Zambians have decided to change the government, just like Malawians in 2020. The 2021 Zambian general elections were held on 12 August 2021 to elect the President and National Assembly, and we have something to learn from that. Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development was elected the president, defeating incumbent Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front. Incoming president Hichilema stood up numerous times for around two decades and a half to take over the governance of the state. The Zambian nation has gone out in numbers to make the right choice and elect the capable candidate to lead the country.
With a total of 16 candidates registered to run for the presidency, it was expected to be a close battle between Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front and Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development. The two candidates had competed in the 2016 presidential elections, which Lungu won by a margin of 50.35% to 47.63%, which was disputed by the majority.
It is the third time that power has shifted from a ruling party to the opposition since Zambia’s independence from Britain in 1964. The then incumbent 6th Zambian president Lungu saw it coming from his rival Hichilema, who suffered inhuman treatment and incarceration at some point at the hands of outgoing president Lungu’s administration. Although President Lungu saw it coming, his hopes were on the electoral commission, as is a norm in many African states with vote-rigging. After so many constituencies were taken up by the rival, Lungu claimed that the election was not free and fair, despite incidents of violence and threats from his Patriotic Front party agents in some provinces. Numerous African countries adopted and agreed to uphold the terms of the African Union Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which came into force in 2012, and was designed to guard against undemocratic governance.
The transfer of power in African states always comes with blood because the change of power gives citizens hope that new policies and programmes for development will be adopted by the new leadership. Africa is home to many of the world’s longest-ruling heads of state. Some African states which attained freedoms in the 1960s and 1970s became engulfed by the syndrome of “president for life”, and this trend is now challenged in the 21st century by the youths and civil society groups as they are not given opportunities for political and economic participation. Corruption and economic stagnation cannot be taken light-heartedly anymore. It should be a governing principle to leaders that empty promises are no longer accommodated, as the electorates have the power to vote leaders in and the same power to vote them out.
Kenneth Kaunda, who served as the first president of Zambia from 1964 to 1991, did not live up to this day to witness another power transformation to the opposition. He passed away on 17 June 2021, merely two months before Hichilema’s presidential win.
African countries still struggle with the transfers of power more than a half-century after their independence. Some of the reasons for grappling with power is because of leaders who gained recognition during the liberation struggle, and they designed their permanent positions in office. Some of these leaders are kleptocratic, and are scared to lose power because they could lose their wealth and face prosecution from new administrations. Zimbabwe, Angola, Senegal, Equatorial Guinea, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Republic of Congo and others are some of the examples.
Zambia’s 2021 presidential scenario is a supplementary wake-up call for many African leaders who hold onto power for years until death do them part. Leaders should deliver promises enchanted during campaigns. They mostly put themselves first before those who voted them into power. As the saying goes “Their first term – serving themselves, second term - serving friends and relatives, then the third term – serving the nation’’.
Zambia’s president-elect Hakainde Hichilema’s victory rekindles democracy, and with the youths revolutionising political stages, many non-delivering leaders will leave office through a cross on a ballot paper.