By DR Robert E. Mtonga
IT was as presidential as it was a large, pregnant speech. Some even called it a collector’s item. President Rupiah Banda, popularly known as RB by his colleagues clearly spelt out his vision for the next three left over years for late President Levy Mwanawasa’s term which was due to expire in 2011.
The nuggets scattered across RB’s inaugural discourse with both hands gave a crystal clear bird’s eye view on where the RB presidency will spend its time, money and energies. Poverty reduction, education for all citizens, better health for all are some of the most luminous spots in RB’s vision.
It is therefore not surprising that many pundits, freethinkers and Zambians of all hues and persuasions were generous in showering platitudes on RB in the wake of his delivery on November 2, 2008.
The 68 days of electioneering that preceded the October 30, Presidential polls to select a successor following President Mwanawasa’s demise on August 19, 2008 at the Percy Military Hospital in Paris, France, were hectic days. Four candidates from four political parties sized each other up for top honours.
The Patriotic Front (PF) weighed in Michael Sata, while the Heritage Party (HP) kept faith with Godfrey Miyanda.
On the other hand the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) opted for a wise head and a safe pair of hands in Mr Banda, as the United Party for National Development (UPND) threw Hakainde Hichilema, commonly christened as HH, as its flag bearer.
The campaigns from day one were in top gear and did not fail to impress. It is a dried observation that there were nasty moments too when candidates took to name calling, use of “unparliamentary” language, anti-social invectives among others.
What was more, the media, especially the jaundiced version, for its part also did not help matters either.
It was not uncommon to see the yellow press take a decidedly biased position against one candidate, heaping unwarranted scorn and uncultured diatribe in the name of independence of the media.
This time around, the public media did much better in terms of offering balanced coverage to the four Zambians who jostled for the top office in the land. More could have been done certainly but what we saw albeit gave hope that the future bodes very well for democracy.
It may be said here and now that the solution to biased and polarizing news coverage is not more of the same but rather the movement towards the middle, based on journalistic ethics, professionalism, common decency and shared humanity.
To put it gently, a journalist worth his salt must love others as he would love himself.
After all, we are all Zambians, with one common destiny and a conjoint stalk in the affairs of our motherland. Those that bring divisive habits to public affairs are but burning their own fingers.
Someone called them mental midgets, those gentlemen and women who for a morsel of bread sell their birthrights to this or that politician. Soul searching for journalists is not a waste of time all things considered.
Just then what were the issues that occupied the airwaves during the campaign season that Zambia has just wheezed past?.
After separating the chaff from the wheat, what sheaves gathered, fastened and bundled together in a coherent fashion?
The UPND campaigned on the platform of prudent economic management, free education, free health care and improved salaries and conditions of service for civil servants.
HH was large on these issues and even stated publicly that he would serve the land of his birth gratis. He promised to donate his salary to women and children, as public service workers, under his regime, were promised a take-home pay of three million five hundred thousand Kwacha.
HH spelt out his issues with the coolness of a cucumber. He did draw some crowds here and there.
Brigadier General Miyanda’s campaign was the least visible of the four. He did hold very few public campaigns and not many Zambians quite honestly are up to speed with what the good General was up to.
What one remembers with nostalgia is that this man of great integrity and uncommon Christian values was a proponent of a not-so-clear concept of national development called the village concept.
General Miyanda entered the race for Plot One at the eleventh hour and this novel way of politicking did all wow quite a few Zambians it must be said.
Some not so generous citizens even accused General Miyanda of being ‘bought’ by goodness knows who.
The man did hold his own in spite of all this.
Some of his supporters incidentally were not daunted by this and did as a matter of record vote for him in their tens rather than thousands!
His famous quip is now a household adage, “There are many ways of killing a cat!” Maybe we should introduce target shooting in the 2011 version of Presidential elections!
Mr Sata arguably was the most watched Presidential candidate. This “man-of-action” is second to none in the use of humour to press a point home. Love him or hate him, Mr Sata does not fail any day to marshal crowds.
He is a populist par excellence. His detractors accused him of being short of specifics but Sata would not hear of it. He spoke the language of the ‘locations’. He promised lower taxes and more money in people’s pockets.
He preached jobs for everyone. He brought down the fear of hell on certain heads of governmental and quasi-governmental organisations. He was clear even with private firms such as certain hoteliers in Livingstone that he would fire the management unless they increased workers salaries.
True to his form, King Cobra spat as much venom and he caused laughter. This witty man caused anxiety as much as he built castles in the air for many of his followers. It was not uncommon to witness heated debates on the finer points of Sata’s manifesto.
The PF’s man seemed to have the pocket or domestic economy, health care delivery, mass education up to university level, shared economic asset management, governmental regulation of key sectors and assets among his key points. He pointed to his previous sojourns in all save the Mwanawasa regimes as a sort of right of tenure at Plot One.
His ways with the tongue were not always pleasing. His supporters only chose to ignore his unpleasant statements directed at his enemies-real or imagined, because of the partisan coins in their purses.
Sata was healthily benefited by private media coverage almost to the total disadvantage of the other three candidates.
The nation will recall how one mass circulating tabloid made it its inalienable duty to splash Mr Sata’s pictures on the front page, middle page and Op-Ed. The editorial opinions were resolutely and irredeemably biased to the core.
The MMD’s Mr Banda on the other hand campaigned on the dais of continuing with late President Mwanawasa’s promises.
He called it building on the promise.
The MMD campaign machinery sold RB as the perfect fit into late President Mwanawasa’s shoes.
RB received the most endorsements from other political parties such as Edith Nawakwi’s Forum for Democracy and Development, Sakwiba Sikota’s United Liberal Party, Tilyenji Kaunda’s once indomitable United National Independence Party and lesser luminaries as Ben Mwila’s National Democratic Focus among them.
Chiefs, social and civil groupings, retired and active political animals were too not left out in endorsing RB.
The brightest lights arguably were Kenneth Kaunda and Dr Fredrick Chiluba who threw their hats for RB. Long debates on the merits and demerits of this action by the two former presidents ensued wherever one cared to look.
In RB, the MMD was offering more economic liberalization, eradication of poverty, women empowerment, infrastructure development, agricultural revolution, tourism enhancement among their jewels.
Thus it came to pass on October 30, that the majority of the electors gave the mandate to President Banda through what has been hailed as one of the most transparent elections ever presided over by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ).
As expected some losing quarters cried wolf and have since taken the matters to the ECZ and courts of law in full exercise of their democratic rights.
President Banda’s speech on November 2, 2008, on the grounds of the Parliamentary buildings just two hours after being declared a duly elected President of Zambia was indeed very national. It calling all Zambians to work together, in extending an olive branch to his political opponents, President Banda set the tone for the next three years.
His singling out of poverty, corruption, better health for all Zambians to mention but a few, President Banda hit the right note in national development. Who would argue with the diplomat, the businessman, the farmer, and the politician in President Banda that in so doing, he has offered himself as a President for all Zambians-those who voted for him and those who did not?
Was he not right when he said time for campaigning was over? Did he not say that he had listened to all the Zambians during the campaign period?
One can only wish that all Zambians would seize the moment and embrace RB as Zambia’s fourth Republican president in the spirit of Dr Kaunda’s one Zambia one Nation. May the eagle above the Zambian skies point the nation to a future of bliss.
Copyright © 2008 The Times of Zambia. All rights reserved.