him points from soccer-loving voters. He knows that ordinary citizens like a leader who likes the things they like and does the things they do. If it wasn’t for State security, President Lungu would be drinking from Mayela bar in Kalingalinga and buying rounds for everyone. He knows he dances like a chinkubala, but he is not shy to shake around. He understands the art of socialising.
But if Mr Hichilema went to mingle with the patrons at the same pub, he would be telling them that beer is expensive because the petition was not heard.