Zambian election: How hunger, debt burden cost Lungu return bid
… high optimism as new government steps in today
It is a new dawn in Zambia today, a Southern African nation, as citizens, with high optimism, await the inauguration of a new president elected on August 12, 2021.
With external debt burden analysts say is in the region of 30-40 percent (which grew from $21.73bn in 2019) of the entire annual revenue of the country, Zambians are eagerly looking forward to a new manager of the nation’s economy.
While the people groaned under intense hunger and poverty, the outgoing President Edgar Lungu, in the last electioneering, campaigned on the crest of infrastructural investment.
But it would appear that the people believed Hakainde Hichilema and his campaign promises to grow the economy to alleviate the people’s suffering, restore the rule of law and end corruption; hence, the landslide he recorded against the incumbent.
Taking a holistic look at the reasons for the electoral victory of Hichilema, Lungu’s ouster and lessons for Nigeria, Bola Akinterinwa, a professor and former director-general, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), said the election had to be understood in context.
“First of all, the Zambian people were already much bent that enough is enough and they sent out signals that this time, whosever wants to rig the election will not find it easy. And what is this ‘enough is enough’? One, there is no food on the table for most Zambians and they want food; they are hungry.
“Second, the incumbent president, Lungu was campaigning on the basis of infrastructural investment; so you want infrastructure; fine, but the people who would make use of the infrastructure are hungry. So, hunger must first of all be quenched before you talk about somebody putting a vehicle on the road, putting electrical infrastructure, and all those things,” Akinterinwa said.
According to Akinterinwa, “Another point is that Zambia is currently servicing its foreign debts to the tune of 30 to 40 percent. Now, even if you take 30 percent only, not to talk of 40, then the 70 percent of what is left is not much to divide between and among health demands, educational demands, security demands, administrative demands, pension demands and many others.
“Now, Lungu wants increase in governmental control on mining. The mainstay of Zambian economy is Copper. So, copper accounts for more than 70 percent of foreign exchange earnings. So, Lungu doesn’t want any relationship/understanding with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other Bretton Woods Institutions.
“In this case he does not enjoy international support, whereas the challenger, Hichilema, holds a contrary position. He wants to relate with the IMF, and he wants to address the foreign indebtedness issue. Zambia is really indebted. So, because of his position, he enjoys, to a great extent, domestic and international support.”
He also said the Zambian youth, especially in terms of the total number of registered voters, were on Hichilema’s side.
“The youth account for more than 54 percent of the total registered voters and all these youths that have registered are of 34 years of age and less. So, if they account for 54 percent and they are behind Hichilema strictly against Lungu, then you can understand why the margin is wide. But perhaps, most importantly, above all, Hichilema had contested five times and failed, so, in the 2015 election, he only narrowly missed being elected,” he said.
On the lessons Nigeria can glean from the Zambian experience, Akinterinwa said: “At the individual level of presidential candidate, if you win election, thank God. If you do not win, continue to struggle; that is the message, without planning to go and meet the African ‘juju’ man to kill your enemy as it is done in Nigeria.
“The second lesson there is that Zambians electoral commission several times would give instructions, some would comply, and some would not. For instance, in June, the Commission asked all political parties not to go out and campaign for reason of COVID-19, most unfortunately, the incumbent government under which the statement was made did not comply with the regulation and the opposition party too did not comply.
“In Nigeria, it is all about political chicanery. The parties do not have any ideology of whatever type. In Nigeria here, you saw what happened in the National Assembly; we are talking about electronic voting and result transmission; you know what transpired – that is one major issue.”
He also noted that the incumbent president did not stoke violence by rejecting the outcome of the election, despite his earlier threats.
“You will recall that President Lungu threatened that he would not resign. He complained and threatened violence when Hichilema was said to be moving above and making progress, but now he is not talking about violence. He readily conceded defeat, because the vote cast clearly shows it was free and fair. In Nigeria, people don’t normally, quickly accept defeat. We must begin to change that attitude,” the former NIIA DG said.