Elections in Africa are not child’s play, if you run out of luck; you pay with your own life. This is true of Zambia’s Mapenzi Chibulu, an 18-year-old female opposition activist shot dead by those meant to protect her.
On 9 July, in broad daylight, and a month before she was expected to join millions of others to choose the next president, she lost her life. It forced the electoral body, the Electoral Commission of Zambia, to suspend campaigns for ten days in Zambia’s capital city, Lusaka.
As if the economic turmoil was not enough, the copper producing country has done little to allay fears of investors that would help lure the much needed investment in a country that has struggled to diversify from mining.
The country, celebrating 52 years this year, is burning as incumbent President Edgar Lungu, who has been in power for a year is battling to stop opposition leader, Hichilema Hakainde, from wresting power.
The two will face each other in a watershed election on the 11th August. Whatever the outcome, this election will be heavily contested and whoever loses will claim electoral fraud.
— Tom Murphy (@viewfromthecave) July 9, 2016
“For 50 years our nation has lived with peace, stability and freedom. There is no place for this type of violence in our society. I take a firm stance against any sort of violence in our democracy,” President Lungu said in a statement.
To his opponents, his words are hollow as they have come with a heavy price paid by Chibulu’s life.
Political analysts say the electoral landscape has been marked by skirmishes between supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) of Lungu and the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) led by Hichilema.
— The Africa Report (@theafricareport) July 11, 2016
“This comes as no surprise and we have been warning for months now that the political climate in Zambia was not conducive to free and fair elections and that the country risked losing its democratic reputation it authorities allowed this to continue,” Gary van Staden, Senior Political Analyst at NKC African Economists said.
“While the decision to suspend campaigning is a negative development it at least provides some breathing space for authorities and political parties to put in place concrete measures to help take off the pressure that has been building over months now and threatens the credibility of the poll. The suspension of campaigning is the lesser of two evils but it remains an evil and any attempt to extend the suspensions will be unacceptable.”
While the election will pass, the challenges facing Zambia are set to remain long after elections. Economists warn that politicians should not worsen the damage.
Herryman Moono, an economist from Economists Association of Zambia said, the unfolding political developments marred by political violence and perceived interference by government on private media houses, particularly the closure of the Post Newspapers – had created political tension.
“The excessive use of force by the Zambia Police who are on record of cancelling opposition party rallies and recently the use of live ammunition leading to the killing of an opposition party supported while injuring others is raising concerns about the security of the nation as we approach elections,” he says.
Zambia ‘s elections body suspends campaigns in capital Lusaka & town of Namwala amid shootings, killing, violence. pic.twitter.com/k9UyeGb0yX
— Paul Shalala ZNBC (@PaulShalalaZNBC) July 9, 2016
“These developments are creating anxiety among the local and international community. Should these continue, Zambia will slowly be perceived as a ‘risky’ investment destination which has a strong and negative bearing on foreign direct investment in the short to medium term. An elevated risk profile arising from electoral violence can easily lead to subdued economic growth as investments – both local and international – dwindle.”
Moono added that, beyond the negative international reputation the country is gaining as a low grade investment destination, the Zambian currency would, in the midst of electoral crisis be negatively impacted.