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Zambian politics – The winners and losers in 2015

Filed under: Latest News,Politics |

Lungu, HH HandshakeBy Nsambila Mbolela

Today, with only less than 24 hours before the end of 2015, and the elections a few more than months away, PF and UPND are the odds-on favorite to win the State House.

With 2016 upon us, let’s take a brief look back at the year that was — who won, who lost, and who surprised us most and had the best 2015.

Most Tremendous Winner: Edgar Lungu

President Lungu

President Lungu

When 2015 began, even the notion of Edgar Lungu running for president to finish Sata’s mandate was a reason to chuckle to many. Today, with the 2016 presidential elections few months away, Lungu is the odds-on favorite to win the PF nomination unchallenged.

Lungu is a better politician than when first took office. His success to date in PF is a product of his self-promotion, and of convincing the PF establishment that he has the political appeal to keep PF from sinking. While PF supporters delight in his lack of political aggressiveness against opponents, Lungu’s rise in PF is more about luck than skill.

So far no one has done a better job of playing on the sense of PF is not for the establishment, that PF has embraced everyone including rewarding some MMD and UPND with cabinet positions.

Lungu is capitalizing on an abiding feeling of resentment and fear that has long found a home in post-PF Sata. His refusal and ability to stand his ground by not rewarding the top cabinet positions (VP and Defense) to the establishment has struck a chord with many that Lungu is unafraid to disaffect and alienate anyone, as long as he is in charge.

Lungu will win the PF nomination, but he almost certainly will face challenges from the establishment he has alienated himself against. Nonetheless, the impact of Lungu in PF and the country is too soon to be decided. Regardless of what will happen in 2016 elections, Lungu will go down in history as the man who became president by being at the right time (Sata’s death) in the right place (PF).

Biggest Winner: HH

HH waves at supporters

HH waves at supporters

His favorabilities are still yet to be decided in the 2016 elections, but no Zambian politician has had a better year than HH. From losing ‘too close to call’ elections against Lungu, to running a political party (UPND) in an environment where ZNBC state media and communications celebrate the incumbent (PF) and hunts down the opposition (UPND), to loss of jobs on the Copperbelt and Kwacha taking knockout punches, HH has burnished his political legacy as one of the peaceful and classic politicians unimaginable in Africa.

With tribal accusations leveled against him, HH has continued to survive what normally ends political careers for many (Like Mumba of MMD)-which is discouragement.

There’s still the upcoming presidential elections with all the nasty stuff people say against each other, but for a president of UPND who saw his party lose the 2015 January elections ‘controversial’ results, HH continues to drive the political narrative in Zambia hoping to convince Zambians in 2016 that it’s good monetary policies and energy policies that will put an end to Kwacha depreciation and load shedding, and not political personalities.

Biggest Winner: GBM Joins UPND



Before July, GBM was the most hated man in PF. He’s still hated; but he might also be the only person who can deliver votes for UPND in Bemba land. GBM is a thick skinned politician. He kept out of the late President Sata’s way, when he was threatened over Shilu-Bemba also known as Chitimukulu. He has since quietly built a robust campaign infrastructure, and is slowly flipping PF votes into UPND in Bemba land.

Regardless of what will happen to HH in 2016, GBM looks most likely to pick up the pieces and could be the person UPND turns to vanquish PF. Either way, GBM has positioned himself beautifully — but he wouldn’t be where he is if not for HH’s appointment of him as VP.

Biggest Winner: Kwacha

zambian-kwacha notesJust yesterday, not long ago, Kwacha couldn’t stop taking knockout punches against the US dollar. Kwacha’s problems – lack of BOZ formidable monetary, China’s economic decline, low Copper prices, ongoing load shedding and decline in manufacturing sector. No one is talking about Kwacha these days. Few months ago, the rate was as high as $1:K14. Running in circles around the US dollar; Kwacha is still standing at the rate of $1:K10.

Currency traders recognized the writing on the wall and are betting on the Kwacha to hit low again. I don’t know how they did it. It’s hard to imagine Kwacha being in a stronger position if the demand for commodities like copper continue to slump.

Biggest Loser(s): Load shedding and ZESCO

A year ago, many of us didn’t know the meaning of load shedding as energy policy. ZESCO has quit fixing the problem, Zambia has now become the highest unfavorable of any African country to invest in manufacturing sectors, and the energy policy is barely treading water in the low Kariba dam.

Electric tariffs went up in the name of reflecting costs. PF has no one to blame but themselves for this situation. Since PF took office, it has been reportedly that cadres are in charge of managing ZESCO than professional engineers as in other past administrations.

When load shedding started PF leaders promised to shake things up and fix the problem. They even borrowed loans to rehabilitate and upgrade Kariba Dam. Instead, they’ve accomplished next to nothing, and largely because their promises were never fulfilled. The success of UNIP and MMD’s energy policy and professional appointments in ZESCO is a case of what happens when qualified people are put in charge of running institutions professionally, and not politically.

Biggest Surprise: Dora Siliya Joining PF

Dora Siliya addresses the crowd flanked by Edgar Lungu

Dora Siliya addresses the crowd flanked by Edgar Lungu

In any other year, the story of 2015 would be how Dora Siliya under MMD would have been vying for the position of president positioning herself to run against Lungu and HH. Dora is a bit of a political start among women. Her appeal is largely confined to younger voters especially those who care about increasing women participation in politics. When late President Sata was in opposition, she used to energize MMD with enormous passion around the country, brought attention to her political signature the issue of women being equal political players, and shifted the political debate in the country even further between MMD and PF. Even if Dora has abandoned the party (MMD) that made her to be who she is, her supporters will always argue that she is just as an astute politician as the men, and nothing is wrong with that.

Most Biggest Losers: Zambian People

From load shedding to blackouts lasting few hours/minutes, unending borrowings and still no employment for the young people who applied to work in the defense forces, Zambians are paying the price today for long-ago habits of electing politicians in power who don’t have a proven track record of getting things done. You can argue that those in the 50s and above paid a price for vigilante politics at KK’s height of power; he made sure voting UNIP was more important than delivering meaningful economic results. Yet, as my colleague at Zambia Institute of Transparency and Accountability (ZITA) have along with other political commentators pointed out over the years, Zambians ardently elect mediocre politicians and defend them, arguing that personality and likeability are more important than their public policies or ability to get the job done. So through cadre politics, the incumbent party spin machine does its best to portray the opposition as “useless,” employing the classic defense political strategy against other tribes who dare to hold the incumbent accountable for their lack of policy actions.

Maybe we expect more from politicians who lie to us than we do from those politicians who can actually get the job done. We should cease electing politicians based on how well they smile at us than on how well they can craft policies that drive meaningful results. Policy principles and not personality should be the benchmark for deciding who should be the next 2016 president. After all, we will be stuck with whoever wins for the next 5 years. The next months leading to the 2016 presidential elections will certainly tell us whether our past voting habits are the shadow of the 2015.

About the Author

Mr. Nsambila Mbolela, is a native of Mufulira-Copper-Belt, currently based in the USA, a founding member of Zambia Institute of Transparency and Accountability (ZITA). ZITA is a Zambian Think Tank non-profit organization based in Canada-Zambia, whose mission is to promote public debate and awareness on issues of good governance, democracy and free and fair market economy in Zambia and Africa as whole. The author is a regular political and economic contributor to this organization.


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