Zambian elections and female candidates

What would have topped it, however, is if we had more women candidates. More importantly, if we had not seen the only female presidential candidate, Edith Nawakwi, coerced from the race.

Political parties have various excuses for not making a conscious decision to have females contest on their ticket. Vernon Mwaanga, spokesperson for the ruling Movement for Multi Party Democracy said that theirs was a competitive process and they would not have quotas or make deliberate efforts to adopt women as candidates.

This seems contrary to Zambia’s position as a signatory to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) commitment of 30 percent women in decision-making.

Other political parties said women did not come forward. This however, seems unlikely. Even if ‘new’ women did not offer themselves for election, parties ignored experienced women politicians like Ompie Liebenthal Nkumbula, who is very strong in her constituency and has a long family history in Zambian politics, and Susan Jere, a gender activist.

The biggest blow however came when Nawakwi had to withdraw her candidature due to a memorandum of understanding she signed with two parties, creating an alliance called United Democratic Alliance (UDA) which had to select one president.

It was almost a given that Nawakwi would take the presidency when United Party for National Development (UPND) president Anderson Mazoka died and was replaced by a political novice from the corporate world, Hikainde Hichilema.

Nawakwi has more experience, having served two terms in the previous government as finance, energy and labour minister. She had also begun her campaigns in 2001 and had her eye on the ball right up until last month.

For a whole week, the three party leaders met and just when the alliance seemed to break up, Nawakwi’s announced that she would not be contesting the presidency because Hichilema would lead the alliance.

It became apparent that she was out foxed, and not taking it too well. She has kept a low profile, saying she supports Hakainde but absenting herself from his campaign.

When I spoke to her recently she recounted her sense of betrayal.

It emerged that the old age problem of a lack of resources led to Hakainde topping the scales. Apparently, Hakainde has a lot of money and is not shy about spreading it around.

It was all about who could fund the campaigns for the alliance candidates, Nawakwi could not commit “enough” money on the table and so she lost out. What was surprising about this was no presidential candidate ever funds his/her party’s campaigns; he/she leads the party fundraising.

That’s not all. Nawakwi also fought a lone battle.

United National Independence Party (UNIP) President Tilyenji Kaunda enlisted the support of his father, first president Kenneth Kaunda.

In the days that followed with countless meetings chaired by the two Kaunda’s and Hikainde, Nawaki was alone, not a word of support from the media, not even her party the FDD agitated on her behalf and, much to her chagrin, the women’s movement also stood aloof.

Nawaki said women should have shout loud demands for her leadership of the alliance. She is still smarting from her sense of rejection.

There could be a very simple explanation for this. Many people, including myself, see Nawakwi as some kind of superwoman and invincible force. Is she not the one who led a co-ordinated national campaign to stop former president Frederick Chiluba seeking a third term? Is she not the one who told the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank where to get off when she was Finance Minister?

This was small fry she was dealing with we thought. But then we have the power of money.

With hindsight, there are things that Nawakwi could have done differently which might have changed the outcome somewhat. For example, knowing the Hakainde was flashing money around and buying popularity, she should have set other criterion for electing a president – experience as a politician or plans for development. The moment the discussion turned to money, she was dead in the water.

Also, allowing Kaunda senior to mediate was a mistake. There is no love between him and her. It was highly unlikely that Kaunda would choose Nawakwi over his son or Hakainde who was flashing money.

Rather than wait or expect the women’s movement and party supporters to support her, she could have indicated she was in trouble and needed support.

All this being said I still think that Nawakwi is a force enough in her own right. Maybe she should have done what a male politician would likely have done, pulled her party away from the alliance and gone it alone. She chose unity and abided a commitment to the MOU which had already been singed.

Even in her disappointment, Nawakwi is upbeat. She says she will try again for 2011. It’s our loss though, we stood a good chance ‘ a female republican president.

l Zarina Geloo owns and edits The Guardian Weekly in Zambia. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.

September 2006
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