The never ending story of the opposition in Zambia

The never ending story of the opposition in Zambia

By Lawrence Zyambo.

Observing the way the opposition parties have been going on about their business less than thirty  days from the general election date goes to remind us of the reasons why opposition parties in Zambia and Africa as a whole have failed to the unseat the incumbent government for such a long time.

It’s interesting to note that once again the opposition is busy coming up with so many issues of a corruption nature leveled against the government this prior to elections.

A lot of these allegations would make a good case for investigation by the relevant law enforcing bodies but for their lack of evidence. Elections are just around the corner yet rife among the opposition’s campaign  is all manner of accusations against the government without tangible evidence as opposed to telling the electorate how they will do things better if  voted into power than government has done thus far.

In as much as the opposition would have a point, their timing leaves a lot to be desired. There are many examples that can be given that give credence to  why the opposition still are miles away from unseating the incumbent party here in Zambia and in many other African democracies generally. Lack of prioritization, defragmentation, and lack of campaign resources are a few such reasons that explain why the opposition parties have remained too weak.

Problems opposition parties face in Zambia are the same with the rest of democratic countries in the rest of Africa.  In most African democracies, Botswana for instance which is a fairly older democracy by African standards, the status quo is almost the same as here. Ian Khama’s BDP (Botswana Democratic Party) has ruled the country since independence and the many opposition parties like Botswana National Front (BNP), Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and many more are too defragmented and weak to unseat the BDP.  If you need another example you just have to look to the north of Africa where Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has been in power for over a decade, and many Senegalese want him to go. Senegal’s opposition parties are hungry to take out Wade. Yet they are fragmented and weak.


In Zambia the opposition’s weakness is signified by their failure to replace the Movement for Multi Party Democracy (MMD) in the four general elections held after the introduction of multi-party democracy in 1991. Democratical alternation where different parties get the hang to power in alternation is supposed to be a measure of democratic consolidation but time and time again democratic alternation is slowly being rendered impossible by the weakness of opposition. This is despite the many efforts by the opposition parties in the past to collaborate to unseat the MMD. Such alliances or pacts have failed because of failure to agree on a model of corporation to use by the opposition parties.


If one looked at this scenario we have in Zambia from a broader perspective and make comparisons with the rest of Africa’s democracies, it will be controversial but reasonable to conclude that this status quo will continue for a long time to come. This is so because even if opposition parties score some success in terms of retaining a bigger portion of numbers in parliament which in itself if sustained is supposed to be a good sign that the opposition parties are improving, these scores are usually watered down by the ruling party’s ability to poach these parliamentarians to serve as ministers in the ruling party once they win the elections subsequently buying their allegiance as well in the process.

It’s my personal view, as controversial as it may be that Rupiah Banda’s ruling party, the MMD will still bounce back into power and that the ruling party will be here for a good number of years to come past the pending elections. The only success I see the opposition scoring is that I foresee a situation where take a bigger portion of parliamentarians. If these parliamentarians are poached as ministers like it happened in the late President Mwanawasa’s regime then my argument will go to be consolidated even further.

Other people have looked at the amendment of the constitution to allow for the president to have fewer powers than he enjoys now to be a solution to even a good number of other problems we have and perhaps an even easier option for the opposition to ascend to power. It is hoped that if issues of the 50% +1 are introduced, it would be easier to unseat the current government.

In as much as I agree that there are a number of issues that need consideration in the constitution in its current form which subsequently need amendment, I very much believe that amendment of the constitution is secondary to ensuring that strictly enforcing whichever constitution, even the current “bad” one is more critical. This enforcement needs to primarily be driven by the judiciary as they are the custodians of law enforcement secondarily by the general populace. Our biggest problem is not the state of the current constitution. Our biggest problem is failure to strictly enforce even the “bad” constitution we have right now. We can have the best constitution in the world but if it’s not enforced then it is as good as the worst constitution in the world because a constitution is nothing but a piece of paper if it is not vehemently enforced. If we are going to continue with the practice of selective justice where the same constitutional clause is applied one way if the issue at hand concerns Lawrence Zyambo from a village in Lundazi and applied another way if the issue at hand concerns a minister or any other person of authority then we have a very long way to go in changing the face of this country even if we got the amendments that people have been crying for in the constitution.

There is a lot that needs to be done and put in place even as we think of amending the constitution. We need to have a populace and judiciary who are by design wired to enforce the law. Just amending the constitution in itself won’t help the opposition shift the balance of power. We also need a stronger, less fragmented and principled opposition. Until then, the MMD will be in power for long time to come if the opposition continues on this route however unpalatable this may be sound to the ears of a lot of people who yearn for change. It’s not by coincidence that most parties that are ruling today in most if not all African democracies are the same parties that introduced democracy to those countries.

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