African News

Zambian scholar on Thursday’s elections in her country

11 August 2021 at 02:53 | 1136 views

The southern African country of Zambia will have general elections on Thursday this week. As the country prepares for this very important political event, Patriotic Vanguard Editor and Publisher Gibril Koroma interviewed Dr. Bridget Bwalya Umar, a Senior Researcher of the African Scholars Programme of The Nordic Africa Institute and Senior lecturer at the University of Zambia. The NAI introduced us to Dr. Umar. Here is Dr. Umar:

Gibril Koroma: Please briefly tell our readers who you are and what you have been doing in the last couple of years.

Bridget Bwalya Umar: I work on natural resources governance issues. I have a position at the University of Zambia (Senior lecturer, researcher and consultant). I consider myself to be a political ecologist; I pay attention to the politics and power relations prevalent in natural resources use and governance issues (at local, regional, national and international level).

GK: Zambia is going to have elections on the 12th of this month. As a Zambian yourself what do you think are the major issues in these elections?

BBU: The high cost of basic goods and services (sharp increases in prices of basic goods and services).

- Zambia’s high external debt

• Perceived mismanagement of public funds and lack of transparency in the award of contracts e.g. in the health sector that resulted in the supply of defective products.

• Ruling party members’ harassment of ordinary Zambians in the informal sector. For instance, through extortion of payments from traders at markets, bus operators and street vendors

• Depreciation of the Zambian Kwacha against major currencies.

GK: Incumbent president Edgar Lungu has been having a bad press both in and out of the country for quite some time now. Why do you think this is happening?

BBU: Because of poor economic performance and Zambia’s high external debt under his watch.
• There is a sense that he does not act on corruption cases of his party members, high elite capture ( members of the ruling parties get government contracts and have created a class of ‘ super rich ruling class.’

GK: An interview on Zambia inevitably leads to a question on the Chinese presence in the country. How do you see China’s presence in your country?

BBU: Increasingly problematic. Chinese dominate public infrastructure projects. For the private sector, they are in everything, including businesses requiring low capital investments. Zambia’s investment law has provisions on minimum capital for investment for non-Zambians for them to qualify as investors. Once qualified as investors, they can purchase and own land. Chinese investors have been able to buy large tracts of land in Zambia, arguably even those without the capital outlays to qualify them as investors.

• Chinese investors setting up establishments that are perceived not to be open to Zambians. Some of them have signage in Mandarin only (no English) which makes it hard for Zambians to access such facilities.

• Generally poor conditions of employment offered to Zambian workers by Chinese investors.

GK: Would you like to say more on pertinent issues related to these elections and Zambia’s future?

BBU: President Lungu has directed the army and police to keep the peace during election period. This is largely unprecedented in Zambia.

• The main opposition party has been blocked from carrying out campaigns by the police, its political adverts are not aired on public television stations and radio stations (There is a recent court ruling on this to force the national broadcaster to do this).

• Political violence increased. Fear of post-election violence

• Regardless of who wins, Zambia’s debt crisis will need to be dealt with. I see a continuation of the economic crisis the country is currently facing continuing in the short term, regardless of who wins.