Mr Bowman Lusambo is saying that “whatever it takes we are winning the general elections”. What does this mean?
The other week his boss, Mr Edgar Lungu, was saying those who want to takeover from him as presidents of Zambia should wait for 2026 or 2031. How should this be interpreted?
We shouldn’t also forget that early in his presidency Mr Lungu warned Zambians that he would crush like a tonne of bricks anyone who tried to stand in his way.
This desire to win or retain power – have a third term of office – at any cost by Mr Lungu and his disciples is dangerous and frightening.
From my very limited military studies and experience, I learned that victory at any cost is dangerous. We were taught that victory must be measured by its sustainability over time. Overcoming a foe, joined by many enraged citizens — whose survivors would only regroup with hardening resolve to carry on the war — doesn’t constitute a true victory.
Winning, it can be argued, isn’t quite all it’s cracked up to be. Despite our preoccupation with victory, winning is often a double-edged sword.
I am surprised to see the “win-at-all-costs” attitude applied to our politics by Mr Lungu – who I expect to have some reasonable military knowledge and experience. Causes, campaigns and crusades are fueled by self-righteous enthusiasm in the struggle against those who we assess as wrong-headedly seeking to oppose us. ‘If they can’t be convinced,’ we think, ‘they must be defeated. If in defeat they refuse subjugation, they must be destroyed. At all costs, we must win.’
Though the exact nature of our political problems might be unique, it’s certainly not the first time in Zambian politics that we find ourselves in a place where it’s much easier — and a more certain path to electoral victory — to destroy one’s opponent rather than attempt to find common ground, or at least mutual respect. We still remember how Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe and UPP were treated, detained in prisons and their party banned by the UNIP government.
Of course, some things are worth fighting for — at critical moments in our history, we’ve had winners and losers. The fatal trap is that an objective of “destroying” your political opponent is absurd. A functioning multiparty democracy not only has, but needs more viable political parties, not a triumphant victor and an opposition left hopelessly vanquished.
Checks and balances are needed to defend ourselves from our own worst instincts. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. Total victory or catastrophic success can be the worst of calamities. There’s a point in the “fight” when we must understand that effective negotiation and compromise is not only the best course of action — but it’s the only one that could possibly maintain a political environment where future multiparty governance is possible. In politics, as in war, every decision must be taken with an eye to the future — remembering that the next issue must be adjudicated by respected and respectful opponents.
This regime of Mr Lungu needs to moderate its push to destroy the opposition because it runs counter to our natural inclination, felt in the heat of combat, to demonise or belittle the foe. In the short term, it seems to unite us against a common, hated enemy. But when you seek to delegitimise your foe, you’re actually inviting your own delegitimisation. To be sure, it’s a precarious balance. It’s important to “fight” for one’s beliefs, but there is a point at which “fighting” erodes underlying foundations. In politics, at its hyperbolic end, the losing party is outlawed and its leaders jailed on trumped up treason charges. And historically, the prevailing party, absent the moderating influence of a loyal opposition, soon runs off the rails.
At the best of times, what you’ll leave behind is a generational divide. If people forget the protagonists involved, what they’ll remember is what crushing the enemy, or being crushed, felt like. They’ll tell their children, and their children’s children, who to trust and who to malign.
Soon, the independence ideals that harked in our multiparty democracy will wisp away, like the wind. The moment of apparent conquest can be the time of greatest vulnerability. Grasping for total victory can be our undoing.
It’s tempting to want “strength” in these tumultuous times, but the job of building and repairing our country has to come from a collective leadership. Our leaders won’t look the same; they won’t always agree with one another; and, as with any collective, it won’t make everyone happy at all points. That’s what compromise, and living in a functioning multiparty democracy, looks like. What will define this collective leadership is their stance towards those who may think a little different from themselves — who may have a different order of priorities and way of doing business. Don’t look out for these leaders as being the women and men with the loudest voices, or the most zealous convictions. Instead, they’ll be the ones willing to let go of the side of the pool, so that they can swim towards the middle.
It is a big task of those who would step forward. There are few parades for the modest moderate and endless criticism from the frenzied fringes on both sides. Instead, these true heroes must take quiet satisfaction that their contributions will enable possibilities further in the future than most people look. And even when that future arrives, there will be loud complaints about the traffic from the vocal experts who rail on, oblivious to the selfless labour and thoughtful compromises that created the roads they take for granted.
Still, those leaders are among us. We cannot wait for them to rise one-by-one only to be pummeled down by a cacophony of intolerance and tyranny. It is up to us to encourage, support, and celebrate those who will serve and lead. When they stand, we must stand with them.