Saturday, October 1, 2011

Zambian Election Results: And the winner is….. democracy in Sub Sahara Africa!

Part one of two part series.

As an African American I am proud of the Zambian elections; democracy at work in Sub Sahara Africa.  With Africa receiving so much negative American press these days, this is great news:

  • An incumbent lost and freely turned over power
  • Most independent observes declare free and fair election procedures
  • The country was relatively free of election violence

Unfortunately African American knowledge of Zambia is abysmal.  Quick, what countries border Zambia? Better yet where is Zambia?  Anyway do your research.

“ba King Cobra” new President

As of 12 am September 23 (local time) Zambia elected  a new president, 74 years old Mr. Michael “ba King Cobra” Sata of the Patriotic Front (PF). The name King Cobra comes from Sata’s legendary sharp tongue.   

Mr. Sata won with 1,150,045 or 43% of the votes casted. The loser President Rupiah Banda of the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) won 961,796, or 36.1% of votes casted.  Sata’s  PF  benefitted from the registration of 1,279,181 new voters, many of them young (out of a total electorate of 5,223,316), and a high turnout (around 60% or above) in Lusaka, Central, Northern, Luapula Provinces and on the Copper belt, Sata’s traditional urban and ethnic strongholds, whose electorate dominate those of the remaining five provinces in sheer weight of numbers.

Banda's party -- of which Sata had been a member until a 2001 leadership dispute -- had been in power for two decades. This is the third time in post colonial Zambia power has been handed over from one party to another.  The first was Kenneth Kaunda assuming power from colonial rule in 1964.  The second time was in 1991, Kaunda (UNIP) to Chiluba (MMD) and the third time is now Banda (MMD) to Sata (PF). Africa needs to study this success!

Parliament, Minor Parties and Women

Zambia is a multiparty republic with a unicameral legislature.  The final parliamentary results were announced on Sunday 25th of September. Of 148 contested seats, the PF won 60 (40.1%), with the MMD a close second with 55 (37.2%), leaving the United Party for National Development (UPND) trailing with 28. Of the remaining 5 seats, three were taken by independents, and one apiece went to the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) and the Alliance for Democracy and Development (ADD). 11% of MPs will be women, somewhat below the average of around 15% in sub-Saharan Africa generally and vastly below Rwanda’s level of female representation in parliament, currently at over 50%.

Minimal Scattered Violence

There were some violent protests reported in north-central Zambia Thursday as the county awaited final results in a tight presidential race.  Police say demonstrators stoned cars and buildings in the cities of Kitwe and Ndola and set fire to a market in Kitwe.  Some disturbances by Zambian youth were recorded in Lusaka, Ndola, Nakonde and Mufulira after the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) delayed announcing election results.

However, this is quite different from the 2008 special elections when Sata lost and riots broke out for days in the capital Lusaka, Sata’s stronghold.  At the time, true to his Cobra tongue, Sata said the government had "robbed" him of victory by "stealing votes" from under the noses of "timid and toothless" election observers from the European Union.

Copper, Chinese, Corruption

Cooper has had an “extraordinary dominance" in the Zambian economy.  Many developing countries depend heavily on a few primary products for export as their means of earning foreign exchange.  Zambia, however, is an extreme case of over dependence on the production and export of a single product; copper.  Zambia is also characterized by an urban community shaped by the requirements of the copper industry and the growth of its labor force. 

This year’s elections came up against the backdrop of Zambia being re-classified as a middle income country in July this year and economic growth rates averaging 6.4% over the past five years (World Bank). Zambia, Africa’s top copper producer, has been predicted to become the world’s fifth largest copper-miner by 2015. (Bloomberg)

China has invested an estimated $6.1 billion (4.3 billion Euros) into the southern African nation since 2007, equivalent to more than one third of gross domestic product last year. In 2010, China trade with Zambia nearly doubled to reach $2.5 billion. However, 19 people died in two incidents last year when Chinese managers at coal and copper mines shot workers involved in labor and wage disputes. In fact, China’s labor and human rights violation in Zambian’s copper industry is notorious:

·         In April 2005, 52 Zambian workers died in a factory explosion, which has been blamed on China’s Nonferrous Metal Industry’s (NFC) poor safety standards and lack of accountability. [1] The accident occurred at the Beijing General Research Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (BGRIMM), a joint venture between NFC and the Chinese government. The mine workers were trapped in the manufacturing plant when the explosion occurred. None of the Chinese staff employed at the plant were injured.
·         In July 2006, four NFC mine workers were shot and wounded by the company’s Chinese management in combination with police while protesting a wage dispute.
·         In 2007, police shot and killed five miners during violent protests over the working conditions at the Chambishi Mine.
·         In March 2008, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported on the dismissal of five hundred mine workers from Chambishi. While negotiating for pay increases and better safety conditions, the workers clashed with Chinese foremen, and mine workers assaulted a Chinese manager.

Therefore copper politics dominated the elections. The incumbent President Banda campaigned on a record of several years of strong economic growth in copper-rich Zambia, which has benefited from a boom in global commodity prices. On the other hand, Sata's Patriotic Front accused Mr. Banda government of failure to protect Zambian citizens’ right to life and to prevent workers’ abuses by allowing Chinese corporations to commit human rights abuses with impunity. Sata also indicted Banda’s government for tolerating corruption and not doing enough to ensure that more Zambians share in the wealth of the country's copper reserves.

In the 2008 special elections Sata took a strong anti-Chinese line. This year he toned down his rhetoric. Nevertheless, Sata’s win is thought to have been propelled by the resonance of his rhetoric with the youth and unemployed in urban areas and the copper belt who feel they have not benefited from Zambia’s growing economy.

On Monday, September 26, Zambia's newly-elected President Michael Sata warned Chinese investors to respect the country's labor laws. "Your investment should benefit Zambia and your people need to adhere to local laws," Sata told Chinese ambassador Zhou Yuxiao, who paid a visit to the new president at State House.  "If they adhere to local laws, there will be no need to point fingers at each other," Sata said.

Sata’s harsh criticism of foreign investors has led some to fear renegotiation of mining contracts or the withdrawal of foreign investors. However, this analysis doesn’t calculate the financial clout of Chinese, Australian and South African mining and investment interests and how irresistible such is to any Zambian political leadership. “Political capital is expended far faster than its financial counterpart.” 

Sata has promised to fight corruption, “our fight against corruption will go beyond rhetoric and pious hope. Corruption is morally unacceptable and those charged with the responsibility of looking after our resources should guard it jealously.”

As one writer said, “anything is possible in Zambia, bearing in mind the adage that where there’s a will, you must pay.”

Part II will address the historical and current relations between African Americans and Zambia.

[1] Established in 1983, China Nonferrous Metal Industry (NFC) is a Chinese-based transnational corporation that extracts minerals, installs and supplies mining equipment, and has contracting projects in more than twenty countries. 


  1. Thank You Dr Crockett - It is indeed a day to celebrate the winner (Democracy). It appears Zambia is gaining an admirable reputation by setting precedence in the culture of democracy. From my research and knowledge of this central African country, Zambia deserves to be described as "The Oasis Of Peace", considering all its neighbors are either still struggling with internal conflicts or have been at strife in recent history.

  2. Thanks for your comments. Zambia is important to Africa in general and Southern Africa in particular for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is it vibrant multiparty political environment. As you so aptly pointed out, it is setting an example for its neighbors. Keep following us.

  3. Truly your blogs shed such intelligent yet matter of facts on the width, depth and breadth of greed and corruption irrespective of who suffers. I am soul searching to determine where I can influence positive change for our South African brothers and sisters. I also wondering how much lethargy, tiredness and hopelessness has settled into our brothers and sisters preventing a take-over as with other regions of late.