LAST week, we expressed our opinion on the political landscape in Zambia, where we pointed out that while the Patriotic Front was battling with a scandal riddled government, the opposition was equally faced with serious strategic flaws which were making it impossible to predict an obvious change of government next year.
Our opinion has directly and indirectly been endorsed by some citizens, some of whom have gone further to warn that a third force will emerge if the current front runners in the impending 2021 elections do not work to aggressively shake things up and face the PF oppression head on. To do this, they suggest, the leaders of the alternative government must step out of their social media comfort and head out into the arena to watch how the NRC issuance exercise and the forthcoming voter registration exercises are being conducted.
All these observations are valid, but sometimes, we have made certain unfair expectations from the so-called election front runners, than they are capable of delivering. Yes, we are talking about Mr Hakainde Hichilema, the UPND president. Being a leader of the biggest opposition is no easy task. Apart from the responsibility of mobilising campaign resources and providing enough inspiration and motivation to members of parliament in order to sustain their loyalty, there is also the general expectation from the electorate – which includes non-members of the party.
At the moment, the most memorable opposition figure that is at the fingertips of almost every Zambian is Patriotic Front founder Michael Sata (RIP), and many critics of Mr Hichilema’s style of politics have made comparisons between the two politicians. We think it is unfair to compare Mr HH to Sata in the same way that it would be unfair to compare Sata to HH in areas where the UPND leader has excelled. What we find fair is to point out a few things that the aspiring government leaders can learn from the fallen achiever.
What would Sata do differently if he was in opposition today? Here are our views:
Hinting on a shadow cabinet is not new, but people are very sensitive, and you may not know who you end up offending in the process. A couple of weeks ago, while painting a picture of how his Cabinet would look like, Mr Hichilema threatened to dismiss (unqualified) PF cadres in the civil service and in diplomatic missions. That might sound like a morally correct political statement, but it carries undesirable connotations. No civil servant wants to start worrying about surviving a regime change. Some are qualified and professional, but have relatives in the ruling party. Are you saying all of them should go? That’s not what Sata would do.
Instead, Sata would say, every Zambian who has no membership card for any political party was a member of the Patriotic Front. In saying this, Sata had many people in mind, top on the list were civil servants who were not expected to be partisan. He knew that civil servants were among the most frustrated members of the workforce due to poor conditions of service. This is why he coined the motto “lower taxes and more money in your pocket”. If there is anything that a civil servant wants to hear more than a “zangena” SMS alert, it is the pledge for reduced taxes.
Sata knew which enemies he could or could not afford to have. Despite operating under a strict Public Order Act, Sata made police officers his best friends. Instead of insulting them for throwing teargas in his face, he directed his anger at the politicians who were forcing the officer to abuse the law. By doing that, he became best friends with police officers and civil servants and he surely got their votes.
Sata threatened to chase the Chinese from Zambia if he got into power because they were taking jobs from Zambians. But the first banquet he hosted as Republican President at State House was for the Chinese Community in Zambia. He knew that voters wanted to hear certain pronouncements about foreign investors, but he was also alive to the fact that Zambia could not stand without support from the Chinese government and its investment portfolio in the country.
People are not seeing something captivating from the opposition. That is why there are still hundreds of thousands of undecided voters.