Patronage politics and parliamentary elections in Zambia’s one-party state c. 1983–88

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Much of the scholarly work on politics in Zambia’s one-party state stresses the non-competitiveness of its parliamentary elections and holds that politicians were unable to cultivate the power of patronage because the political system was heavily weighted against the practice. This article uses a case study of Michael Sata, an individual politician who was twice elected Member of Parliament in Zambia’s capital city in the 1980s, to offer a two-fold reassessment of elections and patronage politics during the one-party state. First, it reveals how Sata successfully built links with leading business elites who, in the expectation that he would help them secure their businesses, financed his electoral campaigns. Second, it shows how Sata, who also simultaneously served as Governor of Lusaka, secured his re-election by using public resources to establish patronage support networks, expressed through the construction of housing units for his constituency’s burgeoning population. More broadly, the article demonstrates that it was possible under the one-party state to mobilise political support outside the party structures and build patronage networks that challenged the logic of centralised control. For the most part of one-party rule, however, these power bases were not visible and can only be uncovered through detailed case studies.




Sishuwa, S. (2020). Patronage politics and parliamentary elections in Zambia’s one-party state c. 1983–88. Journal of Eastern African Studies, 14(4), 591–612.

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