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The Price We Pay for democracy

Once booming Zambia is at a political and economic crossroads. On August 11, millions of Zambians will go to the polls to elect the man they feel will put their troubled country on the right path.

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Elections in Africa are not child’s play; if you run out of luck, you can pay with your life. This was true of Zambia’s Mapenzi Chibulu, an 18-year-old female opposition activist shot dead on the streets of Lusaka by police in political turmoil.

On July 9, in broad daylight, and a month before she was expected to join millions in voting for the next president, Chibulu lost her life. It forced the electoral body, the Electoral Commission of Zambia, to suspend campaigns for 10 days in Zambia’s capital.

As if the political turmoil was not enough, the copper producing country has done little to allay fears of investors, bearing hard currency, over a country that has struggled to diversify from mining.

The country, celebrating 52 years this year, is in turmoil as incumbent President Edgar Lungu, who has been in power for a year, is battling to stop opposition leader, Hichilema Hakainde, from wresting power. Lungu came in after President Michael Sata died in office. Hakainde is a businessman and a British-educated economist.

The two will face each other in a watershed election of August 11. Whatever the outcome, this election will be contested; whoever loses will claim electoral fraud after polls.

“For 50 years our nation has lived with peace, stability and freedom. There is no place for this type of violence in our society. I take a firm stance against any sort of violence in our democracy,” Lungu said in a statement.

To his opponents, his words ring hollow in the light of Chibulu’s death.

Political analysts say the electoral landscape, in the run up to the polls, has been punctuated by skirmishes between the ruling Patriotic Front and the opposition United Party for National Development.

“This comes as no surprise and we have been warning for months now that the political climate in Zambia was not conducive to free and fair elections and that the country risked losing its democratic reputation if authorities allowed this to continue,” says Gary van Staden, Senior Political Analyst at NKC African Economists.

“While the decision to suspend campaigning is a negative development, it at least provides some breathing space for authorities and political parties to put in place concrete measures to help take off the pressure that has been building over months now and threatens the credibility of the poll. The suspension of campaigning is the lesser of two evils but it remains an evil and any attempt to extend the suspensions will be unacceptable.”

While the election will pass, the challenges facing Zambia will not. Economists warn that politicians should not make it worse.

Herryman Moono, an economist from Economics Association of Zambia, says the unfolding political developments, marred by violence and government pressure on private media, has created political tension.

“The excessive use of force by the Zambia police, who are on record of cancelling opposition party rallies and recently the use of live ammunition leading to the killing of an opposition party supporter, while injuring others, is raising concerns about the security of the nation as we approach elections,” says Moono.

“These developments are creating anxiety among the local and international community. Should these continue, Zambia will slowly be perceived as a risky investment destination which has a strong and negative bearing on foreign direct investment in the short to medium term. An elevated risk profile arising from electoral violence can easily lead to subdued economic growth as investments – both local and international – dwindle.”

Moono adds that, beyond a damaged reputation and being a low grade investment destination, the Zambian currency would, in the midst of an electoral crisis, negatively affect the Zambian Kwacha which has been extremely volatile and poor-performing the past few years.

Thato Motaung, Associate Executive Director at the African Democratic Institute, says, to date, Zambia has experienced fairly peaceful and successful transitions of power; showing a promising trait of embracing the democratic will of the people.

“The key issues facing the build-up to Zambia’s election are mostly rooted in this insecurity. There is a large vocal citizenry, vigorous independent media, paired with a well-organized opposition; a combination that leaders often perceive as threatening. Hence we see the iron fist emerge in raids, police brutality and censorship in an attempt to pacify the perceived threat.”

On August 11, we will know who will take the reins.

Current Affairs

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza Has Died

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This is a developing story.

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza has died, the government of the Republic of Burundi announced in a statement that was posted on their twitter account.

“The Government of the Republic of Burundi announces with great sadness the unexpected death of His Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza, President of the Republic of Burundi, at the Karusi Fiftieth Anniversary Hospital following a cardiac arrest on June 8, 2020,”

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Current Affairs

Ethiopia’s First Female President On Plans To Combat Covid-19 And Resuscitate The Economy

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Ethiopia’s first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde, spoke to FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil, on the country’s plans to combat Covid-19 and resuscitate one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

Zewde, listed as one of Africa’s ‘50 Most Powerful Women’ in the March issue of FORBES AFRICA, says while the virus didn’t warrant the nation going into complete lockdown, it has hit some sectors of the East African country’s economy, affecting its GDP growth.

In early May, the government announced a package to bolster healthcare spending, food distribution, rebuild SMMEs, etc to support the country’s most vulnerable. Zewde also shares her views on women in the front lines, as well as reimagining education.

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Politics

‘It’s The People-To-People Connections That Make A Lasting Impact’

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Sahle-Work Zewde, Ethiopia’s first female president and the only serving female head of state in Africa, tells FORBES AFRICA why more leaders should use soft power to achieve shared growth.

Sahle-Work Zewde has her name etched in political history. A veteran public official having served as an ambassador to Senegal, Djibouti, and France between 1989 and 2006, before her presidency, Zewde was Special Representative to the African Union and Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union. In an email interview, Zwede, who was also on FORBES AFRICA’s list of ‘Africa’s 50 Most Powerful Women’ for its March issue, dwells on why the ‘Africa we want’ will only become a reality with the positive and significant transformation of women’s lives:

In your position, how are you moving to achieve more gender proportionality in Ethiopian politics?

I see my being in this position as both an opportunity and responsibility. I know that it is political will that has opened the way for me and many other women to assume positions of power and influence in the Presidency and the ministerial cabinet in Ethiopia. This stride is a major step forward for Ethiopia as a nation and also for the continent. However, things can regress and go back to how they were unless we take strategic and intentional action to build on the momentum. For me, the way forward is using my platform to empower and embolden the women coming after me. This can occur in two ways. The first is working on empowering the women who are in the workforce and especially in positions of leadership to reach their full potential and engage in activities that provide opportunities for the next generation of women leaders. The second is helping female students at both the university and high school levels to ensure that we have a steady stream of competent, educated and confident women ready to take over. As women in power, we have a responsibility to all the women that will come after us to ensure that their trajectory is easier than ours.

How must Africa change in this regard?

Although more progress has been achieved in terms of delivering on our promise to provide support towards women’s education, health services, access to finance and political participation in a growing number of African countries, much more needs to be done. As a continent, we must go beyond the rhetoric and provide tangible solutions for African women in all sectors. The ‘Africa we want’ will only become a reality with the positive and significant transformation of women’s lives and the extent of their participation in all walks of life.

What do the words ‘power’ and ‘soft power’ mean to you?

There is a clear distinction between ‘power’ and ‘soft power’. While the first uses any means to achieve a goal, the latter relies on influence through communication, understanding and healthy discourse. Soft power does not resort to violence or coercive methods to achieve the results sought. Serving as a diplomat for a quarter century and at the United Nations for over a decade, I became very knowledgeable of the utility of soft power to reach consensus and effectuate change.

For me, the idea of soft power is what we need to promote as a continent. For decades, our continent has been ravaged by civil war, ethnic conflict and infighting.

However, Africa is now enjoying more economic growth than it has ever had. What we need now is more leaders to exercise soft power, finding what unites us to achieve a vision of shared growth. Traditional governance sees the government as the sole owner and executer of international relations. However, with our increasingly globalized world, it’s the people-to-people connections that make a true and lasting impact and bond. Leaders of today have to detach from traditional views and adopt the more global perspective the times require.

– Interviewed by Renuka Methil

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