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Do Two Swallows Signal Spring?

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on August 20, 2021 09:29

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There are signs of spring in Africa these days. Democracy seems to be breaking out with the public vote overturning long-held regimes. But does this herald in a new season or is it “two steps forward, one back”?

 

After five unsuccessful attempts at the Zambian presidential elections, Hakainde Hichilema swept to power by a landslide on August 12, securing over a million votes and a majority in the National Assembly. 

Victoria Falls, Zambia. Photo by https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:DoctorJoeE 

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0 

Zambia’s tradition of peaceful, elected transfers of power goes back to its first multi-party elections in 1991. However, Edgar Lungu, outgoing president, was determined to cling to power and has come dangerously close to the use of force to influence the elections. He’s controlled the state media and used the army and police to harass his opposition, intimidate voters and upset campaign meetings in the name of health and public order. This copper- and cobalt-rich Central African country already has economic problems: it’s overdependent on its mineral exports, badly hurt by the COVID-caused economic downturn and its wildlife tourism is suffering.

European Union observers warned that the election campaign was not free and fair, but heavily skewed against the opposition. Hichilema, who was imprisoned in 2017 on various charges to hamper his running against Lungu, campaigned on a platform of unity, accountability by politicians, economic development and “better democracy.”

La Digue island, Seychelles. Photo https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Tobi_87 

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0 

Observers claim that democracy has become entrenched in this country. This recalls elections in nearby Seychelles where a new administration was elected eight months ago in hopes of national unity, economic renewal and democracy. The new leader, Wavel Ramkalawan, committed himself to ending old divisions and overhauling the economy. This island nation, heavily dependent on tourism and fishing, suffered the effects of the pandemic, but led Africa in vaccinations and also in developing innovative ways to relaunch its tourism industry. Airport arrival procedures will soon be entirely digital, requiring only a code issued during a pre-arrival online check-in system. 

Now, the opposition party is critical of the administration’s track record of economic reforms and of combating the pandemic, a sign that a robust political culture is in place. On a regional level, tiny Seychelles is able to call for focus on maritime security and economic development.  

Elephant in Ngorogoro crater. Photo George Lamson, Wikipedia https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0 

However, there is also less good news. When Tanzanian president, John Magufuli — known for claiming that the coronavirus had been prayed out of his country — died of COVID, his deputy, Samia Suluhu Hassan, took power. She immediately reversed some of Magufuli’s policies, calling for more openness, hastening to introduce mask wearing and vaccinations and lifting some of the bans on media freedom. These moves elicited cautious optimism from observers, but recently a number of opposition figures were detained, some ostensibly for terrorism and economic sabotage. Opposition sources call the charges bogus and fabricated, claiming that their detained leader, Tundu Lissu, was merely calling for constitutional and electoral reform. 

Spring is at hand in Africa. People are voting to remove old regimes. Will it continue?

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on August 20, 2021 09:29

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Source: NYT

Voters picked Hakainde Hichilema, a businessman who had lost five previous bids for the job, to take over from Edgar Lungu,...

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