By MUBANGA LUCHEMBE
IN as much as I agree with sentiments expressed by veteran politician Vernon Mwaanga (VJ) in an article titled, ìBill 10 Was A Political Trap Against UPND And HH By PF, Lungu Has Won The Game ñ VJî (widely circulated on social media), I take serious exception to his comments about the PF government having set up a trap on UPND and its life president with reference to the 2021 election campaign, using the failed Bill 10 narrative.
But VJ in his convoluted article did not mention anything about UPND’s political discourse beginning with fear of failure to eventually end in failure and I think he needs to be a bit more empathetic to the UPND lawmakers’ captured-calibre.
Was he insinuating that PF lawmakers were somewhat politically-savvier or smarter than lawmakers of the party he supports? Was VJ’s article a spin meant to misinform the voting public? Like many other sceptics, I remained wondering.
So, what is UPND’s fear of failure? Also known as atychiphobia, fear of failure is a phobia characterised by the inability to attempt any goal that is not a guaranteed success. While the failed Bill 10 comfort zone might feel safe and secure, UPND’s fear of failing in 2021 polls can be paralysing without blocking formidable opponents threatening its success.
Prominent among these feared opponents has been the incumbent, President Edgar Lungu whose first attempt at Zambia’s presidency trounced the then UPND’s third-time losing presidential candidate Hakainde Hichilema in the historic by-election of January 20, 2015. His victory sent UPND-aligned NGOs and Western diplomats in Lusaka scurrying for cover, for none had given him a dog’s chance to win, let alone the ability to complete the late President Michael Sata’s remaining tenure of office.
After his successive second victory in 2016, is it why his opponent, HH, has chosen the legal route to block his next year’s bid to contest via the Constitutional Court? All those concerned about President Lungu’s eligibility to stand for elections in 2021 must look at all the UPND’s political dynamics of atychiphobia.
Fostering this phobia can become so debilitating that it can hold the UPND back and hinder Zambia’s constitutional refinement. If UPND does nothing and resist moving forward for fear of failure, it could fail to progress in politics. This means it might miss out on amazing opportunities and experiences in politics.
It is a fear of disappointing party followers and even the rejection or lack of approval of voters. It can encourage aspiring candidates to avoid taking risks, setting goals, or participating in electoral activities. To grow, UPND needs to do things it hasn’t done before and failure is often needed as a feedback loop to learn from mistakes and become politically competent.
Besides, all political careers are supposed to end in failure. Many don’t take very long to achieve this: in every Zambian election, many more people run for parliament or State House than could win, producing, inevitably, more losers than winners.
Most UPND aspiring parliamentary and presidential candidates since 2006 have failed to win a single election.
Given this, you might expect that anyone embarking on a political project, of any constitutional stripe, would think of it as a daunting, complex challenge.
Yet politics seems to be full of leaders who think it’s pretty straightforward. Unlike PF, UPND’s electoral victories are planned out – bish-bash-bosh – between rounds of drinks at get-togethers at HH’s house in New Kasama or at Oppenheimer family’s luxurious Tswalu game reserve in the Northern Cape, South Africa.
Even those with years of experience observing politics up close, like HH today or VJ before him in 2011 then-MMD parliamentary Chief Whip, rarely seem burdened by a fear of political failure.
The UPND then, decided not to vote for the MMD-crafted constitutional bill after voting in favour of the same bill during the first round of voting.
Besides atychiphobia, one explanation might be that both HH and VJ tend to think of themselves as possessing above average skills in conducting simple tasks or possessing positive traits. If they overestimate the number of people who agree with them – a standard psychological finding called the “false consensus” effect – then perhaps doing politics seems simpler and more pleasant than it really is.
But this shouldn’t last forever: there should be a highly reliable antidote to the false consensus effect, called “losing an election.” Yet, more often than not, this confidence persists even after a crushing electoral defeat.
If overconfidence explains why so many UPND-aligned NGOs throw themselves, so regularly, into losing causes, it doesn’t explain why they offer their strategic advice so readily to their political party, even when said advice isn’t based on an awful lot of evidence, experience or even reflection. This is where what psychologists call: “illusions of explanatory depth” come into play.
If GEARS self-touted electoral expert McDonald Chipenzi, and other UPND-aligned activists were asked if they knew why President Lungu should not be allowed to contest in next year’s elections, they’ll probably say that they do. But when asked to actually explain why, despite the Constitutional Court’s ruling that he qualified to stand, and their confidence will drain away.
Similarly, I suspect that if HH was asked how he could win the next election, it’s easy to offer a rather shallow answer like “Zambia’s much-needed economic resuscitation” or “fight against government’s corruption”. If asked how he could win, the task is actually smaller but those answers look corny. By contrast, if he’s encouraged to think abstractly, by making him think about why he does things but potentially by asking him why he is involved in politics – he will tend to have an even more overinflated sense that he has all the answers.
This path, from greater abstraction, to greater confidence, and then to seemingly-unexpected depths of electoral defeat, was the path HH took in the 2006, 2008, 2011, 2015 and 2016 elections. Despite the failed Bill 10, electoral defeat is beckoning him again.
By MUBANGA LUCHEMBE