RECENTLY, we expressed our views on the state of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) through an editorial opinion that highlighted some of the challenges that we have observed in the party. The opinion was necessitated by an admission from the party’s chairman for elections, Gary Nkombo, who said although the governance system was not providing a level-playing field, there was need for the opposition party to also do some buttoning up internally. We agreed with Honourable Nkombo’s submission.
But there is another perspective that has not been told regarding the UPND’s survival in politics despite its failure to form government in previous elections. That is a story about the tenacity of its leader Mr Hakainde Hichilema. We speak for many when we say any of the following words can perfectly describe the character of the UPND leader: persistence, determination, perseverance, willpower, resilience, tirelessness, resolve, insistence, firmness, resoluteness, courageousness and above all, patience!
These qualities and attributes about Mr Hichilema is what is keeping the UPND together. Others can talk about money and argue that his financial capacity is what causes him to remain attractive and relevant to the political landscape. But we disagree. Money is not everything in politics. If having money was a precursor to political success, Zambia would be under someone else’s leadership today.
More political parties have collapsed than those that have survived, some were led by very wealthy people. If you can sustain a party in the opposition for this long a period, it cannot be about money only. It’s an achievement that speaks to the leadership qualities of the person at the helm. When Mr Hichilema said: “the future generations will remember us not for the number of times that we fell, but the number of times we got up”, he said everything that one needs to know about what makes him the person he is today and the success that surrounds him in the business world.
The UPND leader is showing us his formula for achieving what he wants to achieve in life, he has to be persistent, determined, courageous, resilient, resolute, insistent and patient. This is what Mr Hichilema brings to the opposition in Zambia and in our view he deserves to be given credit for staying on top for this long and still being influential.
Political parties have come and gone. Some, after the demise of the founding leader, have failed to even appear on the ballot paper thereafter. When we look back, we are reminded of Dean Mung’omba’s ZADECO, Enock Kavindele’s UDP, Sakwiba Sikota’s ULP, Benjamin Mwila’s ZRP, Dr Ludwig Sondashi’s FDA, and others too numerous to mention. These parties have all come and gone with the wind because they lacked the attributes stated above.
Out of all the 10 opposition political parties that fielded presidential or parliamentary candidates in 2001, only the UPND has remained strong and influential enough to form government in 2021, twenty years later. The rest, like the Heritage Party, FDD, Social Democratic Party, National Citizen’s Coalition, Zambia Alliance for Progress, Liberal Progressive Party, National Lima Party, Zambia United Democratic Party, to mention but a few, are either dead or in the process of dying. Some of these political parties, their leaders are still alive, but they have nothing to point at in terms of support base or popularity. They only resurrect during elections to eat donor money.
It must be noted that the founder of the UPND, Anderson Mazoka, who formed the party in 1998 only led it for eight years. The remainder of the UPND’s 22 years of existence has been under the leadership of Mr Hichilema. Surely, if he didn’t have managerial skills and the attributes that we earlier referred to, the UPND would be laying next to ZADECO as we speak.
So, anyone is free to laugh at or mock the UPND president on the basis of his many failures, but we believe that Mr Hichilema’s political adventure presents many lessons to those who are willing to learn. If God presents him the opportunity to govern Zambia, the story of his resilience and patience will be even greater than that of Michael Sata and other world leaders we know who just never stopped trying.
In any country in the world, leading the opposition is an extraordinarily difficult job. In fact, it’s at least four different jobs at the same time, each of which needs different skills. We believe that Mr Hichilema has succeeded to keep the UPND afloat because he does possess those traits and skills of a leader in the opposition.
As author Robert Saunders wrote in his advice for leaders of the opposition, the first, and immediate task of the opposition is challenging the government, holding it to account and scrutinising legislation. At a time when the Zambian government has been vested with unprecedented powers, it is more necessary than ever that someone in the opposition holds those powers to account. Without a strong opposition, the legislation of the detested Constitutional Amendment Bill Number 10 of 2019, would have been done and dusted by now.
A leader in the opposition needs management skills to run a large organisation and keep millions of his supporters engaged. He needs to keep their hopes and morale high for more than two decades. A leader of the opposition must have mobilisation skills and capacity. He must always be prepared for the next election, including the numerous by-elections. It’s needless to say how much money is needed for an opposition to contest every election from presidential to local government. It’s also needless to mention how much loyalty is needed to prevent members of parliament from crossing the floor.
Almost as if it’s a rite of passage in Zambia, an opposition leader must also be prepared to get arrested on all sorts of charges. This, combined with a restricted political space for campaigns and a hostile public media, there is almost no chance that a political party can stay on top and influential under the same leader, for more than 10 years.
This is the tenacity, resilience and patience that we can learn from the UPND leader. We don’t know what he wants to do for Zambia, but it is clear that he will not stop until what he wants to achieve is achieved. Margaret Thatcher one said: “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”