Divided We Stand: Politics of national cohesion after Zambia’s 2016 elections

By E. Munshya, LLM, MBA, MDIV

The so called divisions we think have emerged in the aftermath of the August 11 elections could be good for our democracy. They show that our democracy is working, and working very well. If the people of Zambezi feel that they are not being heard, there is no better way to demonstrate their displeasure with Lungu than withholding their vote. The people of Dundumwezi also have the prerogative. We must give up this incessant desire to want to control and manipulate the choices that people must make. The people of Chiengi have made their choice and so have the people of Mkaika.

400px-Coat_of_Arms_of_ZambiaThe people of southern province dropped over 500,000 votes for Hakainde Hichilema. The tsunami has shocked some of our people. After the August 11 elections, some of our people are suddenly waking up to the so called regionalism that they think is going to erode our national unity. These fears are unfounded. The people of southern province do not owe anyone an explanation for their decision to overwhelmingly back Mr. Hichilema. Zambia is a democratic country and in a democracy, individuals, provinces or regions have the prerogative to choose the leader they want. It becomes an affront to democracy once we begin dictating how people should vote. Zambia might as well be divided between green Zambia and red Zambia; it is within our democratic character to do so. Political divisions are not bad per se, political divisions must exist in any democracy and in fact, political divisions do exist in all democratic countries on earth.

Democracy never guarantees uniformity. Democracy is an orgy of difference. It is a party of differences. Democracy is a coat of many colours. It is a fabric of mosaic patterns. The patterns might be injurious to our ego, but they are part and parcel of our democratic character in any case.

There has never been any guarantee in our democracy that Zambian regions will vote uniformly. Uniformity of votes is not a character of our democracy. It is a myth to suggest that the voting patterns we saw will automatically lead to national divisions. Well, democracy is chaotic and divisive. The question is what can we do about our political divisions.

Elias Munshya (of the Alberta Bar)

President Lungu has emerged victorious and it is clear that he performed very poorly among the southern, western and northwestern voters. He needs to humble himself and go and listen to the concerns of the people concerned. Democracy is not just about the majority winning or achieving 50% +1, but also about lending our ears to the voices expressed by the minority votes. Those who have not achieved 50% +1 are as legitimate parts of Zambian democracy as those who have achieved the threshold. The challenge here is that if we are to be true to democracy, we must let Lungu and implore upon his party to go and listen to everybody. It will be foolish of the Patriotic Front to do nothing about the clear voices of the people who have expressed displeasure with the status quo. Lungu and the PF must not carry on as if everything is alright. Ifintu tafili bwino, iyo. It is time to listen and listen very well.

Great democracies such as the United Kingdom have their own internal regionalism that seems to make no sense to an outsider. But those divisions should not mean that the UK is less democratic. The UK has a system of respect for regions. In Zambia, we could develop a system of democratic respect for regions. The same Americans who could be lecturing us about the divided electorate have red states and blue states, and no matter how beautiful or handsome you are, not even a tsunami would have Texas vote for a democrat. In spite of this ideological regionalism America remains a beacon of democracy.

Zambia can still be a democracy, and a good democracy even in the middle of regionalism. We should not fear regionalism, instead we must embrace it and leverage it for national development. I am surprised that some are invoking Kenneth Kaunda’s one party dictatorship as a model for uniting the nation. Kaunda’s time is over and he tried to bring the nation together by betraying tenets of democracy occasionally. Zambia needs to unleash its democratic beast that unleashes our great potential.

Regions are pinnacles of democracy and we need to respect them. What we need in Zambia, is an unwavering respect for regional diversity. We are One Zambia One Nation, but beyond that we have no one who forces or dictates to us how we should vote. The voting patterns we saw on August 11 will force us to cooperate with one another. The East must cooperate with the West, and listening to each other is the first step towards that.

The idea that we are now divided among tribal lines is just nonsense. Which tribe does Lungu and Wina belong to for them to win the north? What about Hichilema, how come he won in Mwinilunga? These elections have nothing to do with tribe, they have everything to do with regions and there is only one way to deal with regions: listen to all, respect for all and an appreciation for diversity.


A version of this article appeared in Zambia’s Independent newspaper, The Zambia Daily Nation.

Elias Munshya is a Zambian practicing civil litigation, administrative law and corporate-commercial law at West End Legal Centre in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.


  1. Great analysis Elias! Our citizens must answer the question ‘what do we do with our regional/ tribal differences?’Simply said,the answer would determine the country’s future .The ‘one Zambia one nation motto is or should not be misconstrued into meaning ‘one Zambia, same vote’.We should embrace our differences and go on to build a strong nation on the basis of ‘unity in diversity!’ It should be built on a common goal which is to lift the country from economic slumber and up lift the standard of living for all and leave the country in a better state than we found it for future generations to build upon. Politicians should be in the forefront of admitting that they need to work on winning over the citizenry that is frustrated with the status quo and continue to develop all parts of the country whether they are strongholds of the opposition or not.

Leave a Reply