The true sign of democracy, some say…

…is not the act of an election, but the first peaceful transfer of power from one party to another.

Welcome Zambia.*

Before you say, “Zimba-where? Bo-ring,” consider this:

Mr. Sata… tapped into anger about the deplorable conditions in Zambia’s Chinese-run mines.

On Friday, he said, “Foreign investment is important to Zambia, and we will continue to work with foreign investors who are welcome in the country.”

But, he warned, “they need to adhere to the labor laws.”

Last year, Chinese managers opened fire on protesters at a huge coal mine in southern Zambia, and though the Zambian government initially indicated that the Chinese managers would be punished, the charges were quietly dropped. The shootings outraged many Zambians who resent China’s enormous economic influence over their country

Echoes of robber barons, coercive labor, and complicit governments. Any Americans recall the Ludlow massacre?

In the aftermath of the mine incident, labor leaders issued a call to arms and a bloody ten-day war ensued. In the Zambian copper mines? No–that was the Colorado labor movement. The Zambians took their passions to the polls.

Point 1: I never like to miss an opportunity to point out that “Bloody Events In Darkest Africa” often look remarkably similar to “Great Moments In American History”.

Point 2: The arc of history is long, and it bends towards justice. But it usually marches through blood. A society deserves tribute when it does not.

Now, Mr. Sata: please, please, please do not be a thuggish megalomaniac.

*Commenters remind me this is Zambia’s second switch (the previous one being 1991). Oops. Hopefully the general point stands…

10 thoughts on “The true sign of democracy, some say…

  1. Wouldn’t you say Zambia has been a part of that club since 1991? This isn’t the first time an election has led to the peaceful transfer of power.

  2. Indeed the first peaceful transfer of power from one party to another happened in 1991. This was when Kenneth Kaunda (UNIP) Zambia’s First President was defeated by late Frederick Chiluba (MMD). Kaunda was actually the first of Africa’s ‘big men’ to concede defeat and handover power peacefully to the opposition. Zambia is still a semi-democracy but is certainly on the right trajectory in developing and enhancing her democratic institutions. It is at an ‘evolutionary’ pace but in the right direction nonetheless. Zambia has had 5 Presidents since independence. And all came through and removed through the ballot.

  3. I thought the conventional poli sci definition was *two* peaceful transfers– so that we know that there are two different parties each willing to play by the rules and give up power. So maybe Chris was inadvertently right the first time!

  4. Why should transition of power be a good yardstick of democracy? Is a successful government that people like less democratic than the unsuccessful one?

    Is Botswana not a Democracy?

  5. Well, the question is whether or not Botswana’s institutions are strong and independent enough to allow (and survive) a transfer of power, especially if the person or party in power does not want to go. This is a crucial element of a stable, lon term democracy and so I see it as a precondition. If we classify Botswana as a stable democracy, it must be because we have a high degree of confidence that it could pass the test. but until it does (a couple of times or more, one can argue it hasn’t proven itself in a crucially important dimension.

  6. I see, potentially acceptable, but not yet proven (wasn’t that in Obama’s Nobel Prize announcement?) just seems unfair to welcome a country like Zambia to the club and let Botswana or the Seychelles wait in line because of a popular Government (if that’s the real reason behind the election results).

    I sometimes get the feeling that the we tend to let the theories outweigh reality, like saying democracies don’t start wars (against democracies) and when they do it’s easier to question their democracy-status than the theory itself.

    But I get it, did Russia become a Democracy after Gorbachev? We can’t say until Putin looses the upcoming election.