By Nsambila Mbolela
Saturday May 21, was a historical date in Zambia’s election history as it officially marked the start of the multiparty presidential and parliamentary democratic elections campaign, in still Africa’s most peaceful country and biggest multiparty democracy. President Lungu who has ruled Zambia for 17 months, now campaigning as a guardian of Sata’s movement and vision and hoping to turn the tide of public opinion in his favor, will square off on august 11, with HH campaigning as a technocrat and uncorrupt hoping to sell his 10 point plan as the economic pill that will stimulate Zambia’s economy.
As the primetime play by play Zambian politics were unfolding before our eyes, I was busy on social media getting real-time details from both PF and UPND supporters and online news media. I will first outline the 4 take away political lessons from the PF and UPND campaign launches and then articulate the nuances of key political strategies a wining party can adopt to successfully defeat the opponent .
The summary of the 4 take way goes like this: despite all the hype and the hoopla you heard and saw in Lusaka-PF and Kitwe-UPND, only the party that will get its newly registered voters to vote in big numbers will win the elections. That said, it’s not enough to count on masses at the political rallies, those are just numbers of people. The party ground infrastructure should know who the masses are and turn those masses into personal committed votes. In this day of technology, there is no excuse why party foot soldiers shouldn’t know where their fellow party supporters live and like to do. Personalize and schmooze every registered voter, and come August 11, they will propel the winner beyond the 50 + 1 required threshold.
Lungu will go into this election with a 1-0 record against HH. As we saw in the January 2015 elections, when it is all said and done, on August 11, either your candidate wins or loses and, the entire campaign is fired until 2021. While nothing is guaranteed and can perfectly predict the winner, the following can help eliminate or manage human errors and create a huge advantage for success:
First: Rejection isn’t failure….keep going you will succeed
Lungu: the man we now call President Lungu wouldn’t have been Zambia’s 7th president if Guy Scott had his way. On November 3, 2014, he fired Lungu as party Secretary General. At the Kabwe PF convention Lungu mysteriously emerged as the PF party president and the rest is history. I am going to be the first political pundit on record to say that, had it not been for Mama ‘Winnie’ Inonge Wina (Matriarch of contemporary Zambian politics) to challenge Guy Scott for what she perceived as typical internalized imperialism of imposing a candidate (Davis Mwila) he could manipulate and control as if Zambia was still under colonialism, Lungu would have been looking for a new party-home like Guy Scott is doing. 2015’s election victory is just that it’s past. Similar success in 2016 will call Lungu to be flexible, adapt his campaign to satisfy the appetite of his targeted voters. Lungu can’t afford to lose key PF politicians who know the ins and outs of winning an election.
HH: lost to Lungu in January 2015. This wasn’t the first time HH had run for the highest political office in Zambia. HH has been smiling more and looks like he is enjoying trading jabs with PF. He has welcomed politicians from other regions even though the jury is still out as to whether GBM, Sampa and Guy Scott are the right mix for his political brand. He has campaigned extensively across the country to change the image that people had of UPND for Tonga’s only. To his credit, he could have quit on several occasions, but didn’t, and his persistence is looking promising going by the UPND momentum in Kitwe.
To me both Lungu and HH’s endurance and perseverance in the face of setbacks is a key lesson newly registered voters can take heed of. Ask Sampa, GBM and Guy Scott, and they will attest to the fact that maintaining a political career is everyday effort. A huge chunk of politics is just surviving and nursing other and self-inflicted political wounds to see the next election season. You don’t know when your big break will come.
Second: Execute the Right Strategy and Message for Your Campaign
In business marketing they say, your message should “speak” to your prospect, by appealing to your prospect’s “hot buttons” or those sensitivities that trigger an emotional reaction. Only after the voters’ attention has been captured can a campaign put together a strategy to keep them and motivate them to actually turn out to vote.
Lungu: should focus on the results of his 17 months in power have produced. It’s not enough for Lungu to tell people he has solutions; PF have to prove to the voters that their solutions work. And PF can talk all day about how PF solved this and that problem, but people are skeptical and won’t automatically believe PF. Voters will believe PF if voters in other parts of Zambia have achieved similar positive results. In this campaign PF will need to talk about things they have done by pointing at specific projects, policies and new constitution and provide actual problems that will be solved and the results that will be achieved.
HH: needs to talk about how UPND is different from PF. HH should have honest discussions about his business success and how that ties directly into his personal beliefs, that he is the ‘Man’ to revive the economy. I know so many people have a laundry list of HH’s business successes and how that differentiates him from Lungu the politician. I may be wrong, but in my view HH has shied away from talking about how he became a successful businessman and how his success will have perceived value to voters who are skeptical about business corporate men/woman. HH should talk about specific things he did as a business man and connect his story to the day to day efforts of the street entrepreneurs. HH shouldn’t let PF turn his business success into a political liability; rather HH should be the first one to talk about his successful business story.
It’s one thing to say PF have mismanaged mining revues. It’s another thing to talk about how mining corporations have continued to exploit miners due to the ineffective current taxing system. With that said, HH is the better man to convince voters that business corporations are not evil monsters. Pro or anti-business is a global phenomenon’ just ask Trump and Hillary.
Both Lungu and HH should focus on setting the right agenda and message for their constituencies and overall patriotism for the future of the country. Most of the problems on the campaign table have been sold and repackaged before in previous elections. Corruption is not new. Political violence is not new. Youth unemployment is not new. 1973 massive increase of oil prices and 1975 slump in copper prices left Zambia the most indebted nation in the world in 1980. The last time the kwacha to a pound was K2:£1 was in 1968. Political defections are not new. In short, focus not on issues we all know very well, rather he who will focus on the message voters want to hear will win in August
Third: Find the right winning team
I was following the Saturday Lusaka-PF and Kitwe-UOND campaign launches with my friends other African countries. Many of them agreed with my initial assessment and hailed Lungu’s appointment of Mama ‘Winnie’ Inonge Wina as running mate as part of the campaign success story — a cue HH can take as he vets his potential running VP mates.
Lungu: still has the appeal across the country. He is an easy guy to drink a beer with. People say the same thing about Obama and not Mitt Romney. By settling for Mama ‘Winnie’ Inonge Wina, Lungu has once again shown that he is his own man comfortable in his slender skin to male and own a risky move. Lungu’s running mate is a seasoned mature and self-confident individual with a personal appeal of good character across the country. She has served the country with grace and speaks her mind. She stood by Lungu and Lungu has stood by her. People have said the same about Obama and Biden relationship. That my friends is showcasing mutual respect, loyalty and character stability the very ingredient missing in younger politicians suffering from character fraud, defecting to political parties they have nothing in common with.
Lungu shouldn’t be using attacking surrogates like Fr. Frank Bwalya, Mumbi Phiri and Kambwili as they will just raise doubts in areas where people have worries about PF’s image. Lungu should find new PF non-establishment politicians from all regions of the country, smart and data driven with collective capabilities to make up for Lungu/PF’s weaknesses. Use this opportunity to empower people the country has not heard about to sell your message to the voters.
HH: Have major decisions to make. I don’t know how much sleep HH is having these days, as picking a running mate between Dr. Canicius Banda and GBM or even a third-party is going to prove tricky. On this one, whoever running mate HH will settle for, the ‘tribal ghost’ will be resurrected again. I see the biggest headline about whoever won’t be picked up- “We Told You So”. I am not judging HH as an individual but I am just wondering what he was thinking allowing two men to co-exist as VPs when he knew Lungu was plotting to insert the ‘running mate’ clause in the amended constitution. Its stuff like this that makes me wonder; who advices our presidential candidates?
As for HH’s surrogates, I think GBM’s recording tape insulting the sitting president as ‘b*f*k*l* will hurt HH’s image. How does an educated man of HH’s caliber allow a person with potential to be VP, record insults about the president for the whole world to hear? I am one of those people who were sold that HH was campaigning for change and moving the country forward. I am not sure how Guy Scott and Sampa’s baggage is adding value to the HH brand of ‘change and moving forward’. How do you change and move forward swimming in the same river polluted with recycled materials? Where are the stars UPND was known for before defectors high jacked UPND’s agenda?
Both men, Lungu and HH will need to run their campaigns effectively and allocate resources to two swing provinces (CB and Lusaka), while having foot soldiers on the ground that are quick at adapting at the changing circumstances of the other parties strategies.
Fourth: Love social media and use it properly
Social media has globally become one of the most important tools for candidates during election campaigns — and Zambia’s elections will not be exception. Tools like Twitter, Facebook and What’s App if used effectively can help the campaign foot soldiers to reach and connect with pockets of voters that they could have otherwise miss. Even this article is largely due to social media which provided me the opportunity to connect with Zambians, especially young people posting real-time updates as events were unfolding. The main selling point for both PF and UPND campaigns is to incorporate social media into their ongoing strategies and engage with voters. A happy party member is a guaranteed voter on August 11. He who will constantly incorporate the opinions and suggestions of the party’s social media users will increase the voter margins.
I hope in the next 3 months, candidates will have the opportunity to square off and debate issues and how they plan to fix them. It will be another sad chapter in our country’s election history if the agenda will bamboozled by ‘career and defecting’ politicians with the litany of how they did things in the past. Let this election be about transforming the soul of our country so that new ideas and collective collaboration can be forged to find new strength and hope in dealing with the problems of the country’s everyday living.
No matter what happens on august 11, 2016, to me President will go down in Zambian history as the man who stood his ground and snatched PF from the self-proclaimed Bemba establishment (GBM, Mulenga Sata and Sampa) and gave PF to the real owners-the Zambian patriots (people). As for HH, he will go down in history as the man of tremendous intelligence, with a compelling conviction that doing what is morally right and doing what is politically right for the country are inseparable.
By: Nsambila Mbolela, a native of Mufulira now based in the USA.