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One cannot deny that Zambia has set the democratic bar high

Zambian business tycoon and veteran opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema scored a landslide victory on August 16, 2021 in bitterly-contested presidential elections. Picture: AFP

Zambian business tycoon and veteran opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema scored a landslide victory on August 16, 2021 in bitterly-contested presidential elections. Picture: AFP

Published Aug 24, 2021


By Douglas Gibson

Afro-pessimists ask the question: “Where are the successful democracies in Africa?” The list is not long, but one cannot deny Zambia has set the democratic bar high.

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The recent presidential and parliamentary elections have again – for the third time since independence from Britain in 1964 – resulted in a ruling party being replaced by the opposition. Kenneth Kaunda first led the way many years ago when he graciously vacated office after being rejected by the voters.

President Edgar Lungu at first tried to stay on, saying the election was not free and fair. He went so far as to demand the vote-counting should stop when it became clear he was losing. The Electoral Commission ignored his demand and Lungu was beaten by opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema by a landslide.

Hichilema, leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND), is a millionaire farmer and businessman who was formerly the chief executive of an accounting firm. He has stood for the presidency in five previous elections, losing narrowly on two occasions. The UPND is a liberal democratic party and a sister party of South Africa’s DA.

Zambia is a mess. It has defaulted on payments for loans recklessly obtained by Lungu. His rule included human rights abuses, a failing economy and massive unemployment. Voters, especially the young, became tired of the misrule (which included Hichilema being jailed for four months for failing to give way to Lungu’s motorcade and being subjected to torture, solitary confinement and no food for days). It remains to be seen whether Hichilema will be able to turn the economic crisis around and restore decent and good government to his country.

Zambia is not the only country shining the light of democracy in Africa. Immensely encouraging in Kenya last week was the ruling by their Appeal Court rejecting the proposed amendment of the Constitution by President Uhuru Kenyatta preventing his estranged deputy from succeeding him next year. One of the appellate judges, Patrick Kiage, made the telling statement: “The days of an unaccountable presidency are long gone.”

South Africa’s democracy has also stood the test with President Cyril Ramaphosa subjecting himself to the rule of law and appearing before the Zondo Commission. That he defended the ANC policy and practice of cadre deployment and either suffered a lapse of memory or told untruths about the minutes (not knowing that the evidence leader already had a copy) does not diminish the proof no one is above the law in our country.

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The next test is that of the Zondo Report, eagerly awaited, and the appointment of the next chief justice. Justice Zondo has all the personal qualities, the learning, the gravitas, to be our chief justice. He is surely the front runner. Ramaphosa will make the appointment, after consulting the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and the leaders of all political parties in Parliament. In effect, the president has merely to advise them he is of a mind to appoint and, whether or not the others agree, he will get his way.

It will be fascinating to see whether he will appoint Justice Zondo if the Zondo Report slams the ANC and its leader. No one expects Justice Zondo to go easy on them and no one expects him to place his own ambition above the rule of law. Let’s see whether President Ramaphosa, in appointing a new chief justice, does the same.

*Douglas Gibson served as South Africa's ambassador to Thailand between 2008 and 2012. His website is

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**Views expressed here are not of The Star or IOL.

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