By Bent Nicolajsen, Danish Liberal Democracy Programme (DLDP).
It is Saturday morning in a fairly simple assembly hall in a school in of the suburbs of Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. The hall is filled with delegates from most corners of Zambia. It is only the second time for the seven years old National Restoration Party to hold a prober convention. Prayers and national anthem has been handled, and the resident of Narep, Elias Chipimo Jr., is opening the convention.
Mr. Chipimo is only welcoming Narep-delegates from 10 out of 11 provinces. He is also acknowledging the presence of several handfuls of journalists as well as various independent observers. It is not the order of day in Zambian politics, that political parties having important meetings like conventions open the doors to the public. That is just one of example of how Narep is trying to preach and practice a different approach to politics in Zambia and in Africa at large.
In his opening speech, Elias Chipimo, mentions three objectives of the convention. First of all, the convention shall decide on a new constitution for Narep. Secondly, the convention will elect a new leadership of the party. Finally, a new strategy for nationwide local mobilsation will be launched.
The passing of a new party constitution is not just a walk in the park for the party leadership. Delegates are not satisfied –among others things with the fact, that they will not get a direct say on who is going to hold which positions in the National Executive Committee. But the leadership shows a great degree of flexibility and the draft constitution to accommodates the wishes of the many vocal delegates who were not happy with it. This move from the leadership changes the atmosphere at the convention completely, and delegates feel that they are being listen to.
With the constitution in place, the gathering can now go on to elect new leaders. Elias Chipimo is reelected for the position as party president with clear majority but not unopposed. This is democracy at work. A new national executive committee is also elected. The election is happening in a very correct and transparent manner and according to the independent observers present Narep cannot learn much from the Electoral Commission of Zambia – rather the other way around.
After the election the newly elected National Executive Committee attends a mini-workshop. The new NEC-members share their expectations to the tasks and cooperation in the Committee. They have a discussion on the roles of the NEC and write letters to themselves, which will be kept for one year. At that time the NEC-members will be able to re-visit their hopes and aspirations as newly-elected NEC-members.
The convention ends at a very active note. The Party President, Mr. Elias Chipimo, introduces new mobilization strategy. The strategy seems to be a very useful tool for the local structures in their preparation for the 2021 general election in Zambia. And since Elias Chipomo is an unconventional leader at an unconventional convention, is he not just speaking to the masses, he is facilitating a process involving the participants.
Life as an opposition party in a first-past-the-post-system like Zambia is not easy. Narep does still not have any representatives elected at the local or national level. On the other hand, the convention –and the way it was conducted – was important step forward for a small party with big ambitions.