Chris Zumani Zimba, Political Scientist, Author, PhD Scholar, Lecturer and Consultant
Last week, the opposition political leader in Sierra Leon, Julius Maada Bio won the presidential election runoff with more than 52% votes against the ruling party candidate, Vice President Samura Kamara who only secured merely 48% of the votes. With voter turnout standing at 81% in a country where 3.1 million people are registered to vote, on 5th April, 2018, the Sierra Leon Electoral Commission declared opposition’s Julius Maada Bio as the winner and was later sworn in as Republican President the same day. In the same manner, the former soccer star, George Weah won Liberia’s presidential run-off election with more than 62% votes against the ruling party candidate, Vice President Joseph Boakai who only got 39%. The Liberia National Elections Commission Chairman, Jerome Korkoyah announced the Monrovian grown up citizen, Weah as the winner and new President of the country.
Lesson number one: If money could buy power, Alick Dangote could have been the President of Nigeria in particular and Africa in general; Bill Gates could have been the President of both America and the world. Although it plays a bigger role depending with the political circumstances and environment, money does not generally and always buy power. If that was the automatic case, then Rupiah Banda (RB) of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) could have been the President of Zambia as we speak since the ‘Mwana Wanyoko political leader’ was financially, materially and technically strong in 2011 against the ill politically and financially equipped late Michael Chilufya Sata. In terms of resources, the 2011 presidential race between ‘King Cobra’ and RB could be mirrored with the story of David and Goliath with the former being the shepherd boy and the latter being the Philistine Great warrior. In 2006, then the wealth HH of the UPND could have been declared obvious presidential winner against the then financially weak late Levy Mwanawasa or Michael Sata respectively. In the same vein, the respective ruling political parties in both Sierra Leone and Liberia were financially and materially strong too but lost the presidential reruns in a terrible manner against the financially weak opposition parties and leaders. A free lesson for the PF government ahead of 2021.
Lesson number two: The latest political developments in the two West African countries stand as a classical warn and caution for the sitting President, Edgar Lungu and his PF government. Despite violating the Electoral Code of Conduct and other campaign regulations by embarking on serious pre-election year campaigns with bulky distribution of Lungu branded thousands of school books, bicycles and toilet tissues, the ruling party may face serious difficulties to win the 2021 presidential and general elections with or without Lungu on the ballot on their own or with MMD. As the situation stand in the cases of Sierra Leone or Liberia where the ruling political parties and leaders lost presidential election runoffs despite colorfully campaigning everywhere and longer than the opposition, the PF government need more than God’s grace and political magic to survive beyond 2021 than human votes because the wind of political victory are already blowing towards the opposition especially with their hundred visible political blunders and exposed backs. But this does not necessarily mean that UPND and HH, NDC and CK or the Socialist Party and FM on their own will graciously win the 2021 poll, unless they win a crucial pre match penalty via a good political coalition or they maximize to score two unanswered goals in extra time during the rerun by picking good political allies.
Lesson number three: The cases of Sierra Leon and Liberia are also telling and showing us that in growing multiparty democracies like Zambia, Malawi, Nigeria or Kenya, the political tenure of office is changing from decades of having one political party in power to two term limits political experiments. This could mean that the ruling PF in Zambia and Lungu are most unlikely to govern the country for more than two terms i.e. 10 years as their predecessor did-MMD governed Zambia for four terms i.e. 20years from 1991 to 2011 before losing power. In both Sierra Leon and Liberia, the ruling political parties that lost power this year only ruled their respective countries and people for two terms each. In other words, it is clear the political dynamics are changing very fast such that, it is now increasingly becoming difficulty for any political party to rule and govern beyond 10 years or two terms regardless of their presidential candidate in most growing multiparty democracies-it was happening in many countries but the political wind seem to be changing as seen in Sierra Leon and Liberia. The PF government in Zambia must take this as a free political lesson for 2021.
Lesson number four: In conclusion, these experiences of opposition political leaders winning reruns in West Africa may not have a direct effect and immediate implications in African countries that are still governed by independence parties and liberation movements which are constantly and intelligently changing their top leaders in order to keep the popularity of the ruling party. For example, the case of Sierra Leone and Liberia is not likely to be easily replicated in South Africa with African National Congress (ANC), Zimbabwe with the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZNU-PF), Tanzania with Chama Chama Mapinduzi (CCM), Mozambique with the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) or Rwanda with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) as these independence parties still enjoy majority support and the countries in question have never been ruled by another political party since liberation. But in countries that have tested political power under different political parties and presidents especially Zambia, Malawi, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya or DR Congo, the lessons of Sierra Leone and Liberia must be taken serious.