Zimbabwe lacks a ‘mature’ democratic culture that is backed by political and legal reforms, which is why the country has not experienced a peaceful transfer of power like Zambia, the Resident Senior Director and Chief of Party at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Arnold Tsunga has said.
Tsunga is a human rights defender with more than 30 years of experience and expertise in law, politics, public administration, policy, governance, human rights and the rule of law.
Zambia has received praise for how it demonstrated political maturity following a smooth transfer of power from previous leader, Edgar Lungu to the current president Hakainde Hichilema.
Speaking at a ZOOM meeting hosted Thursday by the Public Policy and Research Institute of Zimbabwe, CITE and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network on Zambia’s Historic Election: Lessons for Zimbabwe, Tsunga said the country could also witness such if appropriate political and legal reforms were implemented to strengthen democratic political culture.
Tsunga said Kaunda’s acceptance of electoral defeat became a progressive development in Zambia that ‘naturally’ distinguished him from Zimbabwe’s president the late Robert Mugabe.
“When Mugabe lost power clearly in 2008, he said ‘a ballot cannot beat the bullet’ and therefore the participation in elections was an instrument to retain power,” recalled Tsunga.
“Mugabe was also quite prophetic because he lost power, not as a result of the ballot but as a result of the bullet and the gun, if soldiers had not teamed up against him with the current ruling elite in Zimbabwe he would not have lost power.”
Tsunga explained that political culture also meant having a leadership willing to accept that the authority to govern was derived from the people’s mandate.
For those shifts to happen, Tsunga said it was up to people to have greater levels of organisation.
“Political parties have to be more organised, demonstrate they are an alternative government in waiting. They need internal democracy to have effective participation from all, including women, youth, LGBTI, the generally marginalised and under-recognised communities to have access and effective inclusion in politics.”
He also urged the “opposition to have clear policy propositions like what Hichilema developed – fighting corruption, patronage, having a clear economic model to attract people.”
Tsunga added that strong institutions of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) had to be built.
“Strong CSOs like what happened in Zambia, where pro-democracy activists were able to get in prison but consistently send messages they were not going to allow their country to be undemocratic,” he said.
Tsunga declared that a vibrant media contributed to a strong democracy including independent security agencies.
“Then you have news diggers, bloggers, citizen journalists and I think within the security sector one person who comes out clearly in Zambia to show what our law agency (in Zimbabwe) needs to think about constitutionalism is Jason Chipepo Musonda who resigned from the police force because Patriotic Front party leaders were taking command and control of the police stations. Instrumentalising the police force until a courageous policeman stood up and said, ‘no this can’t happen in my country’ and of course he was charged with exertion. I’m just hoping that the leadership in the country will proceed to remove those charges.”
Compiling parallel voter tabulations by CSOs, pro-democratic forces and the opposition prevented Zambia’s election management body from manipulating elections results, Tsunga highlighted.
“There was lack of transparency and not enough cooperation from the election management body but the fact that CSOs, pro-democratic forces and the opposition were able to set up parallel voter tabulations showed it was very clear they knew how elections had gone,” he said.
“If there was not enough cooperation from the election management body, they would be able to challenge if election results were manipulated. That threat factor plays a deterrent factor to an election management body that has no cooperation to release the correct results.”
Tsunga also emphasized that countries such as Zimbabwe needed political figureheads to guide politicians.
He cited how former Zambian president, Rupiah Banda, the fourth president from 2008 to 2011 who lost to the late Michael Sata came forward to ‘counsel’ Lungu.
“Had Banda not come forward and worked with Lungu to accept results, the situation could have been tricky but in Zimbabwe, we need to develop that type of leadership. We don’t have any now because the current leaders since 1980 have stuck to the positions that they don’t want to be those persons who can be relied on at critical moments when the nation needs them,” Tsunga summed.