Zambia once heralded the ‘African Spring’


Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

Before the so-called Arab Spring there was the one in Africa. And it was heralded by Zambia, which decided, by popular demand , to end the one-party state and have vibrant, multi-party elections.

To his credit, Zambia’s founding president Kenneth Kaunda (who died earlier this year) went along with the idea, although no one could’ve said he was enthusiastic about an excess of democratic will and possibility. Kaunda lost the 1991 election, Zambia’s first multiparty one, and again, to his credit, stepped aside from the post he had held since 1964.

In so doing, Kaunda allowed Zambia to be a template, a model for the sweet springtime of democracy in Africa. As someone once said, Kaunda was a great ex-president.

By the time the new millennium rolled around, almost every country in Africa had some form of election. As The Economist has noted, Zambia’s record seemed to set up great hopes for the future. Africa’s second-largest copper producer was fully expected to benefit from the commodities boom of the 2000s “to become the continent’s next Botswana (democratic and middle-income) rather than the next Zimbabwe (despotic and wretched)”.

But the election of August 12, 2021 underlines the extent to which Zambia’s prospects have changed. The past 10 years have been dominated by the Patriotic Front (PF). The PF’s Edgar Lungu has been president since 2015 and is said to have presided over increasing corruption, human rights abuses and authoritarianism. So, this election is not seen as a fair contest between the incumbent president and his challenger. Hakainde Hichilema, or “H.H” as he is called, is an economist, with credible ideas for how to turn things around.

Zambia has gone from that long ago springtime of hope to a summer of fear and questioning.