Africa Notes: Zambia Tests Democracy - October 1992
October 1, 1992
Zambia drew worldwide attention in October 1991, when the country's first multiparty election in two decades ended the rule of Kenneth Kaunda's United National Independence Party (UNIP) government, which had governed since independence in 1964. UNIP won only 25 of the 150 seats in the National Assembly; all the others went to the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD), which came into being in 1990 as an informal constellation of opposition groups. Zambia's new president is a former trade-union leader, Frederick Chiluba.
In the year since the electoral triumph of the MMD, Zambians have found that democracy cannot be achieved overnight by the ballot box alone. The legacy of the single-party era penetrates almost every aspect of society; time and patience will be needed to eradicate it. For many, the transformation involves a lower standard of living as well as the assumption of individual responsibilities that a generation of Zambians has never known. The MMD's most crucial challenge is to persuade the voters who so enthusiastically supported democratic change that transforming a bankrupt economy and restructuring social values will take more than the few years promised by the new president; indeed, it could take closer to a generation. If the MMD government cannot at least point to some concrete results from its new economic policies within two or three years, it runs the risk of either being replaced at the next election by one of the growing number of new parties now appearing on the political horizon or succumbing to the temptation of imposing its own version of authoritarian one-party rule in order to complete unpopular reforms.