Zambia’s twenty years of one-party political dictatorship
From the year Zambia became independent on 24 October 1964 to 1972 Zambia was under a multi-party political system.What is called a one-party state only came into being in 1972 when UNIP president Dr. Kenneth Kaunda declared Zambia a one-party state at a state conference held at Mulungushi rock of authority. The veteran politician and president of the African National Congress Harry Mwanga Nkurnbula duly agreed and endorsed the creation of a single-party state in 1972.
The promulgation of a one-party state foreshadowed the introduction of the philosophy of humanism and the enhancement of the Emergence Power Act which banned political and public demonstrations of any kind. The reason why Dr. Kaunda introduced a one-party state was alleged to be the anxieties about tribalism and regionalism that had emerged during the 1967 UNIP general conference.
Dr. Kenneth Kaunda felt that a multi-party political system was a recipe for political instability and thus economic underdevelopment. The creation of a one-party state gave rise to the intensification of the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, and Namibia – Zambia became a hub of political exiles from these countries.
The political ideology of Leninism-Marxism was very attractive to some countries in Africa that had recently emerged from European colonialism. Single-party political dictatorships appear in various styles – but are everywhere distinguished by the stubborn suppression of human rights and political freedom, every single party political dictatorship fashions a political ideology that defines its political and economic revolution. The political ideology becomes through time a cultural and nationalistic acronym – and inspires deep-rooted veneration and patriotism.
It is a fact that single party political dictatorship of the day have shown the audacity to carry out bold social and economic programmes that maybe impossible to implement under parliamentary democracy – the Soviet Union, Cuba and China are examples.
The one-party political dictatorship introduced by President Kaunda in 1972 was not an outright rejection of Western political, religious, intellectual and cultural models. Zambia Army senior officers were sent at Sandhurst military academy in Britain and Zambia had diplomatic consulates in Western countries including Israel. But it was from the Soviet Union that Zambia was dependant for its much needed military hardware and logistics. The Soviet Union sold Mig 19 and 21 jet fighters in 1976 to help boost Zambia’s airforce. Dr. Kaunda was a pacifist at heart and tried by all means to open political dialogue with the racist regimes in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Dr. Kaunda’ s determination and support to the freedom fighters from Angola.
Mozambique, Namibia. Zimbabwe and South Africa was motivated by selfish reasons and did not reflect the feelings and aspirations of ordinary Zambians – it resulted in political insecurity and economic hardships. The UDI government of Prime Minister Ian Smith in Zimbabwe imposed an oil embargo on Zambia. Zambia is a landlocked country and most of its trade routes passed through Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique and Angola. This meant that Dr. Kaunda had to find alternative means to ferry imports and exports now that the trade routes from South Africa were no longer available. The solution was proffered by the Chinese government which built the Tazara railway line from Tunduma in Tanzania to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia. This was followed by the construction of the Tazama pipeline from the port of Dar-es-slam in Tanzania to Ndola in Zambia.
In 1973 at Matero conference in Lusaka Dr. Kaunda implemented the notorious Matero economic reforms that ushered in what has been known as a state command economy. The mammoth task of creating a state-oriented economy was resolved through the cunning acumen of Andrew Sardanis – a Cypriot businessman resident in Zambia. The industrial development corporation (INDECO), financial development corporation mines (FINDECO) were created. This outright nationalization of the private economic sector was dubbed Zambianisation to fit in with the ideology of “socialism”. But Zambia was a mixed economy to some extent in the sense that small-scale foreign owned private business existed side by side with parastatal companies. The parastatal companies had their own problems. Most of them proved to be inefficient in the long run.
Recruitment into the parastatal companies was riddled with corruption, nepotism, and tribalism. Workers in parastatal companies received low salaries and subjected to political brainwashing compared to those in the private sector.
In 1980, there occurred a first coup attempt to remove President Kaunda from power. A contingent of Congolese mercenaries was discovered at a farm in Chilanga owned by Aron Milner, a former foreign affairs minister in Dr. Kaunda’s government. Among those arrested was a Congolese politician resident in Angola, Democritus Simba, and some senior military officers. Matters came to the head in 1986 when the towns on the copper belt erupted in public rebellion against the UNIP government of Dr. Kaunda.
Mobs descended upon the state-owned shops and looted them. In Kitwe and Lusaka, they were later joined by university students who went on a wild orgy, stoning private vehicles. Dr. Kaunda reacted swiftly and many people were rounded up and detained, including Zambia Congress of Trade Union president Fredrick Chiluba and a veteran politician Elias Chipimo (senior). Dr. Kaunda dispatched a battalion of commandos (red berets) to stop the disturbances on the mining towns. The riots were instigated by the shortage of mealie meal, cooking oil and soap detergents that could only be accessed in the state-owned shops. The shortage of mealie meal was mainly due to smuggling – mealie meal was being smuggled to the nearby Congo Democratic Republic (Zaire) where it was sold at exorbitant prices. Dr. Kaunda went on to confiscate private milling companies on the Copperbelt and placed them under the care of Mulungushi investment, a public corporation. The UNIP government introduced mealie meal coupons in order to make everyone afford to buy mealie meal.
The critics of the one-party state had their martyrs. In 1972 UNIP vice-president and freedom fighter Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe resigned and formed a political party called the United Progressive party (UPP). The UPP was banned. Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe met his political fate in Kitwe where he was cornered by some UNIP political militants and physically beaten up. In 1987, there was staged a second military coup to dislodge to Kaunda from power. Six army officers and three civilians were arrested in connection with planning to overthrow President Kaunda. General Christian Tembo, formerly head of the Zambian army and ambassador to West Germany, was arrested.
But the man of the moment was Lieutenant Mwamba Luchembe. He drove a battalion of armoured vehicles at the Zambia broadcasting corporation and took over the radio and television station. It was Mwamba Luchembe who announced on radio waves that the Zambia army had taken over power from Dr. Kaunda, The short-lived coup was peacefully foiled by the Zambia army and Mwamba Luchembe was detained.
In its 1988 report, Amnesty International reported that Musonda Chambeshi, Mario Malyo and Alfred Sakalauda were arrested for planning to revive the UPP on the Copperbelt.
Under the Preservation of Public Security Regulation, the police were not obliged to reveal reasons for detaining people awaiting trial. Medical neglect and harsh prisons conditions were the cause of deaths. It was true that by 1990 Dr. Kaunda was fully abreast with the altered political circumstances taking place in Africa and beyond. The decade of Leninism-Marxism was everywhere crumbling down.
In Tanzania and Malawi, both presidents Nyerere and Kamuzu Banda had bowed down to people’s demand for political freedom and parliamentary democracy. In 1990, President Kaunda suspended the Emergency Powers Act that had been in place since 1972.
On 2 November 1991 the first ever multi-party general election took place and UNIP and its leader Dr. Kaunda received a vote of no confidence from the people of Zambia. Dr. Kaunda was defeated by the former trade unionist Fredrick Chiluba of the Movement for Multi-party Democracy.
After losing the presidential elections Dr. Kaunda hastily surrendered political power to Fredrick Chiluba in what has been dubbed a historical and peaceful transition of power.
Dressed in an immaculate safari suit and brandishing a white handkerchief, Dr. Kaunda was an impressive international statesman possessed with a rare gifts of oratory which at some occasions moved the audience to tears.
Indeed after having ruled Zambia for 27 years, Dr. Kaunda has been unreservedly accorded and bestowed with gallant medals of honour and respect despite having denied the people of Zambia the basic political freedom and human rights which they are now enjoying today.
Cephas Mulenga Chimwemwe Kitwe, Zambia.