Monday, 26 September 2011

No news is good news?

It isn't very often that Africa hits the news, unless there is political unrest (Libya, Tunisia, Egypt) or famine (Ethiopia, Somalia, Niger) or violence (Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa).

One of the many reasons we loved living in Zambia was that it was such a peaceful country. It has made the transition from colony to independent state with little in the way of unrest. Black and white live - for the most part - happily side-by-side. And despite being landlocked, and bordering countries such as Angola, Zimbabwe and the DRC (formerly Zaire), has not been involved in international disputes.

Five years ago I was living there on my own with my children when the elections took place. The ruling president at the time, Levy Mwanawasa, was seeking his second term in power and his party, the MMD, won. There were many accusations of electoral malpractice, of fiddling the results, of ballot boxes being rigged with predetermined votes, but the Electoral Commision for Zambia (ECZ) declared the vote true and fair, and President Mwanawasa duly re-elected.

The MMD had been in power since 1991, when multi-party democracy came to Zambia, ending Kenneth Kaunda's long term in power since independence in 1964. Leaders are now only allowed two terms (like American presidents) and - so far! - this has been maintained and upheld, despite some candidates best efforts.

In the 2006 elections there was interest in the Patriotic Front (PF) and its leader, Michael Sata. He had served under Kaunda and Chiluba, but disillusioned set up his own party. It had a growing following. Prior to the election he made wild claims against Chinese investment in the mines (their treatment of their employees' safety was questionable) and in support of Mugabe's attitude to white farmers in Zimbabwe. As a white guest in Zambia it was concerning rhetoric. In a couple of townships in the capital, Lusaka, there was some unrest when it became clear that Sata had lost the elections and for a couple of days we just stayed home, to be on the safe side.

Levy Mwanawasa died in 2008, after we had left Zambia, replaced (after another election) by Rupiah Banda, also of the MMD. He only beat Sata by 35,000 votes.

Levy Mwanawasa              Rupiah Banda

Last week the tables were turned, and Sata was voted in as the fifth President of Zambia for a 5 year term.

Banda gave an emotional but gracious speech of resignation, Sata was sworn in last Friday afternoon, and a new era in Zambian politics will ensue. I cannot tell what he will bring to the country but the handover has been swift, smooth and (for the most part) without violence. (There was some unrest in the Copperbelt towns as they waited for the results, which took over two days.) Indeed, since the declarations, there have been celebrations and partying by PF supporters joyful in victory.

As with every new head of state, Sata is promising much that is good: investment, peace, prosperity, reducing government size, tackling corruption. I hope and pray his actions will live up to his words.

This doesn't hit our UK headlines. There was minimal violence, no great upsets, generosity in defeat, a lack of vitriol, no white or British people were attacked or killed. For us, it is not news.

But on an African scale, a free and fair election with a peaceful handover to an opposition party - surely that is great news?

1 comment:

Mark said...

That was an interesting post - you are right taht our awareness and interest in foreign news is quite pathetic. We are more likely to be interested in a small tiff in town down the road than a major event in another country.

Tim Garton Ash writes well about this issue in his book Free World - it also touches on the issues you raise about democracy.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...