Look at any vibrant democracy in the world and you will find active and effective opposition to the powers that be.
Perhaps the best example right now is UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who despite rumblings in his party has acted as a lightning rod for discontent at the austerity measures imposed by the ruling Conservatives. Even in the United States there is vigorous opposition to President-elect Donald Trump, including leaders such as Bernie Sanders continuing to inspire the electorate.
In stark contrast, we in Zambia are suffering from a supreme deficit in opposition leadership. It’s as if our opposition leaders have gone to lunch and not returned. Or should that be gone to court and not come out?
Despite providing years of strong leadership and criticism of government, FDD leader Edith Nawakwi is now embroiled in a scandal of her own making. Rather than step aside and allow for fresh blood at the top, Ms Nawakwi has plunged her party into the kind of misguided factionalism that will almost certainly split the party.
Like Ms Nawakwi, Zambia’s perpetual runner-up Hakainde Hichilema is also up to his eyeballs in court documents. Months after the wind blew against him, HH still can’t feel the breeze, even as yet another High Court judge has dismissed his presidential petition. Always the bridesmaid never the bride, Mr Hichilema does not appear to tire of chasing his dream of occupying State House.
What he fails to understand — what all of our opposition leaders fail to understand — is that political leadership is not an entitlement but an obligation of principle. True leadership is standing up for the electorate. True authority is leading from the front line, not conducting the orchestra from the cheap seats.
Should we even bother to ask the whereabouts of those opposition leaders who used to be titans? Where is Wynter Kabimba? Miles Sampa? Eric Chanda? Elias Chipimo Jnr.? Ng’andu Magande? Has the entire opposition bench of our nation’s political class taken an unscheduled leave of absence?
It is a mark of how badly our opposition has failed that Green Party leader Peter Sinkamba — the man laughed at by the intelligentsia for his pro-poor policies — is now the most courageous and honorable voice of dissent in this country. Unlike our self-absorbed opposition leaders, Mr Sinkamba is speaking for those masses who have no voice, while at the same time addressing issues of national importance.
Where is HH or Ms Nawakwi on the travesty that is the expired ARV drug scandal? Where are the statements of outrage and protest at the incarceration of record numbers of poor and vulnerable Zambians? Where is HH to call for new mortuaries in places like Namwala that are crying out for respect to be shown to their dead?
Is Ms Nawakwi too busy fighting her own party members to check in with the embattled nurses at UTH? Did Mr Hichilema not read the Auditor General’s report, that annual gift to opposition politicians? Did no one in opposition hear the budget speech? Are we to believe that no one had anything critical to say about how government intends to spend our money?
The absenteeism among our opposition leaders is cause for deep concern. The government of Zambia is not operating a dictatorship but rather a multi-party democratic state that requires a disciplined and active opposition. Instead we are confronted by political operatives whose reason for existing seems to be shameless self-interest rather than selfless labour in the people’s interest.