In a political thunderbolt, Zambians voting in their first multi-party democratic election in 23 years unseated President Kenneth D. Kaunda, the country’s only leader through its 27 years of independence.
His opponent, Frederick Chiluba, said at a news conference in Lusaka, the Zambian capital, that Kaunda phoned him Friday night to congratulate him on his victory in Thursday’s voting, news agencies reported from Lusaka.
“He has conceded defeat and promised to cooperate with us,” Chiluba said.
Election results, monitored by a team of international observers, including former President Jimmy Carter, showed that the opposition Movement for Multiparty Democracy won a majority of parliamentary seats, defeating Kaunda’s United National Independence Party, which has ruled Zambia since 1964 and had been the only legal political party since 1972.
Chiluba, 46, is the founder and head of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, which was legalized only last December after public demonstrations and riots shook the confidence of Kaunda’s party. Chiluba, a labor leader long active in opposition politics, once was jailed by Kaunda for his political activity.
Perhaps more important, the election stands as the most important victory so far for multi-party democracy in mainland sub-Saharan Africa, not least because Thursday’s voting was conducted peacefully without any of the chaos and rioting that have marred such exercises in Gabon, Senegal and Ivory Coast.
Zambian voters cast ballots for the president and for the National Assembly. With nearly one-third of the vote counted, the Associated Press reported from Lusaka, the MMD had captured 34 of 38 seats among 150 parliamentary constituencies. State-controlled radio said 80% of the presidential votes were for Chiluba.
At 67, Kaunda is one of the last of the founding fathers of Africa’s independence era still in power, and the most important African leader unseated by popular vote in a region where change often comes by coup.
Democracy is a key issue in the region because many development officials and Western diplomats argue that Africa’s widespread authoritarianism has contributed heavily to its economic decline and political stagnation.
There may be few better examples of this relationship than Kaunda’s Zambia. In the West and in parts of Africa, Kaunda, twice chairman of the Organization of African Unity and a staunch foe of South African apartheid, has long been hailed as one of the region’s premier statesmen and “peacemakers.” But he has presided over one of Africa’s most dismal economic performances.
At independence, the country had perhaps the most promising future on the continent. Its vast copper reserves gave it one of the highest income levels in the region and the most highly developed industrial infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa. Its 290,500 square miles was mostly devoted to agriculture.
But the Kaunda government squandered almost all of that potential. Today, Zambia ranks near the bottom of Africa’s developmental scale, with all measures of public health, education and agricultural and industrial growth having declined since 1980.
Zambia is a virtual laboratory of African economic maladies, ranging from policies that encourage urbanization at the expense of agricultural development, to a government bureaucracy so cumbersome that a businessman applying for foreign exchange to buy raw materials must get signatures of 13 officials. Each stop, of course, presents a potential for corruption.
For years, Kaunda has blamed Zambia’s decline on external factors. These include the sharp drop in copper prices, exacerbated by the looming exhaustion of Zambia’s mines and the decline in the quality of their output; deliberate destabilization attempts by the apartheid regime of nearby South Africa, which long resented Kaunda’s giving a home to exiled members of the African National Congress; and the harshness of austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund.
But government policies have contributed at least as much to Zambia’s economic decline.
Kaunda’s determination to pacify city dwellers by controlling food prices left farmers unable to make a living by cultivating land. Many migrated from rural areas, making Zambia the most urbanized nation in sub-Saharan Africa, with more than 50% of its population living in cities. The rural districts have become so depopulated that Zambia now imports most of its food.
The subsidization of food through price controls has been so important to urbanites that attempts to raise prices to levels approaching market values have provoked riots.
The International Monetary Fund’s insistence that the government stick to austerity policies, if the Zambian economy was ever to recover, led to Kaunda’s break with the fund in 1987. That move destroyed Zambia’s international credit and sharply reduced foreign investment. It also removed any control over Zambia’s bloated bureaucracy, which had run its industrial base into the ground after most private enterprises were nationalized in the 1960s.
Meanwhile, the government showed itself thoroughly incapable of charting a progressive, independent economic course. More than 90% of Zambia’s exports remain concentrated in one commodity of wasting value--copper--and a series of vaunted economic plans has failed to diversify its trade.
A Look at Zambia
Land: Zambia’s 290,586 square miles is mostly heavily forested high plateau country, drained by several major rivers, including the Zambezi. Larger than Texas, the southern African country is surrounded by Zaire, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Angola.
Population: 8.1 million, mostly Bantu tribe members.
Economy: Natural resources include cobalt, copper, zinc, gold rubber and ivory. Chief crops are corn, tobacco, peanuts, cotton and sugar.
History: As Northern Rhodesia, the country was under the administration of the South Africa Co. from 1911 until 1924, when control of the territory passed to the British government. The office of the governor was established and a legislature was formed. In 1953 it joined with Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (now Malawi), but the federation was dissolved in 1963. Northern Rhodesia became an independent republic within the Commonwealth on Oct. 24, 1964.
As part of a program of government participation in industry, a government corporation in 1970 took over 51% ownership in two foreign-owned copper-mining firms. Privately held lands and other enterprises were nationalized in 1975. In 1980, a decline in copper prices hurt the economy and a severe drought has caused famine.
Food riots erupted in June, 1990, causing the worst violence since independence.
Source: Associated Press, Europa World Yearbook 1991