Tension In Zambia As Presidential Elections Draws Near

image of President Edgar Lungu

 

Tension is rising in Zambia ahead of presidential elections next week, prompting an unprecedented deployment of the military to clamp down on violence.

The August 12 ballot is essentially a two-horse race between longstanding adversaries — President Edgar Lungu, 64, and Hakainde Hichilema, 59, who is making his sixth bid for the top job.

Rival supporters wielding axes and machetes have clashed sporadically since campaigning started in May, resulting in at least three deaths, according to police.

All the fatalities were members of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF).

After two were clubbed to death at the weekend, Lungu sent in the army to help the police maintain “law and order”.

“I have taken this step in order to ensure that the electoral process… is not interfered with,” he said in a statement on Sunday.

But the move sparked concern of heavy-handedness.

“It’s clearly an intimidation technique,” said Ringisai Chikohomero, a researcher at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) think tank, told AFP.

“Lungu wants something that can tip the balance in his favour and a heavy military presence is likely to do that.”

Violence has mainly been concentrated around Lusaka, traditionally a Lungu stronghold, and in the Northern and Northwestern provinces — respectively bastions of the PF and the largest opposition group, the United Party for National Development (UPND).

Nicole Beardsworth, a politics lecturer at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, said the race was “exceptionally tight” and more unrest was likely.

Analysts are divided on the poll’s outcome.

Lungu emerged a narrow victor over Hichilema in snap presidential elections in 2015 and in general polls the following year.

But rising food prices and unemployment have fuelled disillusionment with him.

Critics accuse him of splurging on pricey infrastructure projects and plunging the copper-rich country into Africa’s first debt default of the coronavirus era.

“I can’t support thieves, we have suffered because of them,” said Lusaka resident Josephine Nakazwe, 23, selling cellphone credit outside a shopping centre.

 ‘Water melon’ trick

Zambian Army soldiers patrol the Chawama Compound in Lusaka on August 3, 2021, after President Edar Lungu ordered the army to help police curb political violence that has characterised the run-up to the August 12 General election.
SALIM DAWOOD / AFP

 

A late 2020 survey by independent pollster Afrobarometer found a significant drop in the number of PF voters compared to a similar study in 2017, although this did not translate into a surge of support for the UPND.

Rights groups say Lungu’s government has grown increasingly intolerant of dissent, detaining opposition figures and cracking down on protests, and darkening the prospects for a credible vote.

“This is the first time government is deploying soldiers to police the electoral process,” said University of Zambia fellow O’Brien Kaaba.

“Should the election be disputed and should there be protests, the president may not hesitate to order the use of military force,” he warned.

Zambia is no stranger to pre-election violence. Similar clashes occurred in 2016, although no deaths were reported, and the opposition disputed the results.

To protect themselves from being targeted by their rivals, opposition supporters are known to wear the green regalia of the PF rather instead of their own red colours — a ruse commonly referred to here as the “water melon trick”.

“I’m wearing this because I’m scared of being beaten by the PF,” said Amos Mwale, 18, out in Lusaka in a white T-shirt with Lungu’s portrait printed on the front. But “come voting day we are removing them out of power,” he insisted.

‘Highly politicised’

Several UPND events have been blocked and dispersed with teargas for allegedly flouting coronavirus restrictions, prompting party officials to claim the police is under orders to sabotage their work.

Only door-to-door campaigning is authorised due to the pandemic, although large crowds have been spotted at “mask distributions” led by both sides.

The regime has “run out of credibility and support from the people,” UPND spokesman Anthony Bwalya told AFP. “They are deploying brutal tactics to silence the opposition.”

“These state security forces do play into politics,” said Zaynab Mohamed of a consultancy firm, Oxford Economics. “They are highly politicised.”

Elections will be held the same day for the single-chamber legislature, the National Assembly.

In the 2016 legislative elections, the PF had a wafer-thin majority over the UNPD, with less than half a percentage point in terms of votes cast.

But the party was able to gain an overall majority of the 156 contested seats under a first-past-the-post electoral system.

-AFP

Lungu To Diversify Zambian Economy, Focus On Agriculture

lungu, zambian economy, agriculture, Zambia’s president Edgar Lungu, has decided to diversify the nation’s economy by focusing on unlocking the agriculture potentials of tropical Zambia, while reducing its dependence on copper mining.

The president expressed this after being sworn in for a new five-year term.

Although Zambia’s economy has been hard hit by depressed copper prices, diversifying into agriculture still presents a number of difficulties.

Reports say the agriculture sector is one that still needs a lot of development.

This is owing to the fact that it is focused on staple maize and is mostly produced by subsistence farmers who lack the capital and technology to lift yields.

The future of the copper industry in Zambia was thrown into doubt in January 2002, when investors in Zambia’s largest copper mine announced their intention to withdraw their investment.

However, surging copper prices between 2004 and 2016, rapidly rekindled international interest in Zambia’s copper sector.

Prospects for resuming critical budget support talks with the International Monetary Fund have however been delayed, due to the swearing in of a new head of state.

Zambia’s Edgar Lungu To Be Sworn-In September 13

zambia, Edgar LunguZambia’s incumbent, President Edgar Lungu, will be sworn into office for a new 5-year term on Tuesday next week, a government official said on Monday.

Secretary to the Cabinet, Roland Msiska, said in a statement that the government would proceed with the inauguration as the Constitutional Court has missed a 14-day deadline to rule on the opposition’s legal challenge to the presidential vote.

Zambian Opposition Official Denies Threatening President, Freed On Bail

zambiaA leading member of Zambia’s main opposition party denied threatening President Edgar Lungu with violence and was released on bail on Monday.

Geoffrey Mwamba, Vice-President of the United Party for National Development, was arrested on charges of inciting violence against Lungu last week. Police said he had threatened to “go for his throat”.

“I deny the charge,” Mwamba told a packed courtroom, without going into further details. If convicted, he faces a maximum of five years in prison, a lawyer said.

Political tensions are mounting before presidential, parliamentary and local elections in August.

Mwamba was also arrested then released by the police last week on separate charges of training party supporters to become an illegal militia.

President Lungu a fortnight ago accused the opposition of training party supporters to cause violence during the elections.

Mwamba also denied that charge and his party said that the arrests of 21 of its members on similar accusations were meant to intimidate the opposition before presidential elections.

Both Lungu and United Party for National Development leader, Hakainde Hichilema, are seen as front runners.