By Walcott Aganu
Zambia has established a reputation as one of Africa’s stable democracies, with regular elections and peaceful transfers of power, since its founding president, the late Kenneth Kaunda, introduced multi-party democracy and subsequently accepted defeat in 1991. However, fears of a reversal of those gains emerged recently.
There was a lot at stake for Zambia as it went to the polls on August 12, 2021, in an election that pitted incumbent President Edgar Lungu against perennial opposition challenger Hakainde Hichilema for the country’s top post. There were fears of violent disorder, which had been common in the tense days leading up to the election.
However, President Lungu accepted defeat after opposition leader Hichilema scored an overwhelming electoral victory. An act that quickly brushed aside concerns of violent chaos after the election and many residents are still marvelling at the country’s rapid return to normal.
“I will comply with the constitutional provisions for a peaceful transition of power. I would therefore like to congratulate my brother, the president-elect, His Excellency Mr. Hakainde Hichilema,” Lungu, 64, said in a short televised address to the nation.
Zambia’s peaceful transition from one leader to another, from one political party to another, is a major shot in the arm for democracy, not just in Zambia but well beyond its borders. This shows that Africa is leading the way when it comes to good news stories; it sends a strong democratic message across the continent — and will inspire activists and pro-democracy groups across the continent.
Zambia has “shown the world that, after all, Africa is capable of handling its own affairs,” tweeted Ernest Bai Koroma, former president of Sierra Leone, who led the African Union’s mission observing the elections.
Lungu’s announcement to concede defeat showed maturity in the leadership of the country, given that many leaders, both in Africa and beyond, tend to cling to power or make the transition difficult. In 2020, there was an uprising in the US after former president Donald Trump disputed the election results and alleged that there was vote stealing by the incumbent Joe Biden.
“I am so humbled, Sir. You make me proud by making Zambia stand out as a beacon of peace.”
Patrick Kibipe, a social media user tweeted.
Another user Specio Phiri tweeted, “Thank you, sir. I am proud of your patriotism and love for our great nation, Zambia. One Zambia, one nation. Your voice will create peace, stability and development. ”
“This is the Zambia we want, the Zambia we know!” said Gift Nyirongo, a street vendor.
These messages have continued to spread across Zambia and social media in the wake of Lungu’s heroics and boldness to concede to opposition win. It is indeed a win for Zambia and Africa democracy.