Political parties’ alliances and coalitions, tips on how best to organise them
By Azwell Banda
In so many ways, Zambia is a unique country, and its people are an extraordinary lot.
The Zambian masses, both in urban and rural areas, who are largely young, mostly unemployed, usually hungry and suffer the consequences of extreme inequalities deserve an Olympic gold medal for tolerance and endurance of some of the harshest IMF austerity measures ever imposed on any country. There are very few countries on earth whose citizens would peacefully suffer just a fraction of the economic miseries Zambians are experiencing right now, and literally do nothing about it.
Only in Zambia can a bunch of politicians and their political party who lied their way into government survive as a government as long as Hakainde Hichilema and his UPND choir have done. The UPND and especially Hakainde Hichilema lied and made false promises to poor Zambians that they would lower the cost of living and doing business. Now in government, Hakainde Hichilema and his choir are singing songs from a different hymn book, they are telling Zambians that at some point in future, perhaps two or three years from now, Zambians may see some improvements in their lives.
Now in government, Hakainde Hichilema and his political choir are telling Zambians they are busy putting measures in place which should stabilise prices of domestic and business goods. When in opposition, the UPND made clear commitments to actually lower the cost of living and doing business in Zambia. They were so carried away by their lies that they even mentioned how, and at what price, important commodities like mealie meal, paraffin, petrol, diesel, rent, fertilisers, transport and others would be adjusted downwards.
Today, two and a half years in government, most Zambians are unhappy that in fact life has become more expensive and harsher than it was, when the Patriotic Front (PF) were in government. The radical shift from offering lowered prices to “price stabilisation” by the UPND is Orwellian: without any shame, the UPND is now telling Zambians to work hard, become farmers themselves and generally take care of themselves. Meanwhile, the UPND has turned government into a feeding trough for Hakainde Hichilema, his close friends and choir, and foreign money.
As the ever-rising cost of living and doing business punishes and pushes many Zambians into genuine destitution, a tiny group of people connected to the UPND are wrecking in millions from government subsidies to businesses. The size and extent of the cholera epidemic currently killing poor people is a direct result of the harsh economic circumstances the UPND and the IMF have imposed on poor Zambians. Apart from the sharp rise in violent crimes, most Zambians remain peaceful, and either still trust Hakainde Hichilema and his UPND, or are praying and waiting for 2026 to cast their vote against their humiliating hunger, unemployment, poverty and extreme inequalities.
All our opposition political parties know and understand that the UPND is a one term phenomenon, unless they rig the elections in 2026. Some understand that the miseries the UPND have added fuel to may actually explode into mass protests and violence, and cut out the 2026 elections. In anticipation of either of these eventualities, opposition parties are thinking hard and fast about how to anticipate both the elections or eventual mass uprisings among other factors. This is why some of our opposition parties are forging an alliance and creating a “cross cutting national movement”. This is perfectly rational, normal and well in keeping with historical and international trends: in such circumstances political parties tend to unite, form alliances, coalitions and movements, in order to boost their chances of removing from power a clearly truant political party in government.
Further, as the economic and social pain unleashed by a political party in power affects everyone in the country, a “broad cross cutting national movement” is essential to resist the assaults on human lives and to mobilise the entire population against a party in government threatening the existence of everyone. Zambia clearly needs such a movement, right now.
In the ideal, abstract and utopian world, broad based national movements are a creature first of an overarching common programme to resolve the crises, and then of course, champions are identified, and democratically, protocols and other rules are made. But we live in the real world and certainly not an ideal one: such alliances, coalitions and movements can be established following whatever immediate opportunities presently exist for the birth and formation of such organisation.
While it is certainly very clear that the priority of the Sakwiba Sikota led alliance and even the national movement are formed to unseat the UPND from power, the broad-based national movement could transcend narrow political party ambitions for power, and contribute to raising social and political awareness among Zambians to resist and fight all the things that are currently making life very difficult for the majority of Zambians. Properly created and imbued with democratic militancy against all bad things which degrade human life in Zambia, a broad cross cutting national movement could just be the organisation Zambians need, right now.
There are some complex and immediate obstacles such a broad cross cutting national movement must confront. Will political parties in such an alliance and movement retain the right to promote themselves, criticise any party (especially those in the alliance) whose political philosophies, ideologues and practices they differ with? If this right is not guaranteed, such an alliance will be diminishing and threatening our multiparty political status. Ideally, such alliances and movements need to learn, fast, how to manage differences and promote full multipartyism while promoting the broader vision and goals of the alliance and national movement.
Will all organisations and formations which are not political parties retain their political, social, religious, community and cultural affiliations and orientations? Of course, it is desirable that during any activity of the national movement all formations and organisations participating behave and ensure maximum unity of the participating organisations and formations. This necessarily implies that there should be maximum tolerance of the philosophy, politics, beliefs, views and histories of the organisations and formations in the national movement. This is easier to achieve in theory but very hard to do, in practice.
There are always the thorny matters of money and other resources, in any alliances or movement. It is not unusual for the rich organisation to bully, intimidate and blackmail poorer organisations. It is important from the very beginning that it is made very clear that there should be absolute respect of the money, property, resources and members of organisations and formations. In practice this means that no organisation or formation would, without express and written prior authorisation, use the offices, vehicles, logos, stationary, telephones and all or any property of another organisation. Organisational autonomy in a movement or alliance requires that no organisation should claim that any activity it has organised is in the name of the national movement or alliance without the express authorisation from the relevant structure of the alliance or national movement.
Apparently simple things such as making sure that no activity would have the flags, emblems and paraphernalia of an organisation or formation that has not directly authorised this to happen can lead to disastrous consequences for the alliance or national movement. There is also the matter of hate speech, tribalism, violence, or any behaviour inimical to the interests of the alliance or movement. The sanctions for such behaviour must be well established when such an alliance or movement is born.
Zambia has a tricky police establishment which always panders to the whims of the ruling party. To avoid unnecessary confusion and the police meddling in the affairs and activities of the alliance or national movement, it should be made clear that no request for notifying the police about a public event shall include the names of individuals, organisations or formations that have not been formally approached and who have not confirmed their participation in the activity.
For purposes of promoting unity among the organisations participating in an event it should be made clear that no individual, organisation or formation which has formally agreed to participate in an activity will, during the activity, exploit the opportunity to attack, vilify, campaign or in any other direct or indirect way make gestures or do anything that is offensive to any participating individual, organisation or formation. Of course, the organisations participating in any activity should take full responsibility for ensuring maximum discipline, tolerance, absence of violence and complete freedom to participate in the activity by those attending.
Ultimately, from the beginning, it must be made clear that the alliance or national movement should not serve the purpose of promoting the personal interests of individuals, hiding the bad behaviour of any organisation, weakening larger and better established organisations; nor, for that matter, should the alliance or movement become a refuge for expired, weak and ineffective organisations and formations. Failure to observe these and other important protocols dooms such an alliance or movement to an early grave, even before it is born.
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