The celebrations were far from being from members of the Patriotic Front only, which had won the presidency, making Michael Chilufiya Sata the fifth president of post-independent Zambia, but for all Zambians, judging by the multitudes of people who stormed into the streets in their bed clothes to celebrate.
The celebrations were those of a nation, saluting itself for maturing its democracy and enhancing the culture of change. The celebrations were of a nation staying true to the founding principles of democratic governance, where the authority and right to govern is determined by the collective will of the people as expressed through elections. As Zimbabweans, we can only look to the north with envy and guilt.
Envy because the pleasure of having power change hands with limited incidents in post-independent Zimbabwe is a pleasure that we are yet to experience. And guilt because we have no one to blame but ourselves for our desperate situation which has seen democratic regression instead of the democratic rebirth that Zambia and our brothers and sisters in north Africa have achieved.
The developments in Zambia are for Zimbabwe pregnant with lessons for both the citizens and those who govern them. For those in power, the lesson from Zambia is not only that incumbents can be defeated but also that when they do they should bow out graciously.
The Zambian elections outcome was a victory for the people’s will and shows that real power resides on the streets where the people live. The resolve shown by the people of Zambia in enhancing their democracy through change of government is worthy of salute, and inspite of the skills that Sata and the PF party possessed, the Zambian people are the real victors of this election.
To the majority of them, it was not just about Banda and Sata and deciding who was the better man, it was also about the fact that with 20 years of occupying the state, the majority of people felt that Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD)’s long incumbency needed to be brought to an end.
It is also proper to appreciate that Rupiah Banda and the MMD deserve the thanks of not just their nation, but the entire African continent, for the lesson on respecting the will of the people. There are few things easier than trying to unseat an incumbent president on the African continent. Twenty years in power is a long time, but Banda and his colleagues, still left when the people decided to call time-up on them.
Zambians are generally of a good temperament, being a Christian nation, but the incumbent chose not to test the patience of the people for much longer than was necessary. This is the second time that Zambia has demonstrated this lesson, after calling time on Dr Kenneth Kaunda in 1991, and refusing Chiluba an extension to his tenure as president after two terms in 2001.
Given what we have seen in the recent past in Ivory Coast, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other places, the events in Zambia are clearly not commonplace on the continent, and do serve as a good example.
Signs which had manifested themselves in protests and scenes of violence especially in the Copperbelt, were also ample evidence that while willing to follow the process, the people of Zambia would not stand by as their vote was made not to count.
And therein lies another lesson.
Not that people should be violent, but rather that people have to be vigilant. The opposition and ordinary members of the public in Zambia kept a keen eye on the process and protested whenever there were indications that something was amiss.
This vigilance, though characterised by some elements of regrettable violence, no doubt assisted in protecting the peoples vote, and alerting anyone with intentions of manipulating the process, that this time the people were watching, with the clear intention of making every vote count.
But before the vote can even be protected, people first have to vote.
The last Zambian elections voter turnout figures were not off the charts, but in terms of registration, they did manage to rise by over a million new voters. Those of the million, who made it to the polling stations no doubt assisted in the result that has been dubbed the “people’s victory”.
Participatory democracy is about exactly that — participation. One cannot reap where they did not sow or expect to celebrate victory in a race that they didn’t run.
By the time of declaration of the result by the ECZ chairperson Judge Mambilima, and announcement that Sata was the president-elect by the Chief Justice of Zambia Justice Sakala, Sata had an unassailable lead of over 180 000 votes with seven constituencies still to be counted.
The clear lessons in this case are that, in order to change governing authorities there is no substitute to getting out the vote, and also that in mitigating attempts to rig elections there is no substitute for getting out the vote.
By McDonald Lewanika