Politics of Grassroots Mobilization: William Banda and the MMD’s Battle for 2011

By Elias Munshya wa Munshya

Many opposition political parties, civil society organizations and particular one daily newspaper detest William Banda, the MMD’s Chairman for Lusaka Province. They accuse him of having a UNIP mentality of caderism and violence. William has been in politics for many years. He was a UNIP stalwart who was under very controversial circumstances stripped of Zambian citizenship by the Chiluba regime. The Supreme Court of Zambia affirmed his deportation to Malawi by Home Affairs Minister Chitalu Sampa. He was only to be brought back to Zambia by President Levy Mwanawasa who quickly recognised William’s political skills and used him extensively in the 2006 election campaigns.

Politically speaking William is a great political asset for the MMD. As much as many of our people would like to see a new kind of politics take center stage in Zambia today, the reality on the ground is that the current politics is indeed centered on the old political ideology of UNIP. In fact, UNIP politicians are still calling the shots: from the MMD’s RB Banda to the PF’s Michael Sata. It still remains to be studied how the MMD became the new UNIP and indeed why the old UNIP political ideology is still prevalent in Zambian politics today—twenty years after the end of UNIP rule. UNIP ideology is seen in the MMD’s “wamuyaya” mentality during Chiluba’s third term bid and is also evident in the PF’s fixation on Sata, the undoubted life president of PF. Further, Sata’s power to hire and fire his Central Committee and the fact that his party has never had a convention since the party’s formation in 2001 shows clear UNIPist propensities.

The MMD’s current greatest challenge for the 2011 election is Michael Sata. Sata is, undoubtedly, a man of the common man. His political mobilization skills are derived from the compounds and from the ordinary people. He speaks a language that they can understand, and he does not hesitate to use old and overused UNIPist strategy of intimidation and sometimes violence to carry his message through. He does not use academic language to explain economics and for him good investment is one which does not “give our market stalls to the Chinese.” When explaining economic performance he simply says, “Our Coca-Cola in Zambia is more expensive than elsewhere in the region.” The motto for his party is simply, “more money in your pockets.” All these are simplistic terms that easily resonate with many of our people. As such, only a person who understands grassroots thinking and politics can be a match to Sata. Unfortunately, RB Banda’s political history lacks a touch with the grassroots. RB Banda is a university educated elitist who spent a good number of years in the Kaunda government as a diplomat. As such, when it comes to grassroots mobilization, which the MMD desperately needs to win confortable votes in Lusaka, they had to look elsewhere to supply that.

The MMD had to look to William Banda, a controversial cadre who nevertheless can match Michael Sata’s grassroots mobilization skills. Of course the PF complain about William because they know what he brings to the political table. The PF knows that as a grassroots mobilizer, William has the potential to dent their popularity in Lusaka. This is William, an old man with grey hair, but nevertheless has the time and energy to meet cadres under mango trees and face them in Mandevu and Chawama. This is William who projects a figure of an ordinary man, a common person who nevertheless commands respect from a myriad of cadres. The MMD did not need a reasonable person to mobilize Lusaka. All they needed was a figure like William who would go to the people, mobilize them for the hour and speak a language that they can understand. The MMD does not need William to help them become a majority in Lusaka; all they need him to do is to turn a few votes against the PF. And those few votes would be very significant when the final tally is prepared in 2011.
The fact that some violent tendencies are seen in William Banda’s politics should be a concern. But equally concerning is the general violent nature that our politics seem to be taking. Be it the UPND violence in Mufumbwe and Mapatizya, or indeed the MMD’s violence in Chawama, violence should be detested. But William’s strengths of grassroots political mobilization far outweigh any of his weaknesses. The message is at least clear, if the PF have Sata, the MMD have their William Banda who is willing to do what Sata does very well in Lusaka. And if the MMD indeed wanted to have a man of the people to mobilize Lusaka for them, they had no better choice than the old William Banda.

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