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Since the 1900s, the acquisition of basic skills such as reading and writing have been
considered an inalienable human right. Nevertheless, the persistence of illiteracy
remains one of societys greatest shortcomings. The consequences of illiteracy are
many and harmful in several respects. As well as affecting illiterate individuals
themselves in their daily lives and often jeopardizing their future, this scourge has a
significant effect on society, both socially and economically.

The World Declaration on Education for All in Jomtien constitutes one of the worlds
broadest agreements in the field of education, reaffirming the right of every person to
receive an education which satisfies his or her basic learning needs throughout life.
With the Dakar Framework for Action, the international community once more
established illiteracy as a priority issue, setting a number of goals for the year 2015. It is
believed that many countries will fail to achieve these goals. Illiteracy not only limits the
full development of individuals and their participation in society, but also has
repercussions throughout life, affecting a persons family environment, restricting access
to the benefits of development, and hindering the enjoyment of other human rights.
(Lauglo, 2001)

In electoral and decision-making processes, most illiterate people often find themselves
spectators rather than active participants. While there are many factors at play, their
illiteracy as a result of non-education stands out as one of the key reasons for their
lack of or poor political participation.

Mostly women as compared to their male

counterparts remain disproportionally affected by illiteracy in all parts of the world, in

Africa Zambia in particular, a large majority of the population face considerable
difficulties acquiring basic reading and writing skills. (Margolis, 1979)

With all this in mind, this paper will focus on giving an analysis of the consequences of
illiteracy in relation to the 2016 Presidential Elections held in Zambia. However, in order
to provide the best analysis of said elections this paper will not look at electoral
consequences in isolation, it will also look at intergenerational, social, and economic
consequences. This is so as to establish a comprehensive analytical framework. The
paper will further provide a district by district analysis of the 2016 electoral results so as
to have a working comparison of the results obtained and literacy/illiteracy levels as
compiled by the Central Statistics Office of Zambia (CSO). (CSO, 2012)

The diagram below gives a simplistic though detailed view of part of what this paper
seeks to bring out. It is evident from the chart that the consequences of illiteracy are
multifaceted as such it is always important to look at the bigger picture as one sets out
to analyze illiteracy in any context. One must always bear in mind the links that exist
among the many consequences of illiteracy as it is one sure way of developing a sound

Source: Psacharopoulos and Patrinos (2007)

Before getting into the statistics of the 2016 Zambian electoral outcomes and illiteracy it
is very important to have a clear understanding of the concept of illiteracy. In 1948, the
acquisition of a broad range of skills was officially recognized as a fundamental aspect
of human rights and personal fulfilment. These skills include reading, writing and
numeracy. Ten years later, at the UNESCO General Conference in Paris, the term

illiterate was defined as someone who is unable to read and write a simple statement
about his or her daily life. (Lauglo, 2001)

This criterion has become the standard approach for national censuses. Since then, the
official yardstick for illiteracy has been the reply of census respondents when asked
whether they can read and write (Infante, 2000). Those who state that they are unable
to do so are classified as complete illiteracy.

The literate/illiterate dichotomy oversimplifies the issue, however, reducing literacy to a

minimal group of reading and writing skills, without taking into account the gradual
manner in which such skills are acquired, or their use in different social contexts. Its
usefulness from a policy and practical standpoint has come into question, as it
misrepresents the challenge literacy entails (Fransman, 2008).

During the second half of the twentieth century, as formal education became
widespread and major literacy campaigns got underway, the concept of illiteracy began
to change. In the mid-1960s, the concept of functional illiteracy began to gain
acceptance, and literacy objectives became more complex, shifting toward the
acquisition and development of the communication skills needed to participate in social
life and production.

The close relationship between literacy and national economic development was first
noted at the World Congress of Ministers of Education, held in Teheran in 1965.

Functional literacy was defined as a learned ability which allows individuals to function
in a variety of roles (citizens, parents, workers, members of a community), thereby
improving productivity (Bujanda & Zuiga, 2008).

The concept of functional literacy became the cornerstone of the Experimental World
Literacy Programme (EWLP). This programme, created at the 1966 UNESCO General
Conference, focused on the acquisition of basic skills through experience and workoriented learning. Literacy programmes during this period were usually associated with
economic initiatives; their role was to help achieve the objectives of those programmes
and motivate the population (Bhola & Valdivieso, 2008; Torres, 2006; UNESCO, 2006).
In September 1975, an International Symposium for Literacy was held in Persepolis to
assess the results of the literacy policies of the 1960s.

The number of illiterates was found to be constantly growing, and the impact of literacy
programmes was judged to be far short of what was required. According to the
Declaration of Persepolis, this reflects the failure of development policies that are
indifferent to man and to the satisfaction of his basic needs (UNESCO, 1975: p. 149).
This critical assessment paved the way for new thinking in the field. The new discourses
which had been developing since the late 1960s questioned the idea that literacy should
be associated almost exclusively with human production output.

Paulo Freire contributed to the development of an analytical approach which

distinguishes literacy as a mere technical skill from literacy as a group of practices

situated within and defined by social relationships and broader cultural processes. This
perspective highlights the various uses of literacy in daily life: civic and political rights,
work, trade, child care, self-learning, spiritual development, recreation (Bujanda &
Zuiga, 2008; Fransman, 2008).

The Declaration of Persepolis led to a change in the way literacy was interpreted. It was
no longer to be seen as a technical skill whose sole purpose was to ensure economic
productivity. The concept of functional literacy took on a new meaning; it was now
defined as a broad, diverse range of activities for which literacy is required, in order to
ensure that a group or community can function effectively and continue to employ
reading, writing and numeracy as a path to individual and collective development
(UNESCO, 2006, p. 164).

Since then, definitions of illiteracy and literacy have broadened to accommodate new
theoretical approaches and the challenges created by new technologies. Current
literature in the field recognizes the existence of different types of illiteracy, including
functional illiteracy.

According to Torres (2008), the term functional tends to be defined in two ways: as
the ability to read and write effectively which is associated with the completion of a
given number of years of schooling and as the link between literacy and job training or
the performance of production activities (Torres, 2008).

Despite a lack of consensus regarding the term functional (due to the broad range of
activities to which the term may be applied), there is general agreement that the
functionally illiterate cannot fully develop their potential, given the demands and
requirements of contemporary society (Roy-Singh, 1990; Lowe, 1978; Perrota, 1990;
Fernandez, 1988; Flecha, 1993).

The countries of Latin America have followed the recommendations of UNESCO,

developing functional illiteracy indices based on schooling. According to UNESCO
(2006) and ECLAC (2008), three to four years of effective primary schooling are
required to absorb the minimum reading and writing skills needed for adequate
development in life (ECLAC, 2004b, Londoo, 1990).

After studying functional illiteracy in seven Latin American countries, however

(Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay and Venezuela), Infante (2000)
concludes that more years of schooling are required to achieve these skills. She argues
that at least seven years of schooling are needed to develop basic abilities. In most
countries, the development of strong skills in all areas requires 11, 12 or more years of
schooling (Infante, 2000).


Elections are an integral part of any democracy to thrive, Zambia being a democratic
nation has institutions born out of the supreme law of the land that are mandated to
conduct them. The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) is the body responsible for

the electoral system in the Zambian context. The commission was set up to act as an
Electoral Management Body (EMB) that is governed and regulated by a number of
pieces of legislation. These include the constitution, electoral commission act, the
electoral act, the referendum act and other statutory instruments as given by parliament.

In the provision of credible election the ECZ has a number of activities that it is
mandated to conduct. This part of the paper looks at the detrimental effects of illiteracy
on the electoral system.

Illiterates are a big share of the electorate in several other countries in Africa other than
Zambia. As of 2010 the official illiteracy rate for Zambia stood at 32.57%, a very high
figure with undeniable impact in the electoral system. Research has shown that
compared with their compatriots who are literate, they will be less likely to cast a vote at
all, and more likely to spoil their vote if they do. Illiteracy rates are higher among
marginalized ethnic minorities and the poor. Far more women than men are illiterate in
Africa, and Zambia is no exception. To exemplify this the CSO explains that, The
literacy rate at national level in 2010 was 70.2 percent. Literacy rates for rural and urban
areas were 60.5 and 83.8 percent, respectively. Males had a higher literacy rate (73.2
percent) than females (67.3 percent). (CSO, 2012)

Illiterates are also more likely to be persuaded to sell their votes, or tricked or
intimidated into voting for people undeserving of positions of power. During the just
ended elections reports have come out of voters coming forward and admitting to voting

for a generous candidate in the elections: some voters have talked about being
escorted to the polling station, being given cash, maize and other material things.
Zambia is not the only country to have such reports, a paper by Toke etal found that
Indias political parties are more likely to field candidates who face criminal allegations
in districts where illiteracy rates are higher, and such candidates depress turnout. This
they attribute to shady politicians preferring to stand where it is easier to intimidate
opponents supporters away from voting. (Tok etal, 2011)

Election to numerous assemblies takes place through territorial constituencies.

Delimitation of constituency is always of considerable political importance. It is important
in two ways. First, the way in which boundaries are drawn affects the general character
of the assembly, because it decides the sort of units on which members depend for
elections and they are supposed to represent secondly, delimitation may also affect
the fortunes of individuals and political parties because of the distribution of votes
between constituencies and their effectiveness. The extreme case is that of the practice
of Gerry maundering single member constituencies, so as deliberately to give
greater value to the votes of one party than to those of another Gerry meandering can
be defined as adjusting electoral boundaries so as to secure some object besides equal
These boundaries are drawn up so as to ensure the smooth provision of credible
elections. During the process of delimitation the ECZ for example is expected to draw
up boundaries that are not only convenient for their needs as a commission but also to

the needs of the electorate. This being the case it is expected that the commission has
to engage the people before coming up with these boundaries.

However this is mostly not the case. The ECZ comes up with electoral boundaries
without ever considering the views of the people affected by the same boundaries. At
times these boundaries are created through the study of maps of areas without having
any physical inspection of the area. Due to the high illiteracy levels it has been found
that most voters do not understand their role as stakeholders in the electoral process.
Illiteracy has resulted in people failing to engage the commission so as to ensure that
the boundaries drawn up do not affect them negatively. Such attitudes as a result of
illiteracy are the major cause of situations such as Gerry maundering as explained
earlier. (ECZ, 2016)

As a working example, the electorate in Sinynganya ward in Sikongo constituency had

refused to take part in any electoral process. Their main argument was that as a ward
they were very far from the district offices and as such did not benefit from any relief
maize allocated to the district. They demanded to be aligned to Shangombo which is a
walking distance from their ward as opposed to Sikongo which is over 120 kilometers
away. What they failed to understand was that the process of delimitation had already
been done, that the stage at which they were supposed to oppose to their boundary had
already passed. (ECZ, 2016)


Another avenue that this paper looks at is voter education. It is important to realize that
limited ability to obtain and understand essential information is one of the key effects of
illiteracy that has a trickle down result. Such misinformation or inability to comprehend
public knowledge in as far as elections are concerned results in problems such as voter
apathy. This being the case voter education is brought in to try and bridge this gap.
Voter education is defined as follows, the process by which citizens are educated on
how to register and vote, develop a sense of civic duty to participate in the electoral
process, and learn to respect the outcome of legitimate elections. ( Jennings,

Without a solid basis on voting principles, the conduct of voting operations can, at
best, be ineffective or at worst become manipulated by partisan political or corrupt
forces, leading to the undermining of public confidence in voting processes. The
increasing numbers of organizations working to strengthen democracy helps non
educated people and young women in particular to learn about their civic rights.
Hutton underlines the importance to teach non educated people on the way to use a
ballot. The process is about using all material needed to vote: poster ballot,
envelopes, pencils, voting bout etcetera. It is important to indicate, while carrying out
this training, that it is not a campaign telling people who to vote for. Its one and only
purpose is to show examples to non-educated voters. Most illiterate people do not
know that there are organizations whose sole purpose is to help them get more out
of their lives. (Hutton, 6:1993)


Ineffective voter education breeds a high likelihood of voter apathy. As was the case in
the 2016 general elections out of the countrys 6,698,372 registered voters only
3,781,505 cast their ballot. This represents a figure of close to 52.5% which in a
democracy is not something to be proud of. Voter apathy has proven to be a difficult
challenge in transitional and developing societies, especially among young people.
In this respect, the image of the Election Management Body is also directly tied to
its style and work methods. The commission can use the electoral process to build
institutional trust among citizens for its work and the electoral system generally, if it
operates in an open and transparent manner. Conversely, it can be the prime culprit in
eroding citizens trust in the entire democratic process, for example if there is constant
public bickering among commissioners, if the commission refuses to share
information with key stakeholders, or if the commission is so dominated by the
executive that its credibility has been compromised before it even begins its work.
(ECZ, 2016)
To be most effective with regards to people with low education levels, it is important to
start voter education activities much earlier than what studies and experience
currently reflect. Sufficient resources, financial and human, should be allocated by
government to the election management bodies so that they can adequately
undertake nation-wide voter education activities. In addition, especially in rural areas,
more systematic attention should be given by electoral




grassroots communications strategies and the proper utilization of the media, print
and electronic, with an eye on reaching young people.


Without a solid basis on voting principles, the conduct of voting operations can, at best,
be ineffective or at worst become manipulated by partisan political or corrupt forces,
leading to the undermining of public confidence in voting processes. The increasing
numbers of organizations working to strengthen democracy helps non educated people
and young women in particular to learn about their civic rights.

Voter-education campaigns matter significantly in the electoral process. In this regard

the ECZ has a helpline explaining how to vote. Furthermore face-to-face methods
include lessons using picture guides, drama and election-day simulations have been
adopted as a means to see to it that voters have the right tools to help them in the
electoral process. For example a door-to-door campaign in the rural areas of Sikongo
District where the majority of voters have never been to school saw more illiterates
voting and fewer being forced to pick the same candidates as their male relatives.
However, it must be noted that voter education is still weak in most places. (ECZ, 2016)

Also impacting on the situation of illiterate voters is family voting, a phenomenon that
was witnessed across the country but stands out in rural societies:

Family voting is a practice where a family member casts votes on behalf of the entire
family or where one member of the family pressures other members to vote for a certain
candidate. (ACE Network, 2016)


According to Jerome Leyraud, family voting in the Macedonian context refers to the
practice of (male) heads of family influencing other family members, in particular
women, in the course of voting. Mr. Leyraud identifies three types of family voting: a)
male family member accompanying one or more female relatives into a polling booth; b)
family groups voting together in the open; and c) a male family member obtaining ballot
papers on behalf of other family members and marking them as he sees fit. Leyraud
also states that family voting has been documented in newly-democratizing Central and
Eastern European countries since the early 1990s. This practice was highly evident in
the 2016 Zambian general elections in most rural areas. (ACE Network, 2016)
In rural areas, the village leadership (which can be a senior male figure or a council of
male family heads) often decides who to support, after which the whole family, clan, or
village is expected to conform to this decision. This is aggravated in areas where there
is a history of violent conflict between ethnic or religious groups. Until individuals in the
community feel that they are no longer under threat , the pressure to stick together
electorally remains strong. Guaranteeing secrecy of the ballot is not enough to
eliminate these social pressures. Tackling the illiteracy of young women could go a
long way in reducing this phenomenon and empowering them to cast their own vote.
(Brown, 1990)


This section of the essay relates results obtained with the literacy/illiteracy levels of the
provinces from which the results were obtained. This is so as to have a clear and
practical picture of the consequences of illiteracy in the 2016 general elections. This


essay has strived to show the detrimental effects of illiteracy on the electoral system,
what comes next are results as obtained during the 2016 presidential election and how
illiteracy played a role in them.

To start with, the figure given below gives an outline of literacy level by province for the
country. It must be noted that the figures given below are for all citizens aged 5 years
and above. This age group is important because it looks at the life of an individual from
the time they are young to when they become eligible to vote. The reason for using this
age group is because as one grows up their literacy levels will determine the interest
and importance they will show towards matters such as politics and elections. If one
grows up an illiterate that will most likely determine how exactly their outlook on life and
society will be.

Having looked at the literacy rates for the country the paper outlines an analysis of the
statistics in as far as the 2016 presidential elections are concerned. The analysis
focuses on looking at two important aspects that can help to gauge the results of
illiteracy; these are percentage of rejected ballot papers and the percentage voter

Literacy Rate for Adult Population (5 Years and Older) by Province, Zambia 2010


The data given below has been compiled from information available at the ECZ website
(ECZ, 2016) and analyzed in relation to the statistics provided by CSO (CSO, 2012)

1. Northern Province 2016 Presidential Election statistics

Total Registered Voters


Total Votes Cast


Total Votes Rejected




Illiteracy rate 37%

Percentage rejected ballots 2.1%

2. Eastern Province 2016 Presidential Election statistics

Total Registered Voters



Total Votes Cast


Total Votes Rejected




Illiteracy rate 45.6%

Percentage rejected ballots 3.6%

3. Luapula Province 2016 Presidential Election statistics

Total Registered Voters


Total Votes Cast


Total Votes Rejected




Illiteracy rate 37.4%

Percentage rejected ballots 2.7%

4. Lusaka Province 2016 Presidential Election statistics

Total Registered Voters


Total Votes Cast


Total Votes Rejected




Illiteracy rate 17%

Percentage rejected ballots 1.6%


5. Copperbelt Province 2016 Presidential Election statistics

Total Registered Voters


Total Votes Cast


Total Votes Rejected




Illiteracy rate 16.9%

Percentage rejected ballots 2%

6. Central Province 2016 Presidential Election statistics

Total Registered Voters


Total Votes Cast


Total Votes Rejected




Illiteracy rate 29.1%

Percentage rejected ballots 2.6%

7. Western Province 2016 Presidential Election statistics

Total Registered Voters


Total Votes Cast


Total Votes Rejected





Illiteracy rate 38.4%

Percentage rejected ballots 2.7%

8. Southern Province 2016 Presidential Election statistics

Total Registered Voters


Total Votes Cast


Total Votes Rejected




Illiteracy rate 28.8%

Percentage rejected ballots 1.7%

9. Northwestern Province 2016 Presidential Election statistics

Total Registered Voters


Total Votes Cast


Total Votes Rejected




Illiteracy rate 37%

Percentage rejected ballots 2.2%

10. Muchinga Province 2016 Presidential Election statistics


Total Registered Voters


Total Votes Cast


Total Votes Rejected




Illiteracy rate 36.5%

Percentage rejected ballots 2.6%

Looking at the results that were obtained it is clear to see the relationship between
illiteracy rate, voter turnout and percentage rejected ballots. The provinces such as
Lusaka, Copperbelt and Southern province that have a lower illiteracy rate had higher
voter turnout and reduced percentage rejected ballots. This is unlike provinces such as
Western and Eastern that had the opposite. This was due to the factors that have been
given throughout this paper.

Illiteracy does not only make it difficult for people to cast their vote on election day, it
makes it harder for them to engage with the subject, understand the processes behind
it, and trust in the integrity of the political system.

When citizens are not familiar with

the electoral process, and not able to familiarize themselves with it, levels of
participation will remain low; additionally, a large number of improperly cast ballots or a
dearth of confidence in the integrity of the elections or in the legitimacy of the results will
follow. Such cynicism toward elections is especially likely to develop when election
officials or political competitors have not fulfilled past promises.

When looking to overcome the negative effect of illiteracy on the political participation of
illiterates, two approaches present themselves.

Firstly, effective voter education

programs can assist illiterate men and women in becoming politically active. Secondly,
and more fundamentally in this case, providing illiterates with proper access to
education will substantially reduce, if not eradicate, the issue of an illiterate electorate
that remains (partially) disenfranchised due to a lack of basic skills. Ideally, countries
such as Zambia facing these issues should employ a combination of both strategies in
order to maximize the level of political participation, both for the current generation and
for those to come.


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