By CHARLES SIMENGWA –
SOME political parties in Zambia vying for political offices have seemingly perfected the art of wringing emotions of our youths during elections.
They have manipulated the impressionable young people to attack opponents, mostly during campaigns, in what is now referred to as ‘youths for hire’.
In recent years, it has not been unusual to see some parties ferrying their members, mainly young people, from different parts of the country to areas where elections are taking place.
This is a gimmick to both bolster their numbers and to derail their opponents’ campaigns through physical and verbal attacks.
President Edgar Lungu recently revealed that the United Party for National Development (UPND) was transporting its members from Lusaka to Lubansenshi, in Luwingu, and Solwezi West to intimate voters ahead of the September 24 parliamentary b-elections.
Other parties have similarly been guilty of this transgression in past elections, the reason why some civil society organisations are working tirelessly to halt the vice.
The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) recently held a Non-Violence Political Youth Caucus in Lusaka, where the involvement of young people in political violence was discussed.
Such are the initiatives which should be applauded as they help to uphold Zambia’s record as a peaceful country.
Acting British High Commissioner to Zambia Sean Melbourne, during the YALI forum, urged youths not to be used as tools of violence by political parties.
Mr Melbourne said the youth should instead be exposed to issue-based politics, and be given a platform to exercise their rights to vote.
He acknowledged Zambia’s good record in the political arena, which he said should not be sullied by violence, especially among the youth.
Justice Minister Ngosa Simbyakula urged opposition political parties to inculcate a culture of non-violence in their youth teams.
Dr Simbyakula said on its part, the Patriotic Front was encouraging youths in the party to avoid clashing with other parties, but to instead focus their energy on productive issues.
The use of young people in harmful activities was also acknowledged by UPND vice-president Canisius Banda, who said most political parties took advantage of the vulnerability of youths to engage them in violence.
Dr Banda said elections should reflect people’s wishes and should not be a stage for settling personal scores.
All these are important messages that show political leaders are eager to reverse the violence that has become associated with particularly parliamentary by-elections across the country.
They are aimed at turning the attention of Zambians to the quality of leadership being offered by those putting themselves forward for election as Republican President, Members of Parliament and councillors.
Other civic organisations such as the Anti-Voter Apathy Project, Zambia Civic Education Association, and Non-Governmental Organisations Coordinating Committee, which tackle issues such as civic education, human rights, and good governance, should join in the crusade to promote issue-based politics.
It is true that in a democracy people are free to express their opinions and question those of others.
This is an important personal freedom, and also essential to the very idea of governing by discussion.
But the culture of insults and character assassination currently permeating Zambia’s political arena should be discouraged.
Some political leaders, in their botched bid for power, have made odious attacks on the ruling party.
They are preoccupied with counting perceived failures of the Government and showing desperation to abbreviate the stay in power of the current leaders, but they seem to be missing some important points.
There may be a giddy rush of victory in the scathing attacks they consistently aim at Government leaders and for which they receive applauses from their sympathisers, but they appear not to understand their role as ‘government-in-waiting’.
It has become clear that some politicians in the opposition are haunted by their lack of manifestos to sell their ideas to the electorate, and they have decidedly chosen the path of insults as a way to attract the attention of voters.
In other words, serving the people is for them a mere side business, as their primary concern seems to be to get into power at all costs.
Many Zambians are now inclined to think that some politicians lack real issues to discuss and prefer to take the easier route of insulting the Government, as that requires less intellectual prowess.
They have forgotten the important principle about silence being golden, and have gone on to embarrass themselves in public at the slightest opportunity they find.
The important thing some opposition leaders have ignored is that while a few Zambians are applauding their every insult they heap on President Lungu and his Government, countless others are silently withdrawing their allegiance from them.
Their distasteful utterances against the ruling class are turning out to be their real enemy, and they are slowly making their participation in politics irrelevant.
Peter Drucker, one of the foremost business thinkers of this generation, says an effective leader is not someone who is loved or admired, but whose followers do the right things.
Drucker holds that popularity is not leadership, results are. Some of the tools and principles leaders should use to make them effective include team leadership, motivation, managing change, delegation, and communication.
Drucker further says leadership is not rank, privilege, titles, or money. It is responsibility.
One would add that what really counts for the voters in Zambia is the ring of authenticity.
These are valuable lessons for some highly critical political and other leaders who should learn to be tolerant of diversity, and should not be afraid of the strength in their associates, or indeed their opponents.
The Zambian youth yearn for sober-minded leaders after whom they could pattern their behaviour and dreams.
Therefore, the culture of ‘youths for hire’ should be fought mightily.