Tag: Zambia

Zambians vote in special presidential election

A Zambian woman casts her ballot for the Zambian presidential elections at Kanyama Primary School in Lusaka. (Pic: AFP)
A Zambian woman casts her ballot for the Zambian presidential elections at Kanyama Primary School in Lusaka. (Pic: AFP)

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.

Zambia: Teens turn to text messages for Aids advice

An Zambian HIV counsellor looks at phone text messages coming up on the U-report platform for HIV and Aids awareness at a call centre in Lusaka. (Pic: AFP)
A Zambian HIV counsellor looks at text messages coming up on the U-report platform for HIV and Aids awareness at a call centre in Lusaka. (Pic: AFP)

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.”

Zambia’s President Michael Sata: A no-nonsense man of action

Zambian President Michael Sata gestures upon arrival at Solwezi airport before addressing supporters at an election campaign meeting on September 10 2014. The next national election in Zambia was not due until 2016, but as a result of Sata's death a presidential vote will have to be held within the next 90 days. (Pic: AFP)
Zambian President Michael Sata gestures upon arrival at Solwezi airport before addressing supporters at an election campaign meeting on September 10 2014. The next national election in Zambia was not due until 2016, but as a result of Sata’s death a presidential vote will have to be held within the next 90 days. (Pic: AFP)

Zambian President Michael Sata, who has died aged 77, rose from cleaning railway platforms in London to his country’s highest office, where he vowed to sweep away corruption but leaned heavily on political foes.

Sata died in the British capital where he had been receiving treatment for a long-rumoured but undisclosed illness.

For supporters who voted him into office in 2011 he was a no-nonsense man of action. For critics, the former policeman, trade unionist and taxidermist was an authoritarian populist.

What is undisputed is that he seemed to revel in scorched earth politics.

Detractors, political foes, the media and even allies frequently came under attack from a man who earned the sobriquet “King Cobra”.

He once publicly upbraided his whole cabinet, threatening to collapse his own government if they did not do a better job.

The final period of Sata’s rule saw a crackdown on political opponents and critical journalists who reported on his long-suspected illness and frequent “working trips” abroad, apparently for medical treatment.

In January 2014, an opposition politician was charged with defamation for calling him a potato. In June the authorities charged three opposition activists for claiming that he was dying.

Sata’s surprise election victory, at the fourth time of asking, and a calm power transfer raised hopes things were looking up for his copper-rich but dirt-poor southern African nation.

He vowed to be a champion of the poor, unveiling a plan to transform the country within 90 days by tackling corruption, lowering taxes, creating jobs and scoring a better deal with what he once called Chinese “infestors”.

But it quickly became clear that the targets of his corruption fight were more often than not his political adversaries, including his predecessor Rupiah Banda, who was slapped with various graft charges and blocked from leaving the country.

On the election trail Sata promised to free the media from government interference, but once in office he sacked critical journalists and heads of the state television and newspapers.

‘A showman’
Born on July 6, 1937 in the Mpika district in the north of the then-British colony of Northern Rhodesia, Michael Chilufya Sata had little formal education.

After basic schooling he joined a seminary, with a view to joining the priesthood, according to Zambian historian Field Ruwe. But it was not to be, and he instead entered the police force.

Sata was later arrested. The reason is subject to some controversy – Sata claimed he was jailed for his involvement in the independence fight, while adversaries claim it was for a criminal offence.

On his release he became involved in politics via the trade union movement. After a period in Britain – where he at one stage cleaned railway stations – and some time spent in business as a board member of a taxidermy firm, he became more firmly involved with the United National Independence Party.

Years as a party apparatchik earned the Catholic father of eight the governorship of the capital, Lusaka, under Zambia‘s first president, Kenneth Kaunda.

He later served in several ministerial portfolios, but tensions with Kaunda saw him jump ship to the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, which he in turn left to form the breakaway Patriotic Front in 2001.

Ever the showman, in his 2011 presidential campaign he paraded through the streets in a speedboat pulled on a trailer.

Jump on board and be saved from poverty, was the message of his political Noah’s Ark.

He was catapulted to the presidency amid public anger at corruption and frustration among those yet to benefit from a copper mining boom.

But he leaves behind a country buckling under the weight of unemployment that remains around 60 percent.

Obert Simwanza for AFP

Ebola and the outbreak of stupidity

Given the extent of the Ebola epidemic, it’s obvious that people should take proactive and preventative measures against it. The death toll has exceeded 4 500, and the worst-affected countries in West Africa are battling to contain it. On the one hand, volunteers like Kathryn Stinson, bloggers like Edith Brou and sites like Ebola Deeply are genuinely doing their bit to help raise awareness. On the other, the US media and paranoid Americans are responding with hysteria and misinformation. Now we have what’s dubbed fearbola. Really though, it’s just stupidity in bad disguise.

So, world, here’s what you shouldn’t do:

1. Ask ridiculous questions. 


Teju Cole won’t always have the time to answer them.

2. Remove your children from their school in Mississippi because you’ve found out that the principal recently visited Zambia. Capture

Quick geography lesson: Zambia is in Southern Africa, not West Africa, and has no confirmed cases of Ebola. ‘Mississippi on Alert’, then, for no good reason.

3. Avoid going to a store because someone who has Ebola went there too.

A nurse visited a bridal store in Ohio shortly before being diagnosed with the virus. Now no one is shopping there because: paranoia. To convince customers to return, the owners have scrubbed their shop down and brought in ultraviolet ray machines to rid it of any traces of the virus. This, after the health department told them it was unnecessary as Ebola doesn’t live long enough on surfaces to pose a risk.

4. Fly in this outfit

This photo of a woman in a homemade protective suit at Dulles International Airport outside Washington has gone viral, and not because her outfit is on trend. There have been eight cases of Ebola in the US; gloves, a mask and body gown are not necessary here.

5. Prevent kids from attending a New Jersey school because they’re from Rwanda which has zero reported cases of Ebola and is over 4 000km  from the affected West African countries.

Two East African students were meant to begin classes on Monday at a school in New Jersey, but following a backlash from other parents, the school asked them to stay home for three weeks. Rwanda (perhaps in retaliation to this incident?), announced on Tuesday that it will start screening all Americans entering the country for Ebola, regardless of whether they are exhibiting symptoms or not.

The list could go on – from a man in Cleveland charged for inducing panic after he made a my-wife-has-ebola joke, to a college in Texas that has rejected applicants from (Ebola-free) Nigeria.

As panic and ignorance about the epidemic continue to spread, it would be more useful to rely on facts instead of fear-mongering. Pack away the Hazmat suits and pick up a map.

Zambian politician charged for calling president a potato

Zambian police have arrested and charged an opposition leader with defamation after he compared the president to a potato, a party ally told AFP on Tuesday.

Frank Bwalya, head of the Alliance for a Better Zambia, allegedly referred to President Michael Sata as “Chumbu Mushololwa” during a live radio broadcast on Monday.

The Bemba term literally refers to a sweet potato that breaks when it is bent and is used to describe someone who does not heed advice.

“The police decided to arrest and charge him with defamation of the president,” Eric Chanda, the secretary general of Alliance told AFP.

If convicted, Bwalya faces a maximum jail term of five years.

Zambia's President Michael Sata. (Pic: AFP)
Zambia’s President Michael Sata. (Pic: AFP)

Bwalya, a former Catholic priest and supporter of Sata when in opposition, is just the latest opposition leader to run afoul of Zambia’s leader.

In September, Nevers Sekwila Mumba of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy was questioned by police after calling Sata a liar.

Ex-president Rupiah Banda has been hauled before the courts on numerous corruption charges.

“President Sata is the same old man who was on all radio stations defaming former presidents Banda and Mwanawasa and nobody arrested him,” said Chanda. – Sapa-AFP