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A change from Lungu: A chance to avoid ways of dictators in Zambia

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A misleader threatened and concerned about imminent loss of power defaults to the worst methods to hang on to power. However, repeatedly, history is replete with stories of patriotic countrymen and women prepared and ready to re-claim their country through peaceful means of the ballot.

Almost six months to the date of Zambia’s upcoming election, A Ugandan dictator overwhelmed patriotic Ugandans. Through intimidation, voter bribery, misuse and abuse of “law enforcement” , control (and disabling) of the social platforms—Facebook, twitter and WhatsApp on the elections day, Uganda’s aging dictator succeeded in succeeding himself in the office for a straight 31 years! For that period, Uganda is anything but a democratic state. It is a personal fiefdom of a ruthless misleader maintaining power through tribalism, corruption and patronage. The story is almost a mirror image of a nonagenarian south of Victoria Falls, in Harare. There, the 92 year-old Robert Gabriel Mugabe—a senile politician with ruthlessness that shames even his younger staffers, has already expressed intentions to stand again in 2018. Who knows if he will need a wheel chair in 2018 or much less toddle, perhaps with a walking cane in 2017, except our God? The World’s dictators surprise even themselves and have exited this earth much sooner for long-awaited justice.

Zambia must absolutely avoid these strongman tactics and their institutionalization in the politics of the Chipolopolo Country. With the aid of shadowy forces, and past leaders such as Rupiah Banda, failed priests, hogwash spokesmen and some say, criminal cartels, Edgar Chagwa Lungu (ECL) is seeking to succeed himself and carry forth the mantle of ruthlessness. That the police force and the state organs are partial and favorable towards ECL and not the Constitution of Zambia boggles the mind.

Zambians must not allow ECL to rig and steal the upcoming election. All Zambians of goodwill must rally to founding ideals of the Zambian Constitution of equality for all, protection of human liberty, protection of all people, democracy, freedom and dignity. A coalition of all stripes of well-meaning people of Zambia, including those of various political parties, police, military, religious groups and leaders must unite in opposition to on-going hijack of their country. ECL’s seeds of divisiveness, incompetence, and disregard for the rule of law must lead well-meaning Zambians to hold hands, unite minds, and search their hearts and souls for the sake of this country. How does one accumulate wealth in a year and does not account to those who elected him? Why do Zambians have to die needlessly and the “head of state” neither addresses the nation to explain circumstances nor calls for a full and immediate investigation? Which president is this that does not recognize his authority for calming contending parties, and a restless nation? Why should a self-confessed vision-less misleader have the audacity to remain in power? Why would suspects of questionable integrity remain at large when they should be in law courts? There are many whys. ECL offers no immediate leadership on these issues.

As a Christian nation, Zambia should make use of the Church and its moral authority to address the present political uncertainty, violence and disorder that ECL has either willfully permitted to unravel or failed to control for selfish political ends. There is a precedent for this approach.

Across the oceans, in Manila, the Philippines, nearly three decades ago, the church played a similar role amidst the excess of a rich and ruthless dictator—Ferdinand Marcos, who had an uncontrollable appetite for unending political power. For the upcoming August 11, 2016 elections, Zambians could use insights from Manila Catholic Bishops who, in 1986, implored upon God’s children in the Philippines to act on an election that Ferdinand Marcos had stolen earlier on, saying:
“We therefore ask every loyal member of the Church, every community of faithful, to for their judgment about the February 7 polls [Zambians plead with well-meaning fellow Zambians to make their judgement about the upcoming August 11, 2016 polls]. And if in faith they see things as they as we do, we must come together and discern what actions we will take according to the mind of Christ. In a creative, imaginative way, under the guidance of Christ’s Spirit, let us pray together, reason together, decide together, act together, always with the end that the truth will prevail, that the will of the people will be fully respected (Mercado, 1986, p.78 in People Power : An Eye Witness history: The Philippine Revolution of 1986).

In prayerful mode, Zambians must do a lot of soul-search in the remaining weeks. That the Pentecostal Churches are organizing for a National Day of Prayers on July 24th is commendable, provided “the men of God” do not skewed pray in the direction of the ruling party. Some churches and Christians have become more political and materialistic than the politicians in our midst have. For the truly “genuine” churches, leadership for Zambia is important. The Church should lead. The Church must guide. Many Zambians have already made up their minds. They will not vote for ECL. All they want is to vote in peace and with the greatest restrain. They will hold back against the provocation from PF thugs and prepare against ECL’s potential rigging machinery. Holding back righteous anger, thoughtfulness, and holding onto the truth is the Zambian way. At least for most of the Zambians, anyway. It is what has set Zambia apart as an oasis of peace-loving and peace-preserving nation. Again, Aug 11, 2016 will test their civility. In addition, most Zambians are smart to know that against PF’s shallowness, meanness and recklessness, they will vote for the party that seeks change to preserve and reclaim the proud Chipolopolo country. Change from unnecessary blood, thoughtless anger, disgraceful corruption, dehumanizing poverty and hogwash band of incompetents in charge of state machinery.

Patriotic Zambians know that incumbent misleaders have horribly tilted the political scales against the opposition. ECL’s cheap if not disgraceful miscalculations continue to incapacitate the independent news outlets such as the Post Newspaper. The taxpayers-run ZNBC and other government organs and institutions are at the call of ECL. PF thugs—true to their political shallowness, unconcerned about potential criminal cases and consequences after Zambians vote out ECL —remain ready to unleash mayhem against ECL’s opponents. But the opposition political parties must ensure that the electoral commission of Zambia remains impartial or at least pretends to be so. Zambians are watching. Most Ugandans dissatisfied with the Museveni dictatorship too were watching their electoral commission (or better, Museveni Selection Commission).

The Zimbabweans too have attempted repeatedly to prevent electoral theft under Mugabe. They have failed. But Zambians can learn from state electoral theft in those countries so they can stop—if not warn—ECL that imitating dictatorships or becoming one will be the greatest insult to one Zambia one Nation.

So what happened in Mugabe’s elections and particularly, Museveni’s recently concluded presidential election? The Uganda electoral commission delivered ballot papers to the opposition stronghold of Kampala much later in the process, and some the next day. (Electoral Commission warehouses are just a few minutes from some voting areas). Afterwards, the tally centre in Lugogo, Kampala, released favorable (“massaged”) results in a drip-drip manner from Museveni’s strongholds, ostensibly to portray that the dictator had an early lead.

Can you imagine releasing results from, say, one voting center in Nakonde first, then, from a Livingstone voting center next, then from say ECL’s birth place with opponents getting only two votes. That’s Museveni’s electoral commission. Zambian’s must insist that ECZ releases only opposition-verified results and that it counts all votes, and releases all results together, however long it takes. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) on its part has shenanigans who manage their computers to the pleasure of Mugabe and ZANU PF. There is also the so-called “Assisted Voting” which–though well intentioned on paper—is an avenue that Mugabe’s ZANU PF has used to steal the ballots from the infirm or the illiterate as ZANU PF cadres “guide” the voters. If a government can steal from the infirm or mislead the illiterate, the people must remove such a rotten government from power immediately. It is much like the propaganda that PF is serving some illiterate Zambians that ECL understands what he is saying much less what he is doing in the office of the presidency. Museveni’s electoral commission chief also refused to acknowledge and count votes from opposition strongholds that did don’t meet his “unconstitutional” deadline. These were not simply votes. These votes represented informed decisions of people who rejected Museveni’s dictatorship.

There are unverified accounts that ECL has a “consultant” Ugandan for his re-election. This is a wakeup call for Zambians to take the electoral process seriously. Do well-meaning Zambians , for example, have mechanisms and systems to watch and warn ECZ’s computer technicians that manipulating results carries serious consequences? So where do we go from here? The insights, hopefully from Uganda, Zimbabwe, Congo-Brazzaville, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and the Philippines are serious and are immediate food for thought in this impending election.

First, the opposition must prepare for alternative means of communication in case PF/ECL borrows the heinous tactics of Museveni (Uganda). Don’t we all notice how Lungu also dons a Museveni-like hat these days? Denis Sasou Nguesso (Congo-Brazzaville), and Deby (Chad) followed Museveni’s act during election day to prevent free flow of information among their citizenry. These dictators—under the guise of “State Security”—blackout and cut access to the internet, disabled telephone landlines and many people were unable to use mobile phones or to send text messages [see BBC reports on Uganda, Congo-Brazzaville, Chad, etc]. By preparing early for these eventualities, Zambians can deny PF/ECL the opportunity to steal, frustrate, and manipulate their vote . Zambians should have candles ready and charge multiple cellphones. They may prove a Godsend during vote counting and tallying. If voting is open and transparent, why should these dictators refuse cameras or cellphones?

Second, the opposition parties should come together in a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood and establish their own independent tallying centre, out of reach of PF thugs. They too should have absolute control of verified and signed copies of the declaration forms of results.

Both Zimbabwe and Uganda denied the opposition the evidence-base of independent tally centre. Museveni even warned radio/newspaper outlets not to declare results—all for the sake of “state security.” State security defined in a self-serving way. We revile the West for criticizing our electoral practices yet through the stinking practices of greedy, corrupt and incompetent politicians we entrust power, we provide the West the necessary platform and evidence for criticism. When the opposition contested the results in Uganda, at least these forms and tally sheets became evidence in court.

Third, there is a way to minimize the problems of a “damaged” voter register [every dictator loves this], and the need for an independent tally centre or opposition verified form/results; the opposition should intensify get-out to vote effort. Millions of Zambians voting out PF/ECL will simply drown/cancel /dilute bogus or stolen votes. This is also the time for parties with no dreams of getting to Statehouse to support most promising candidates. Endorsements mean a lot.

Forth, the Zambian police, Army and all the law enforcement are Zambian’s other brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, fathers, mothers, in-laws. [Add whatever you want]. Zambians should now be talking to them, pleading with them to reach inside their souls and conscience about what country they want to leave to future generations.

Specifically, the message should be that they should be heeding Zambia’s Constitution and not PF/ECL for recourse to debate and campaign freely, vote peacefully and cheer the Chipolopolo country together. The law enforcement should know that PF/ECL –and those that will replace them—are but a fog that is here today and gone tomorrow. A peaceful and prosperous Zambia is here forever and for all Zambians and not just for ECL, HH, Nawakwi or any other speck, alone. Beside, in all of God’s children is a good will and a conscience—that, thankfully, is outside the reach of PF/ECL.

Finally, organize, mobilize and vote. The PF/ECL abnormalities give Zambians the chance for change and the opportunity to change the status quo into a yet uncertain but hopeful future. Perhaps more importantly, this election is an avenue to appreciate once more the enduring yearning for a normal democracy. They can show the world that Zambia’s peaceful nature can correct PF/ECL’s wrongs, excesses and cluelessness. Let Zambians on Aug 11, 2016, prove Franklin D. Roosevelt true in that the “government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President….. but the voters of this country”.

The author chooses to remain anonymous

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Start: 2019-07-01 End: 2019-07-31