Wednesday, January 27, 2010


After twenty-seven years of undisputed leadership, President Kenneth David Kaunda was losing his popularity. The economy of Zambia was in shambles and the once prosperous African country was on the brink of bankruptcy. The Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) which was formed after the nationalization of the mines to prevent the drain of foreign exchange proved to be a mammoth white elephant that contributed to the depletion of the country's economy as never before.
ZCCM along with a number of ‘parastatal’ companies went on such a rampage that they spent much more than what they could earn by digging deeper and deeper into the country's resources and left the nation literally penniless. It was the common man who suffered from the ill-effects of the economic decline. Food, clothing and other essential commodities became so expensive and unaffordable. Working class people found it impossible to make both ends meet. The rich man, to the contrary, became richer while the political leaders and their minions thrived beyond description. The realization by the people of Zambia that they needed something better than Kaunda's principle of Humanism and United National Independent Party's(UNIP) One Party Participatory Democracy led to the formation of the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) under the leadership of a trade union leader by the name Frederick Chiluba.

In spite of all the fringe benefits given and unfulfilled promises made, the people of Zambia were not willing to be satisfied with nothing less than a general election. Chiluba and his followers held meetings, rallies and demonstrations throughout the country in which thousands of people participated. The momentum increased and the pressure on the government was so great that a general election was declared towards the end of 1991.

Even though the thousands of foreigners working in the country had no voting right and had nothing to do with the election, they had become very apprehensive about the after-effects of the election especially as there was a lot of resentment among the local workers towards the expatriates who were earning more than ten times of what their Zambian counterparts were earning. There was a strong rumour of the possibility of a military take-over either just before the election or immediately after it. In either case it would have meant disaster for the foreigners, especially for members of the Asian community.

And with good reasons too. The Asian businessmen had the monopoly of trading in Zambia. They were exploiters of the worst kind. Even though many of them were citizens of Zambia by birth as their parents or grand parents had migrated from India long time back, they had all the savings stashed away in foreign banks and were in the process of working out the formalities of emigrating to Britain, the United States or Canada. There was no doubt that if there was a military take-over, the Asians would have been the first victims. In such case, there would not have been any differentiation between the expatriate Asian workers and the Asian business community.

Even the Indian High Commission, in their circular to the Indians in Zambia, outlined in no unmistakable terms the procedure they should adopt in order to make a speedy exit from the country in the event of a military coup. The circular contained guidelines on various precautions to be taken, the preparation of survival kits and emergency contact addresses. On the whole, the Asians in Zambia were the most frightened people on earth during the pre-election months.

As a result, many expatriate and resident Asian workers decided to leave the country for a "holiday" during the election month. To be on the safe side, many businessmen made arrangements to send their wives and children to Zimbabwe, East Africa or India just before the election. However, things were not so easy for the expatriate workers employed in the copper mines, parastatal companies and government departments. The authorities being aware of the Asian workers' intention to leave the country "en masse" made it clear that no leave would be granted except in emergencies. Some of the clever fellows managed to obtain telegrams from India saying that one of the parents died suddenly or was in the process of dying and managed to get compassionate leave but when it came to the attention of the Zambian authorities that too many parents in India were dying all on a sudden, they realized that they were being tricked.

Those expatriates who could not get permission to leave the country or those who decided to stay on come whatever may, made some preparations to stay strictly indoors for a couple of weeks or so, in case of a military coup or popular agitation. These included fortifying the doors and windows by means of iron bars, storing all sorts of provision to last at least a month and making alternate arrangements for cooking and lighting in case of massive power failure.

At last the much dreaded election day arrived. As it was a normal working day, we went for work as usual. One of our school buildings was taken over and converted into a polling station. We saw a long line of people waiting patiently for their turn to go in and cast their votes. There were two or three policemen lazing around and the atmosphere was quite peaceful. There were no party militants or "booth snatchers" and no surreptitious canvassing.

With thumping hearts we listened to the radio and television newscast at lunch time and also in the evening, bracing ourselves to hear the worst possible news but came to know to our great relief that polling took place peacefully in all polling stations throughout the country and there was not even a single incident of blood shed or violence in connection with the election anywhere in Zambia.

The days that followed during which the results were announced and a new government was sworn in, were equally peaceful and the transfer of power from UNIP(United National Independence Party) to MMD (Movement for Multi-party Democracy) was the smoothest ever seen. The days of anxiety were over.

The credit goes mainly to that great statesman of Africa, President Kenneth Kaunda, who ensured that the Zambian election would be free and fair and also to the peace-loving people of Zambia who did not interfere in any way with the procedures of the election.