ONE of the most significant transfers of power in the country’s history happened in 1963. It is signifcant because it was the first and openly managed transfer of power from the old to the new. When the freedom fighters had won the battle for independence and the British understood the inevitable, they agreed a one-year transition period, 1963-64 culminating into independence. In other countries, former colonisers simply left like in Angola for example.
The result there was a civil war that ravaged the country and cost untold misery to countless lives for nearly 30 years. Other countries have failed to progressively manage transition even under self-rule. If transition is mishandled, the resulting mistrust can cause chaos for any country. For Zambia, that first transition showed us two things: Firstly, the outgoing have institutional memory that serves as a good foundation for those in the ascendancy.
Secondly, institutions always outlive people. Even when the outgoing is unwilling to honour the transition, power itself will transfer naturally according to the will of the people via the electoral results and law. The ceremonial transfer of the instruments of power, namely the Constitution; the National Flag; and the Presidential Standard, is important for the voting public to confirm and celebrate their choice of candidate. But this is merely ceremonial and arranged by the system of government itself. The real transfer of these instruments happens behind the curtain through and by the system itself. It can be a long and tedious process for the incoming Head of State and once again, the bureaucracy avails itself to aid the new team in the affairs of government. The changes that people hope for, whether in ministerial or senior government positions, or changes of policy all must happen through the bureaucracy. This enemy and ally of politicians can enable a smooth transition or delay policy changes it perceives a threat to national interest, to the possible extent of frustrating even the voter. The strongest counter, therefore, to such an institutional power structure is the power of a vision, or ideational change.
This is why the transition of 1991 is especially significant because it was about freedom than power itself. It was people versus the system; liberty versus constraint. This was an ideational change, a movement that envisioned a Zambia with free press, self-determination and so on. To create an institutional system of service delivery than self-preservation. But did the bureaucracy change? It is easier to concede that it merely adapted under that new dispensation.
Those who ushered in that ideational transition can point to tangible changes and benefits to their country. The challenge before us now is for the 85 percent of the voters under 35 years of age to define what this current change should tangibly offer them and the country. What it is they will emphatically point to as their force. This is important because there are two parts to an election: removing those you oppose and replacing them with your choice of office bearer(s).
This latter part is the more essential because it means you are part of the leadership, physically by your vote but also through your vision of what must be achieved. The bureaucracy is already prepared for any foreseeable changes and transitions in future. There is now the Transitional Period and Inauguration of President Act, 2016. This Act lays out administrative and security procedures during the transition and stands as an impressive template of ensuring no disruption to the bureaucracy and business of government. Perhaps, with focus, the bureaucracy may have met its most formidable opponent yet in the youth of this digital age.
After all, the internet does not sleep. Governing is a mammoth task and government itself is the largest institution of any country. This makes it the most difficult institution to manage. While power may be concentrated in the centre – executive, legislature and judiciary – it is the outer structures that usually prompt change. It is here where custodians of ideational transition must remain active that the transition represents their ideals. Bear in mind, the bureaucracy is a dangerous and amorphous group of functions. When you dare to challenge it, channel it in national interest. This way, you create an equilibrium of transition between the voter and the system.