Polling opened on Tuesday in Zambia’s tightly contested vote to elect a president after a ruling party power struggle following the death of Michael Sata in office last year.
The two top contenders are Defence Minister Edgar Lungu (58), representing the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), and opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema (52) of the United Party for National Development (UPND).
At stake are the remaining year and a half of Sata’s five-year term in Africa’s second biggest copper producer, where new taxes on the metal have become a surprising election issue.
Lungu’s party introduced the tax in January, while Hichilema has promised to scrap it, pledging a business-friendly Zambia.
The rivals – Lungu the lawyer and Hichilema the businessman, affectionately know as HH – drew huge crowds at last-minute rallies.
But in the absence of opinion polls analysts hedged their bets.
“It’s a two-horse race,” said Oliver Saasa, CEO of Premier Consult, a business and economic consultancy firm. “It’s quite clear this is a very closely run race.”
Election-weary Zambians, who voted in scheduled elections that brought Sata to power three years ago and are also due to cast ballots next year, formed long queues despite early morning cold weather.
‘No need to start afresh’ In Lusaka’s Kanyama working class suburb, excited voters applauded and ululated when a presiding officer declared the crowded polling station open.
“My vote is going to make a difference, we are going to remove this …(PF) family,” said 55-year old vegetable vendor Matron Siyasiya. “They can claim all the good work, but God’s favour is on my candidate, and that is HH.”
But Grace Nyirongo, who runs a food take-away business said she was satisfied with the government and echoed the ruling PF’s campaign slogan of continuity.
“We want the government to continue with the projects started by Sata. Frankly there’s no need to start afresh,” said Nyirongo.
Shortly after the polls opened it began raining heavily in Lusaka, but that did not deter the voters.
Standing in rain-drenched clothes on muddy ground, with no umbrella or raincoat, PF supporter Allan Kabwe’s spirits could not dampened.
“I know many people will be discouraged, but after I finished voting, I am going door to door to encourage people to come and vote. We have to put Edgar into state house,” said the 24 year old street vendor.
“I hope UPND supporters fail to come.”
Analyst Neo Simutanyi of think-tank Centre for Policy Dialogue said: “We can safely conclude that the opposition will win this election, but I don’t think the margin will be very wide.”
Hichilema’s camp is seen to have received a boost from the infighting within another major opposition party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), whose candidate Nevers Mumba is given little chance.
Lungu’s Patriotic Front went into the vote badly fractured by a bitter power struggle after Sata’s death in October, just three years into his five-year term.
Two opposing camps – one led by Lungu and another by interim president Guy Scott – nominated rival presidential candidates.
After many weeks of mud-slinging, Lungu emerged as the sole candidate – but of a weakened party.
Scott, Africa’s first white leader in 20 years, cannot stand for the presidency himself as his parents were not born in Zambia.
With ideological differences between Zambia’s political parties difficult to pin down, voting patterns are often determined by personalities and ethnicity rather than issues.
Despite growth-oriented policies and a stable economy over the past few years, at least 60 percent of Zambia’s population of about 15 million lives below the poverty line, according to World Bank figures.
About 5.2 million people are eligible to cast ballots.
Polling opened at 6am and is due to close 12 hours later across 6 000 polling stations.
Whoever is elected will serve out the remaining 19 months of Sata’s term.
I am a Zimbabwean and I have decided to leave the country! Yes, you heard that right, I have decided to leave the country!
But first things first.
My name is Jimmy, and I am an ICT professional (an Internationally Certified Computer Programmer). I have had my fair share of good fortune in Zimbabwe. I have worked for the financial services industry, from the stock market, asset management, to the banking sector. I have even worked for software houses that are into fulltime software development. Yeah, yeah, one can say I have prospered in the republic.
But why leave the beloved Republic of Zimbabwe?
I can promise you it has nothing to do with my hatred for this country or because I have always wanted to leave, or because some friend or relative has decided to send me a ‘ticket’.
At this point I can only tell you of a few reasons why I decided to leave the beloved republic.
Trust me, I am patriotic to Zimbabwe. I love Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is in my heart.
After all, I have lived for over 30 years in the beloved republic. I was born here. I was raised here. I was educated here. My entire life has been in the republic. In fact, when all my peers and former school mates left I stayed because I was patriotic to the land. I saw a future where others couldn’t see one. I told myself that whatever we were going through as a country would soon come to an end and that in no time things would be better.
For a long time I didn’t even wish to get a passport. I didn’t see the need for one. I wasn’t going anywhere, and no one could convince me to step outside the borders of the republic.
And then most of my cousins started leaving.
Some of my friends left too. Within about two years or so of their leaving, they started sending us pictures of their nice cars, houses, the fancy restaurants, the food they ate … blah blah blah.
But that didn’t bother me. I wasn’t moved. I was a patriot. I loved my country. I was optimistic and very hopeful that in a few years things would change. I told myself that I too would one day, in the republic, drive a Range Rover.
But then things changed for me.
In short, allow me to say I married and along came two children. Life in Zimbabwe is something else once you start having kids and you need to feed them. Suddenly you need a two- or more bedroom house to rent. Of course in the republic we don’t buy houses, they are very expensive, and the banks are not giving mortgage loans.
Then came the 2012 elections. Then came the company closures. Then banks started closing.
Of course the factories have been closed for a while and I sort of winked at that because I worked for a bank. But when my bank started facing the liquidity crisis and closure I knew at once that no one was immune to the environment.
Then I started realising something about the republic.
No one cares for the public. We have dirty water in the taps and no one cares. We have erratic supply of electricity and no one cares. The roads are in shambles and no one is doing anything about it. Fuel prices go up and we can’t do anything about it. New taxes are introduced and we can only comply. Internet is very expensive. The public hospitals, the ones which we can afford, provide crappy service and people are dying because the nurses don’t care. I know because I watched my mother-in-law die at the hands of poor service delivery. And no one cares. Not them, not you, not the minister of health. No one. The company CEOs get treated outside the country now. But what about me? What about my kids?
Become an entrepreneur, they keep telling us. Start your own business. Create your own job.
But not everybody has dreams of owning or running a business. Some of us are just content to be the spanner boys and the foot soldiers. Some of us are content just doing our jobs and getting paid for it.
I don’t know about you but I am tired of the dirty tap water. I am tired of seeing all those potholes in a road. I am tired of sometimes available power supply. I am tired of walking the streets of a capital city that are infested with ‘bhero-stalls’ and cheap, crappy, Chinese products. I am tired of calling the national electricity department for a fault and they come 10 days later. I am tired of poor internet speeds. I am tired of expensive fuel. I am tired of working for ‘hand-to-mouth’ pay-outs. You can’t have savings accounts in the republic. Your bank could just close tomorrow. I am just tired of struggling for everything. Why does it cost me an arm and a leg to buy a flat-screen TV?
And guess what, my children have to grow up in such an environment and go to schools whose teachers don’t even know why they are doing what they do.
I am sick and tired of it all.
Surely I wasn’t born to suffer. I just want a better life, that’s all.
And where am I gonna go?
Anywhere outside Zimbabwe.
Perhaps Botswana? Perhaps South Africa? (Wait, those guys don’t want us anymore). Perhaps Zambia? Perhaps Kenya? Perhaps Namibia? Take me anywhere where the visa application is not a hassle and I’ll gladly go.
Once again, my name is Jimmy and I am a Zimbabwean. I am an ICT professional and I am leaving Zimbabwe!
The barbs are flying at me faster, flung by a hostile crowd.
Here I am, the lone Western correspondent in this tiny African kingdom that still feels volatile since the August 30 attempted military coup that sent the nation’s prime minister scurrying next door into South Africa.
I am suddenly on trial, as a kangaroo court deals me a harsh lesson – and reveals what a minefield Lesotho is for journalists covering this crisis.
A top government official alleged that Nigerian and Ghanaian soldiers-for-hire had slipped into the country, armed to the teeth, to hatch a plot to assassinate Lesotho’s leaders – to throw the tiny nation into even deeper crisis and harpoon the February 2015 elections, already moved up two years earlier by South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is mediating to restore some semblance of “lasting peace” here.
For the “mercenaries” claim, I’d asked two people if there was any clue on the identity of these alleged assassins.
Thesele Maseribane, the third leader of the ruling tripartite coalition (who’s also the minister of gender and youth, sports and recreation) floated two nationalities: Nigerians and Ghanaians. Then I spoke to the police’s assistant commissioner of police, Sello Mosili, who confirmed this. So that’s what I reported – their allegations:
Some online media – in Lesotho, too – focused on the nationalities. Even worse, one weekly here turned my story’s allegation into their story’s fact: “Police hunt Nigerian, Ghanaian mercenaries.”
That sensationalist twist unfortunately sparked anxiety among the hundreds of Nigerians and Ghanaians living in Lesotho. They say it’s led to unkind comments from Basotho and feeling threatened on the streets.
When I’d heard about the “unintended consequences” of my reporting, I met a police official and leaders of the two expatriate communities. To help make things right, I suggested a press event: I’ll explain what happened. Maybe the police could discuss the lessons learned – about revealing too much, too soon?
I’m also a journalism trainer here, so I saw the potential for a productive discussion about the dangers of incitement (another real concern) – and choosing words carefully during these tense times.
But I would regret this. Unwittingly, I organised my own public lynching. My good intentions were trampled on.
At this moment, some 30 leaders and members of the two communities have filled the room to debunk the claim.
Even a Nigerian diplomat from Pretoria is here to defend his country.
My defence – that I published allegations, attributed to highly credible sources, and identified the police source by name – isn’t enough.
Indeed, it’s the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) spokesperson seated beside me who pours oil on the fire. He stands to read from an authorised, one-page statement. The police are still pursuing reports of foreign mercenaries, he says, with no nationalities named. Then his final paragraph, with its inflammatory kicker: “The LMPS distances itself from the information appearing in the AFP newspaper [sic] dated 13-19 November 2014 that the mercenaries are from Nigeria and Ghana.”
Comfort the afflicted Not deny the substance, mind you, but distance itself. A vague, carefully chosen term, it seems.
Even worse, the police appear to have confused the article I wrote for Agence France-Presse – a round-the-clock international news agency, not a “newspaper” – with the article that appeared in the November 13-19 edition of that Lesotho weekly, which reprinted my allegations as fact.
“That doesn’t exonerate your actions,” says one Nigerian community leader-turned-prosecutor, facing the crowd, his voice filling with emotion.
From the audience, a community member eyeballs me: “If someone is attacked for this, their blood will be on your hands.”
A third chides me: “You should just apologise – but you seem unwilling to.”
That’s right. I stand by my reporting. In front of this crowd, though, I do pause to reiterate my sincere regret for the “unintended consequences” of my reporting.
I have a conscience, after all, and abide by the journalistic creed: afflict the comfortable, comfort the afflicted. I’d never want a story of mine to harm innocents. Especially not a minority, given my affinity for them.
Was this a show trial? An inquisition? Verbal vigilantism? I’m still struggling for words to describe what happened to me last week. Was it just a traumatic professional incident?
More importantly, a great revelation slaps me in the face: this whole ordeal illuminates just how dangerous this environment is. Not for me – because I can leave. Even flee.
Instead, imagine my Basotho journalism colleagues, who are woven into the fabric of this monoethnic, monolingual society, perched in a remote mountain enclave completely surrounded by South Africa.
I can handle this public assault adequately. Yet how could a local colleague weather such intimidation? How to cope in this climate? Where the homes of public figures are attacked at night – by grenade or bullet – yet no one is arrested? Where an adversarial radio station is trashed, yet no one is held to account? Where police arrest a prominent editor and reporter for a day – for accurately reporting a criminal case?
A few weeks back, a leading local reporter called me to describe how she was publicly accused of taking bribes from one political faction to report negatively about another. She broke down, crying: “I’m scared, I can’t go anywhere.”
Now, for the first time, I feel this intimidation.
Why does all this matter? Because Lesotho is the latest crisis mediated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Stabilising this little tinderbox is in South Africa’s interest – and SADC’s too.
Sandbag the messengers
However, Basotho society is highly polarised, with duelling accusations of what one side is doing to the other.
Yet there’s no neutral arbiter to separate fact from fiction. What’s true, what isn’t. Who’s telling the truth and who isn’t.
In short, the Basotho – and Southern Africa itself – need a robust, confident media, to help connect the dots. Yet if one local journalist – or any member of civil society – were to dare to “get to the bottom of things,” but then angers the wrong person, who would protect them?
Don’t get me wrong: even after this public assassination of my character, I’m still enjoying the adventure of living on the continent the past three years, especially among the Basotho.
Yet the fact remains: at that moment, all three communities needed a scapegoat. To “refute and debunk” the damage purportedly done to the reputations of Nigeria and Ghana, and duress caused for their diaspora communities. From any diplomatic fallout, perhaps the police also felt compelled to deny responsibility.
So I was fingered as the culprit. The true outsider. The foreign correspondent. So expendable. If not shoot the messenger, then sandbag him.
“These were just allegations,” my most vocal defender, Tsebo Mats’asa, director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa’s Lesotho chapter, tells the crowd. “We should thank Ntate [Mr] Jordan for being brave to come explain what happened.”
Brave? No, I was foolish.
The most absurd part of this event is that I actually co-organised and invited many of the people – to witness my own public lynching.
As the meeting ends, and they clear the room, several young journalists approach me.
“You see? This is what they do here,” says one. “They’ll tell you something, and you publish it. But if others don’t like it, they’ll deny they told you that. They’ll blame you.”
I’ve learned many lessons from this experience, but there is one worth underscoring: it’d be irrational for my colleagues ever to put their necks on the line. Their trepidation also drives me forward, to continue probing the reality.
Foolish to speak out
Then, as I lick my wounds the next day, I get a call that lifts my spirits. From a Nigerian who has lived here for years – and observed my inquisition, in silence.
“I wanted to tell you that I was very proud of you, that you didn’t chicken out,” he says. “I see you’re a man who believes in what he has done, who knows he was right, and no amount of pressure will make him surrender.”
I listen, speechless. Then express my gratitude for some of the most meaningful and fortifying words of my career.
The Nigerian continues. “Unfortunately, this is quite common in Africa. In this environment we live in, some people, but not everyone, lack integrity and principles. The Basotho journalists would tell you they weren’t surprised like you were, to see what happened to you yesterday. It’s almost a continuous way of life here.”
Then I ask him, respectfully: Why didn’t you speak up? And are you now willing to be quoted in this piece, by name?”
No, he prefers anonymity.
“Because you see the way they came after you,” he says. “That same angry display would be turned against me.”
Indeed, I finally understand. The sad reality is, it would require rare courage – or foolishness – for anyone to speak out. Just when Lesotho needs them the most.
Michael J Jordan is a freelance journalist based in Lesotho. Visit jordanink.wordpress.com for his coverage of the three-month Lesotho crisis.
The questions teenagers ask about HIV are brutally honest, anonymous – and sent in 160 characters or less over mobile phone text messages.
At U-Report, a Zambian HIV advice organisation, thousands of bite-sized questions come through every day.
One asks, “I have a girl who has HIV and now she is talking about marriage what can I do with her?”
Another wants to know “when you kiss someone deeply can it be possible to contract the virus?”
Though Aids-related deaths are significantly decreasing internationally, they continue to rise among adolescents, according to a Unicef report released last week.
But services like U-Report are offering a new way to get through to teens too afraid or too embarrassed to talk to health care workers face-to-face.
Located in a nondescript office building in Lusaka, the counsellors sit behind desktop computers answering SMS queries on everything from how the virus is spread, to the pros and cons of male circumcision.
Launched in 2012, the service now boasts over 70 000 subscribers and is being used as a model for other countries, including South Africa and Tanzania.
“We are receiving messages from all over Zambia,” said manager Christina Mutale. “It went viral.”
Significantly, a third of participants are teens, those most likely to die from Aids.
Sitting in a garden outside the Lusaka clinic where she receives her treatment, U-Report user Chilufya Mwanangumbi said counsellors could be hard to find.
High infection rate With purple-painted nails and dreams of being a civil engineer, the 19-year-old student is one of Zambia’s many teenagers living with HIV.
“At other clinics, they don’t tell you what to do, they just tell you you’re positive and send you home with the drugs,” said Mwanangumbi.
“That’s when people kill themselves – because they think it’s the end of the world.”
UNAIids, the UN agency battling the disease, estimates 2.1 million adolescents are living with HIV in 2013, 80 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
Zambia has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world – an estimated 13 percent of its 14 million people are infected.
Signs of the epidemic are everywhere.
In the Saturday Post newspaper nearly half of the classifieds section is filled with adverts for herbal cures for HIV and Aids, alongside remedies for wide hips and reclaiming lost lovers.
And while U-Report is starting to address the teenage HIV crisis, the barriers to success in the country are high. Even if teens get access to counselling, they may struggle to find a suitable clinic in Zambia, where there is a chronic shortage of doctors and health workers.
Medical services and technology Yet there has never been a better time for a mobile phoned-based counselling service.
By the end of 2014, there will be more than 635 million mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa, a number set to grow as phones become cheaper and data more readily available, said Swedish technology company Ericsson in a recent report.
Zambia’s text message experiment is part of an international trend that is seeing medical services being provided via technology, with digitally savvy teens the quickest to adapt.
“The long-term findings on adolescents, health care and computer technologies is that they often prefer them to face-to-face communication,” said Kevin Patrick, director at the Centre for Wireless and Population Health Systems at the University of California, San Diego.
“They will more likely confide in a computer about sensitive issues.”
And as Zambia wrestles to shore up its overwhelmed health care system, inexpensive mobile technology could help ease the strain.
“Apps exist to help people locate the closest HIV testing site,” said David Moore, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, researching mobile technologies and HIV. “What if you could do something like an HIV rapid test using an app on your phone? That could be a game changer in terms of HIV incidence.”
Every summer, a new energy engulfs Maseru and its surrounding towns. There’s an influx of people who come around for the holiday season, and entertainment is in high demand. Camping chairs and cooler boxes – staple accessories for many Basotho during these months – are unpacked and get their chance to bask in the Lesotho sun.
The unofficial kickstarter to all summer activities is the Kome Caves Festival, which was held over the weekend. The three-day event blends the outdoors, tourism, cuisine, and beer tasting with musical entertainment. Organised by Tangerine Inc, a boutique marketing and programme management company, it aims to promote the village and attract tourists to the region. Now in its second year, the festival has already improved by leaps and bounds from last year’s inaugural event.
Nestled in Lesotho’s lowlands, Ha Kome and its caves of the same name are etched into a plateau of the Berea Mountains – one of Lesotho’s ten districts. The caves were built in the early 1800s by Chief Teleka and his followers for protection from the cannibals in the surrounding area. As if painted into the rock, descendants of the Chief still dwell in these caves which offer cool shelter from the November sun; however, one does worry about their warmth during Kome’s cooler nights and Lesotho’s brutal winters.
The majority of people arrived on Saturday and there was a plethora of activities – from horse rides to volleyball and paintball. For those who could stomach the curving dirt road which puts San Francisco’s Lombard Street to shame, there was quad biking too.
Besides the actual caves, the main attractions were the music and the beer. The afternoon’s soundtrack was mellow sets by local DJs which did not detract from the oral sensory overload.
With over 30 types of craft and macro beers mainly from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and including Lesotho’s pride – Maluti Beer, beer lovers were spoiled for choice. The wine tasting stall was a hit this year, and the locally brewed ginger beer, which is the more fermented version of the already popular drink, was a delicious treat even for non-beer lovers. Paired with the various food stalls, attendees were able to enjoy the different beverage offerings well into the night without having to retire early – although for a select few it would have been better if they had.
This year’s musical offering was stupendous from start to finish.
MsKelle, the German-born Mosotho songstress began our musical journey. Just before her set there were few people seated in front of the stage; however, as she sang her first song many began to gather and were mesmerized by the purity of her voice. The sun setting behind the mountains gave her set the added magical touch.
Local Kholu Jazz Band, better known as the band for Lesotho Jazz legend Budaza, who gave a beautiful performance on Sunday, followed with a more up-tempo performance.
Wearing a mokorotlo, the traditional Basotho hat, with a metallic shield covering his face, and with dance moves straight out of the Karate Kid, DJ InviZable gave one of the night’s more memorable performances.
Mozambican group Gran’Mah was another pleasant surprise – not many knew of them before their performance, but they left with a solid fan base by the end of their set. The “reggae fusion” band was fun to watch, and had many people dancing to their dub-inspired tunes. And, even though he was set to perform later that night, Pedro from 340ml blessed the stage for a collaboration.
340ml gave the crowd something a little different from their regular performances. This time Rui and Thiago replaced their guitars for some turntables, and Pedro belted out some of their popular tracks, leaving the crowd wanting more.
However, the musical highlight, and the reason most people came to the event, was to see the USA-based international touring act Tortured Soul. By the time of their set, the warm day had turned into a bitterly cold night. They played as if the cold air was part of their magical spell. The audience was transfixed by their performance; they swayed and sang along in awe, many in disbelief that their beloved Tortured Soul was right here in their country.
And as the cup of coffee to end off a great musical meal, Lesotho’s hip-hop collective D2amajoe closed the show in front of some of their more loyal fans and those who stuck around to brave the cold weather.
The evening eventually turned to dawn, camp chairs were folded, now emptied cooler boxes were carried off to the camp sites, and the courageous few who decided to make the drive up the curved dirt road returned to warmer destinations. One thing was clear: they were already plotting their return to next year’s festival.