New Zambian government can lead the way for coalition politics in Africa

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By Gilbert Noël Ouédraogo

THE victory of President Hakainde Hichilema and the United National Development Party (UPND) in Zambia is a promising sign of a new era in coalition politics.

It is proof of the Zambian spirit that the alliance and its supporters have continued to build better partnerships. Yet Hichilema’s inauguration also provides an opportunity to reflect on the history of schisms and party coalitions in Zambia and how this time around it may be different for the country and its hopeful citizens. .

Zambia became a republic after gaining independence in 1964. But by 1972 the republic had become a one-party state, and remained so until 1991.

Since the introduction of multiparty elections in 1991, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and its split, the Patriotic Front (PF), have governed the country.

After the victory of the MMD in 1991, President Frederick Chiluba ruled the country. But when he tried to run for a third term, Anderson Mazoka parted ways with the MMD to form the UPND.

Chiluba would eventually step down at the end of his second term when he failed to garner enough support for a constitutional amendment allowing him a third term. Levy Mwanawasa was chosen as the MMD presidential candidate and he won the 2001 general election.

Divide into UNIP

Before the 2006 elections, the Zambian opposition parties realized that the fragmentation and division of the votes limited their chances of winning the elections. The UPND, as the main opposition, therefore formed the United Democratic Alliance with the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) and the United National Independence Party (UNIP).

But Mazoka’s death in May 2006 broke the alliance. Mazoka had been the presidential candidate of the UDA. After his death, alliance leaders quarreled over his successor as the alliance’s presidential candidate. This led to a split in the UPND and the formation of the United Liberal Party (ULP). The weakened alliance convincingly lost the elections, finishing third behind the dissenting MDD Patriotic Front (PF).

Clearly, the UDA’s infighting has undermined voters’ confidence in the alliance. The 2006 winner, MMD President Levy Mwanawasa passed away in 2008, which led to another election that MMD’s Rupiah Banda won.

In June 2010, PF’s Hichilema and Michael Sata led their parties in a coalition known as the UPND / PF Pact to overthrow the MMD.

Despite the great hope that many had in the pact, the alliance eventually succumbed to mistrust and division.

The PF would defeat the MMD in the 2011 elections. Sata, who had served as a minister in the MMD government before forming the PF in 2001, was elected president. The collapse of the UPND / PF Pact and the previous UDA demonstrates the difficulty of keeping coalitions together.

Not only are there interpersonal dynamics to manage, but there are also political conflicts and power dynamics to balance.

For many African countries, the road to competitive democratic elections will pass through this dangerous terrain of coalition politics.

That is why party leaders need well-formulated strategies to negotiate coalitions and well-structured systems to manage them.

Long trip

In July 2021, the African Liberal Network launched a new coalition manual Initiation, Monitoring and managing coalitions: an African liberal perspective. It was created to help liberal parties in Africa and around the world navigate the epic task of building lasting coalitions.

The launch was timely, given the Zambian elections in which the UPND alliance would be competing.

The African Liberal Network has come the long way to victory with its longtime member Hichilema and the UPND. The trip was not easy.

When Sata died in office in 2014, Vice President Guy Scott became interim president until the 2015 election.

The PF’s Edgar Lungu won that election and served one term before the historic 2021 elections ended the MMD and PF’s stranglehold on the presidency. The UPND had contested and lost all elections for two decades.

The recent victory is a testament to his commitment and tenacity in a difficult political environment and decades of grassroots work.

Difficult lessons

Armed with hard-learned lessons from past coalitions, Hichilema’s UPND will once again have to navigate coalition politics, this time in government.

He will need to find ways to bring his coalition partners with him as he implements his election promises. While the UPND is the leader of the alliance, it will have to make room for contributions from its allies to keep the alliance together, avoiding the pitfalls of the past.

The African Liberal Network hopes that its new manual will help both the UPND and other liberal parties to advance the cause of liberal democracy in Africa.

Zambia’s victory is in many ways not its own, but a victory for hopeful liberals around the world. Zambia is now a beacon of hope. Learning the lessons from their path to victory, we hope to see Zambia and Africa achieve the goals of equality, freedom and prosperity for all, everywhere, in the years to come.


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