All is not well in the state of Denmark…

This has been a week of some significant political upheaval across Zambia. Nurses and doctors have been striking for better pay  leaving most hospital wards closed and the papers filled with stories of people dying for the lack of services. Teachers are now on a sustained course of industrial action leaving many schools closed. The electricity supply has been fragile as weeds infested the main hydro electric turbines and left the country without 30% of its supply. The ruling MMD party which won a close election last year but have to face the ballots again in 2011 have been coming under increasing pressure from a recently united opposition.

A significant source of popular dissatisfaction has been the growing sense of unease that corruption is once again becoming endemic in Zambian government. Recently, the transport minister was forced to resign over irregularities in a contract award and an equally high profile case has been made against an official in the Ministry of Health. He is accused of embezzling over 10 billion kwacha ($2m) of donor aid to purchase luxurious 4×4’s and fund personal property developments. The saga has led to several major donors pausing their activities pending a major review by the audit office.

Zambia does not feel like an overtly corrupt country, at least to they eyes and wallet of a privileged outsider. There are no regular shake downs at roadblocks and interactions with state departments (whilst tedious and time consuming) do not usually have to include a lubricating cash injection. Yet the country ranks 115th of 180 on the Transparency International corruption index. The last president Mwanawasa, who died in office in 2008, did not command adoring crowds whilst in office but is now posthumously lionised for his probity and drives against corruption.

Zambia has had a remarkably peaceful political history. Since gaining independence in 1964 there have been no major wars and only one very minor attempted coup. Kenneth Kaunda (KK) took power peacefully back then and to his everlasting credit handed it over in the same manner when the populace demanded it in 1991. Shockingly, this made him the first post-independence African leader to willingly go to the polls. Watching the funeral ceremonies for Omar Bongo of Gabon this week (who took power only three years after KK) you appreciate that many African leaders still leave office by one route only – the coffin.

So its very hard to say exactly what will happen next. To be sure people are unhappy with their lot as inflation, recession and corrpution fill their newspapers and lighten their wallets and yet there is a long tradition of peaceful if unhappy acceptance of the many hardships  Zambians have had to endure. In the immortal words of Buffalo Springfield – there’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear…

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  1. […] between The Post and President Banda’s government have taken a decidedly darker turn. During the recent health worker strike, an expectant mother was forced to give birth to her child in the car park of the hospital. The […]

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