Election Special: Zambia

Zambians get a chance to vote in presidential and parliamentary elections on September 20.  Can Rupiah Banda and his MMD party cling on?

He only came to power by chance when President Levy Mwanawasa was incapacitated by ill-health and then died in August 2008, but former Vice-President Rupiah Banda has flourished in the presidential palace.  While still enjoying a honeymoon with the voters, he was elected in his own right two months later. 

He's ridden the country of his well-intentioned predecessor's anticorruption apparatus, reports the New York Times.  Helpful, I think not.  But, he has tried to boost trade, at least, by flying abroad to win over foreign leaders and engage corporates and investors in Zambia.

At 753,000 sq km, Zambia is about the size of Chile, or Texas plus West Virginia combined.   And with 13 million people it's more populous than Zimbabwe, Cuba or Belgium.  But, given its land area, the population density is happily miniscule (191st in the world) at a mere 17 per sq km. Like much of central Africa it's mineral-rich. And as such is on certain resource-hungry countries' radars.

According to a June 11 article in The African Telegraph, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when in Lusaka warned " China’s activities in Africa should be scrutinized for signs that they may not benefit African nations or their citizens". The AT quotes Clinton as saying “China’s presence in Africa reflects the reality that it has important and growing interests here on the continent, including access to resources and markets as well as developing closer diplomatic ties."

A new colonialism is underway on the Continent perhaps?  Banda doesn't seem worried, as Chinese and other investors pour in to reap the rewards of huge copper and cobalt reserves in the vast Copperbelt.  Accompanied by teams of businesspeople, Banda has taken trips to Brazil, Turkey and elsewhere.  Today's Zaman noted in 2010 that after such a visit to Turkey, "Zambia is expecting to attract a noticeable amount of Turkish investment following a business forum organized by the Turkish Confederation of Businessmen and Industrialists (TUSKON) in İstanbul on Wednesday."

Main export destinations are Switzerland, which accounts for a whopping 47.1% of all export trade, China, South Africa and DR Congo.

However, it's not all rosey.  Quoting the World Factbook, "Zambia's dependency on copper makes it vulnerable to depressed commodity prices, but record high copper prices and a bumper maize crop in 2010 helped Zambia rebound quickly from the world economic slowdown that began in 2008. A high birth rate, relatively high HIV/AIDS burden, and market distorting agricultural policies have meant that Zambia's economic growth has not dramatically decreased the stubbornly high poverty rates."

Whether the poor will get a chance to change their government remains to be seen.  Banda's autocratic style has come in for criticism.  Not least his alleged foisting of himself on his MMD party as their sole candidate for selection as presidential contender. 

The 150 directly-elected members of the current 158-seat parliament in Lusaka are:
  • Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), a social democratic group with 74 seats
  • Patriotic Front (PF), a democratic socialist party with 44 seats (this was the party of the late president Frederick Chiluba)
  • United Democratic Alliance (UDA), a liberal-leaning coalition of four separate parties (United Party for National Development - UPND; United National Independence Party - UNIP, this was the party of ex-president Kenneth Kaunda; Forum for Democracy and Development - FDD; United Liberal Party - ULP) with a total of 29 seats between them
  • National Democratic Focus with only 1 seat, and
  • Two Independents. 

On the face of it, all fairly tidy.  Possibly because they're using the old-fashioned Westminster-model simple-majority First-Past-The-Post method of electing MPs.  Anyway, under the Zambian system the President gets to appoint the remaining eight members, thus in Banda's case (as an MMD president) providing him with a working parliamentary majority over all other parties of six seats.  Convenient. 

As in 2008, the main competitor for the presidency will likely be Michael Sata, leader of the Patriotic Front.  A strong proponent of engagement with China, and a supporter of Robert Mugabwe the much-maligned anti-colonialist president of Zimbabwe, Sata lost by a whisker to Rupiah Banda last time, garnering 38.13% to the winner's 40.09%.  It's unsurprising Sata would feel fraternal towards Mugabwe.  Lusaka was the "Geneva" of Africa during the Apartheid era, when now leaders of Zimbabwe, Namibia and other "front-line states" congregrated and hung out with exiled black South Africans, as the ANC had stationed its external HQ in the city.  A bond was forged which effects political allegiences to this day.

Perhaps in an effort to curry favour with PF supporters, Banda was keen to provide Frederick Chiluba with a state funeral.  Chiluba died last June, when Barry Bearak of the New York Times described him as "a man whose image as a defender of civil liberties was later tarnished by his efforts to suppress political opposition and accusations that he used millions of dollars of public money on his wardrobe and other extravagances."  He wouldn't be the first world leader to trangress in such a fashion, nor the last I fear.

Zambians will choose in a few weeks' time.  The Lusaka Times in November 2010 reported, "the Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP) has charged that it will be a mockery for government to allow (upcoming) elections under the current constitution, considering the huge resources invested in the National Constitutional Conference."  The LT quoted FODEP president Stanley Mhango as saying "the culture of violence and failure to accept election results the country has been witnessing will continue to haunt the good governance and democracy sector of this country as long as the current constitution remains in place"  LT went on to say that FODEP welcomed the current government's decision to initiate referendum plans to alter the system.  I presume at some time after this upcoming general election.  

Well, as we all know, plans can change after the election result is known, can they not?

Check out all commentaries here.     

1 comment:

  1. Evidently, there are no new reforms that will apease me! The only good change I have seen is more free trade. Everyone is trading. Tenders given to friends who have friends in the Government, some say. Votes allegedly rigged since MMD came to power. The poor remain poor. Health, education, employment and infrastructure have all ground to a halt. The goverment is reportedly living off donor money. The government is supposed to be relying on import taxes to pay civil servants. Politicians live extravangantly. There is so much that I could write on this list from the ground to the sky!

    What kind of Goverment allows investors to buy out local companies which do not have to pay tax until five years have elapsed? After then the company leaves the country and then re-appears under new ownership. This is a merry go round like a vicious circle. Governance is on its last legs. A Govt official allegedly squandered 10 billion kwacha on cars, enjoyment and women - obviously buying cheap sex. People say the head of state himself is spending over 2 billion kwacha on each foreign trip, and is well known to be forever travelling. This in the hope of selling Zambia globally? There is completely nothing new I can say that is supposed to be being done by this ruling party except as champions of corruption. Right now the fuel sector is allegedly cartelled by the president's sons which prevents others getting into that business. As a result of this great mess, the ruling party will fight tooth and nail to the extent of being tempted to rig so that they can continue in government. The fact is that they do not want to have their dirty linen exposed. This is African politics gone to the dog