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Zambia: a Precedent for African Democracy

Kaunda's defeat shows what can be accomplished by a highly motivated, well organized opposition

THE result of the Oct. 31 national elections in Zambia were no surprise to most African analysts, the only conjecture being the magnitude of Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda's electoral demise. Mr. Kaunda, two-time chairman of the Organization of African Unity and head of the black-ruled FrontLine States, was swimming upstream against a democratic tide that has been buoyed by dramatic changes in Eastern Europe.Kaunda, a vocal advocate for democracy for neighboring South Africa, had been obstructing democracy's troubled birth in his own land. In fact, Kaunda was asked by some prominent members of his United National Independent Party (UNIP) to step down and avoid predicted humiliation at the polls. The major election monitors from the United States were former President Jimmy Carter and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI). As one US foreign service officer quipped, "Carter has the advantage of showing Kaunda there is life after the presidency." But despite Mr. Carter's reputation for impartiality in matters like this, the Zambian president accused Carter of meddling in Zambia's internal affairs and reneged on his promise to lift the draconian state of emergency by Sept. 31. At independence from Great Britain in 1964, Zambia was among black Africa's richest nations. In 1973, Kaunda outlawed opposition groups, declared Zambia a one-party state, and nationalized industry, including 26 multinational corporations. Plummeting prices for Zambia's principal export, copper, and the government's enthusiastic embrace of socialism over two decades sunk the economy into insupportable debt and degeneration. Bowing to growing domestic and international pressure, the Zambian president promised last year to restore democracy, pledging an end to 17 years of single-party rule. The Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) capitalized on Kaunda's political concessions and held its first national convention in late February. Arthur Wina, a prominent businessman, a UNIP founder, and Zambia's first finance minister, heads the fledgling party. Fredrick Chiluba, chairman of the 300,000-man Zambia Congress of Trade Unions and a longstanding and fierce opponent of one-party rule, was nominated as the MMD's candidate for president. The UNIP's economic mismanagement, a $7 billion national debt, and endemic corruption formed the core of the MMD campaign. The MMD promises to establish a market economy, pledging privatization with an eye to national interest and economic liberalization, including relaxation of tight restrictions on the movement of money outside the country. Mr. Chiluba vows to revive local government by requiring elections at every level, a reversal of Kaunda's patronage system. The MMD pledges freedom of the press and an end to censorship and intimidation of journalists, publishers, and printers. In February, Kaunda forbade Zambia's main newspapers, whose editors are Kaunda appointees, from reporting on MMD activities, but the high court overturned the gag order. The court cited Kaunda's directive, which described the media organs as institutions of the state and UNIP, as in conflict with the constitution and ordered the government to pay court costs. The scale of MMD's electoral sweep (81 percent for Chiluba and 90 percent for MMD's legislative candidates) may well have been boosted by the effectiveness of international electoral monitors led by the Carter Center and the NDI. An international fact-finding team had faulted the election process for structural impediments to free elections, citing the lack of a secret ballot (each ballot contained a registration number identifying the voter), centralized counting procedures (boxes could have been "lost" or opened in transit), a disputed voter registration list, and the lack of free speech, free press, and freedom of assembly. But thanks to heavy monitoring during the actual balloting process there was no evidence of systemic cheating. MMD's victory may mean an end to one-party rule as an excuse to combat tribalism; Chiluba's victory speech reflects MMD's sincerity about national reconciliation and multiparty politics. Similarly, Kaunda graciously accepted defeat. With multi-party elections expected next year in other African nations such as Angola, the Congo, Ghana, Lesotho, Liberia, and perhaps Nigeria, Zambia's elections have set a needed precedent in Africa for a peaceful transition to democracy.

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