11 November, 2014

Succession Games and Presidential Candidates in Zambia

by Maximilian Mainza

Zambia, a country well-known for being peaceful and politically stable, mourns its late resident, Michael Chilufya Sata, who died on 28 October, 2014 and will be put to rest on 11 November, 2014. It was a well-known secret that the late president was sick, even though the Zambian government hid the sickness and the actual health condition which caused his death. He becomes the second Zambian president to die in office. The Vice President Guy Scott, who has Scottish parentage, was announced as Acting President according to the provisions of the constitution, taking over from Edgar Lungu, Secretary-General of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), who was Acting President at the time of Sata’s death. According to the Zambian constitution, presidential by-elections should be held within 90 days from the day the office of the president has been rendered vacant.

Zambia's ruling party: Who will take the helm?

The announcement of Guy Scott as Acting President of Zambia, has been a bone of contention for some sections of society who have different interpretations of the constitution, with some still insisting that Edgar Lungu should have been allowed to continue acting as president until after a new president is elected. Despite the announcement by Acting President Guy Scott that no political meetings/campaigns were allowed during the mourning period – 29 October to 11 November, 2014 – many PF members have been strategically positioning themselves in an attempt to influence the course of the presidential candidacy for the party. Every day of the mourning period has been mired with new twists and turns, each of which seems to create more friction between those aspiring to be adopted as presidential candidates. The political environment boiled over when it was announced that Acting President Guy Scott had dismissed Edgar Lungu from his position as PF Secretary-General. The result was spontaneous riots and protests in Lusaka and other PF strongholds, with many others taking to the social media to express and share their dissatisfaction. The internal wrangles and divisions within the ruling PF government are a source of concern for Zambians, the majority of whom appear to feel that the mourning period of the late president should be respected.

There are leaders within the PF government who are frequently mentioned in the media as potential presidential candidates. Edgar lungu, who, in addition to party Secretary-General, serves as Minister of Defence and Minister of Justice, seems to be the favorite to be adopted for the presidential by-election. Others hopefuls are former Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba, Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda, former Defence Minister Geoffrey Mwamba, Chishimba Kambwili, Miles Sampa, and Mulenga Sata, the Mayor of Lusaka. However, the succession process is reportedly being marred by underhanded methods by outside forces like Fred Mmembe, editor and owner of The Post newspaper, with editorial attacks against PF leaders such as Finance Minister Chikwanda, Chishimba Kambwili and Edgar Lungu. According to most media reports, Fred Mmembe is believed to be supporting former Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba, and is using Acting President Guy Scott as an important player in the king-making games.

These succession games provide an opportunity for the opposition to take advantage of the situation. The main opposition is already known, with the United Party for National Development (UPND) President, Hakainde Hichilema, being seen as the major threat to the still unknown candidate from the PF. The other opposition will be from the former ruling party, Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD), with its president, Nevers Mumba, who still has to overcome internal wrangles within his party. Other opposition parties that might have an influence on the next Zambian president include Elias Chipimo Jr. and his National Restoration Party (NAREP), and Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) President Edith Nawakwi. If the opposition wins the upcoming presidential by-election, there will be more twists and turns, given that there is no major opposition in parliament. While the UPND have 32 members of parliament and the MMD has 37, the ruling PF has 78, the rest being independent members of parliament.

The question is whether the candidate to be adopted by the PF will have enough time to sell his/her vision to the electorate, or will have to rely on the spillover effects of the late President Sata’s legacy to attract sympathy votes. The succession games provide a lot of talking points in predicting who the next President of Zambia will be. We wait for more revelations after the burial of the late President Michael Sata, may his soul rest in peace.

08 November, 2014

Reflections on Botswana's 2014 General Election

by Hussein Solomon

On 24th October 2014, more than 680,000 Batswana went to the polls out of 824,000 registered voters and in a population of two million. Voters had a choice between 192 candidates for 57 seats in parliament. The result was an eleventh straight victory for the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) of President Ian Khama, which has been governing the southern African country since independence in 1966. The BDP captured 37 of the 57. In other words, the BDP secured 64.9 percent representation in parliament.

President Ian Khama (Photo: GovernmentZA)

Whilst at face value, this might appear as the trouncing of the political opposition, in reality the BDP’s vote share fell for the first time in its history below half - to 46.7 percent. What accounts for the almost twenty percent difference between the popular vote and the BDP’s representation in parliament is the first-past-the-post electoral system which institutionalizes a winner-takes-all system. To put it differently, 25 of the 57 MPs elected secured less than 50 percent of the vote. As a result there has been a call for this first-past-the-post system to be discarded and replaced with a proportional representation electoral system which is intrinsically more democratic. Despite these calls to ditch the existing system, the major stumbling block is the intransigence of the BDP to change the current system – a system which they draw benefit from.

Despite the inequities of the current system, the political opposition in the form of the Botswana National Front, the Botswana People’s Party and the Botswana Movement for Democratic Change, have made tremendous political progress. These parties contested the elections under the banner of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) and managed to secure 30 percent of the popular vote, giving them 17 seats in parliament. This is the highest number of seats any opposition political party managed to secure since independence. If the UDC could forge an alliance with the opposition Botswana Congress Party which secured 19.6 percent of the popular vote in the next election then the political ascendancy of the BDP will end. One of the fault lines which has been highlighted in the October 2014 elections is the rural-urban divide with the ruling BDP maintaining its support in the rural parts of the country whilst the opposition has been making significant inroads amongst the educated middle classes in the urban areas.

As President Khama’s second and final term will end in March 2018, 18 months before elections are due in 2019, the next elections in the country will be most interesting.

06 November, 2014

Districtization in Lesotho: A Desperate Pre-Election Move

by M. K. Mahlakeng

As in most countries, when elections approach, the political sphere becomes interesting. Either because of the war of words between contenders, or maybe because this is the only time civil society feels involved in the political life of a country. It is commonplace that in many democracies and political circles around the World during this period, politicians vie for electoral support by “promising the most benefits from the public treasury”, as Alexander Tyler puts it. And politicians go directly at each other.

Nonetheless, it becomes worrisome when statements are issued or used in a careless racial, tribal and/or ethnic manner in a desperate attempt to win electoral support. This limits the political literacy of the electorate to racial, tribal and/or ethnic lines, and subsequently endangers the political existence on which the well-being of a great many citizens rely, and reduces the mere national allegiance of citizens to racial or tribal allegiance. This is an evident cause of many African intra-state conflicts.

Basotho National Party (BNP) leader, Thesele
‘Maseribane; Prime Minister, Tom Thabane and Lesotho Mounted Police
Service (LMPS) Commissioner, Khothatso Tšooana.

In Lesotho, a homogeneous country with ten districts, where ethno-linguistic structure consists almost entirely of Basotho, an estimated 99.7% of the people identify as Basotho. There remains, however, another form of division. Politically, the national allegiance of citizens tends to be reduced to a small sector of the country (i.e. districts), and popular support is contested and divisions are created on the basis of districts. “Districtization” has become an instrument for electoral support and also a threat to communal peace and stability. This is a phenomenon with serious implications for the future political literacy and stability of Lesotho.

On the 31st October, Prime Minister Thabane, during the (re)opening ceremony of a national referral hospital, Queen Elizabeth II, seized the opportunity to districtize the crisis that led to the closure of the hospital some three years earlier. The 100 year-old hospital had experienced undeniably serious challenges, hence its closure. For instance, the hospital had a severe shortage of basic drugs; it lacked crucial equipment like the CT-Scan, and at times had been forced to suspend surgical operations because of power outages and the malfunctioning of some diagnostic machines. Furthermore, it was short-staffed due to the fact that doctors and nurses were faced with poor working conditions and uncompetitive salaries; and, in many instances, patients were forced to sleep on the floor due to overcrowding and a lack of beds.

In his statement the PM argued that “the closure was political and meant to punish Maseru residents who have been voting overwhelmingly for the All Basotho Convention (ABC) since the party’s formation in 2006 … the person who led government when the hospital was closed is not from Maseru (but Qacha’s Nek District); I strongly believe this hospital was only shut down for political reasons, not that it was too old”. This is despite the fact that such problems still existed in the hospital while he served as a minister in numerous portfolios during the administration of his predecessor.

01 November, 2014

Clickbait and Stereotypes: Media Coverage of the DR Congo

by Virgil Hawkins

On 31 October, Reuters released an article headlined “Congo crowd kills man, eats him after militant massacres: witnesses”. The killing was reported as being motivated by revenge for a series of attacks and massacres perpetrated by the Allied Democratic Forces and National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) – the victim was apparently suspected of belonging to this rebel group. The incident was described in just one-fifth (roughly 100 words) of the article, with a single reference stating that the victim's corpse had allegedly been eaten, according to “witnesses”. The vast majority of the article, however (roughly 400 words) is not about this apparent killing. It instead details the recent movements (primarily political and military) related to the conflict between the ADF-NALU and the DRC government.

The article in question

The term clickbait – the misleading use of a provocative or sensationalist title aimed at enticing readers to click on a link – comes to mind, although the article does, in part, cover the actual event the headline mentions. But given the brevity of the description, and the fact that the incident is substantiated only by unnamed and unspecified “witnesses”, one is tempted to question not only the dubious use of the headline, but also how well the facts were actually checked in this case. It is certainly clear that the article was rushed through the editing process – at one point, for example, the rebels are referred to as ADF-NAUL, rather than ADF-NALU.

The Reuters story was picked up by Yahoo!, and the response (at least on the US edition of the site) was overwhelming. In just 12 hours, the article had attracted 6,448 comments. Glancing through these, one struggles to find a single comment that is even vaguely thoughtful, that attempts to seriously discuss the issues raised in the article, questions its validity, or addresses anything in the article apart from the alleged incident of cannibalism. The vast majority of the comments would fit neatly into one (or more) of the following themes: pure racism (Africans/black people have not evolved, and cannibalism is something that they generally do); genocide (sealing off the entire continent and destroying it, or leaving it to its 'fate'); colonial apologism (this is what happens when you take away white European leadership and give them independence); patronizing charity fatigue/resignation (you try to help these people, but this is what they go and do); and obscene attempts at humour (primarily related to cannibalism).

Other recent articles describing the same conflict that were written by news agencies and had been picked up by Yahoo! (US edition), were, perhaps quite predictably, incomparable in terms of the readers' response. One article by AFP, for example, published two weeks earlier describing a massacre of women and children in eastern DRC by the same rebel group attracted just 10 comments in total – those comments were similarly themed to those mentioned above. The responses of Yahoo! readers to the mention of violence in Africa on the whole seem to be primarily based on knee-jerk racism and stereotyping at a grand continental level, and almost invariably include a degree of genocidal thoughts and apparent colonial nostalgia. Add a brief mention of a single incident of cannibalism that may or may not have actually happened, and all this is confirmed and amplified with great vigour. While the article in question did go on to explain some of the issues associated with the conflict, in opening it played to the lowest common denominator, and this denominator turned out to be disturbingly low.

Racism is a product of ignorance, among other factors, and, given the chronic lack of information offered by the news media about Africa in general, the fact that ignorance prevails on such a large scale should not seem surprising. The little information provided about the conflict in the DRC in particular, combined with its unparalleled scale, makes it the greatest stealth conflict in the world today. But it is more than just the lack of information – it is also about the lack of balance in the little information that is provided. And this is not only an issue of balance between 'bad news' and 'good news' (something that is indeed lacking). Consideration must also be given to the balance between brief throwaway journalism (that tends to play to already entrenched stereotypes), and detailed, comprehensive and thoughtful journalism.

Horrible atrocities are a part of any armed conflict – indeed armed conflicts are by definition horrible atrocities. But as those in the journalism industry and academia calling for 'conflict sensitive journalism' and 'peace journalism' teach us, there is so much more to conflict than expressions of violence that needs to be told by the news media. Armed conflict is a complex social phenomenon, and understanding it involves getting to know the root causes (including social, economic and political inequalities), the belligerents (including their motives and objectives), the suffering of its victims, and efforts aimed at reaching a peaceful settlement, among many other aspects. The news media rarely get this balance right, but they certainly tend to do a better job for conflicts that are not occurring in Africa than those that are.

Reuters (and Yahoo!) can do better than this, and, judging by the disturbing array of comments posted in response to this article, so can the casual observer of armed conflict and atrocities.