Zambia decides between an opportunist and a rich businessman

Thursday, 11 August 2016
Author: 
Richard Dowden

Today’s election in Zambia pits an opportunist president against a rich, slick contender. It could be tight. President Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front won 48% of the vote in 2015 to 47% for Hakainde Hichelema of the United Party for National Development.

Lungu made his way to the top by switching parties to join the Patriotic Front after President Michael Sata came to power in 2011. After Sata died in 2014, Lungu made it to the top at a questionable national convention where there was no ballot. He pushed out Vice President Michael Scott, who had been Sata’s wing man allegedly with threats of violence.

 

Hichelema – HH as he is known – is the outsider. Smart, fast talking, the businessman calls himself a farmer and identifies agriculture and agricultural processing as the main driver of Zambian growth in the future. In a country owned and run by old men, he appeals to younger voters. The median age is just 16 and the young face an uncertain future. With copper prices low and little prospect of growth in mining, concentrating on agriculture may be a smart move.

 

Zambian politics are always rough and combine smart political manoeuvres with street level thuggery. But political rivalry within the ruling class rarely results in more than a few broken heads in street battles and endless court cases. Zambia watchers say that citizens respect the law and process but despise their politicians. The more cynical say they are too lazy to take effective action on the streets. One trusted voice in the country has been The Post, a newspaper which the government has tried to close down but faced huge popular outcry. 

 

But the biggest immediate issue facing the country and the region is drought. Consequently there is a possibility that the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi built in 1959 may stop producing power. It is in desperate need of rehabilitation. Some say that if the controlled jet of water that spurts through the dam becomes so weak that it falls on the concrete base of the dam it may collapse altogether.

Today’s election in Zambia pits a sleazy opportunist president against a rich, slick, smart talking contender. It could be tight. President Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front won 48% of the vote in 2014 to 47% for Hakainde Hichelema of the United Party for National Development.

 

Lungu made his way to the top by switching parties to join the Patriotic Front, in 2014 after President Michael Sata died. He finally made it to the top at a dodgy national convention where there was no ballot. He pushed out Vice President Michael Scott, who had been Sata’s wing man with threats of violence.

 

Hichelema – HH as he is known – is the outsider. Smart, fast talking, the businessman calls himself a farmer and identifies agriculture and agricultural processing as the main driver of Zambian growth in the future. In a country owned and run by old men, he appeals to younger voters – a huge population bulge. The median age is just 16 and the young face an uncertain future. With copper prices low and little prospect of growth in mining, concentrating on agriculture may be a smart move.

 

Zambian politics are always rough and combine smart political manoeuvres with street level thuggery. But political rivalry within the ruling class rarely results in more than a few broken heads in street battles and endless court cases. Zambia watchers say that Zambians respect law and process but despise their politicians. The more cynical say they are too lazy to take effective action on the streets. The one trusted voice in the country is The Post, a newspaper which the government has tried to close down but faced huge popular outcry. 

 

But the biggest immediate issue facing the country and the region is drought. Consequently there is a possibility that the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi built in 1959 may stop producing power. It is in desperate need of rehabilitation. Some say that if the controlled jet of water that spurts through the dam becomes so weak that it falls on the concrete base of the dam it may collapse altogether.