Monday, January 19, 2015

Zambia@Fifty and a big can of worms

Unless you live in Zambia, the 50th anniversary of Zambia's independence from Great Britain on October 24th probably did not make it onto your events calendar.  We celebrated by (1) going to Tanzania and (2) playing "Where's the President?"

Zambia's president was reported to have collapsed at the end of May and from that point onwards he was either out of the country (doing who knows what, the speculation is of course that he was getting medical treatment) or in State House (also doing who knows what because he was only occasionally seen in Zambia).  The rumors were endless and always unconfirmed.  He missed all kinds of major events, INCLUDING all the 50th Jubilee events and celebrations.  One international news outlet reported that Zambia was "sleepwalking into a disaster."  

People who questioned his whereabouts or brought up his health or his ability to run the country were criticised and admonished.  Just like when Zambia's President Mwanawasa collapsed and eventually died in 2008, there was no open conversation or discussion or release of news.  Both of these men lived out their final days in secrecy and without the support, well-wishes and prayers of the public.  

The 50th anniversary celebrations went on without the president on the 24th and finally on the 28th the government released an official statement that the president had died at a hospital in London. It is not known what he died of or really what the last 6 month of his life (as ruling president) were like. It's a big mystery.

One of the big things King Cobra (his nickname) promised when he was elected was to FINALLY roll out a new constitution.  This is something that was desperately needed and something which has still not happened.  One huge, major administrative 'problem' with the current constitution is the issue of SUCCESSION.  The country experienced this first hand in 2008 when the sitting president died and there were many constitutional questions about who would fill his spot.  In 2008 it was a bit less tricky than 2014. The Vice President became acting president and presidential elections were held within 90 days of the president's death as laid out in the constitution. Then, the Acting President became the elected President and he filled that seat for the remainder of that term of office.  The VP position here is an appointed, as opposed to elected, seat.  In 2008 the VP ran for the office of president and won so the transition was relatively uneventful.

In 2014, however, the appointed Vice President was technically (this is debatable and has been endlessly debated without any clear resolution) not eligible for being president.  To complicate matters, when the sitting president was evacuated to the UK a committee appointed a different guy to be acting president.  This detail is important because the president himself did not appoint the dude, a committee did -- and this dude was NOT the VP.  When the president's death was announced it was not even clear who then was the acting president...was it the VP who, by the constitution, slides into that role in the case of the president's death or was it the guy who was put into that role by a committee.  And if the VP could not BE president, could he be even be "acting president?"  

And...if you are not in this country, you are wondering how someone could be appointed as VP who did not meet the constitutional requirements to be President?  This is a bit of a mystery as well.  To complicate things, the VP, a Zambian by all legal definitions - he was born in Zambia in 1944 -- is a white guy.  As you can imagine this fact opens up a whole big can of worms for many many people and this fact (inconsequential to many Zambians actually) was brought out by the international news because suddenly Zambia was "the first African Country to have a white president since F.W. DeKlerk!: (FWdK was South Africa's last Apartheid-era president).  Most Zambians said "Get over it" but the colour of this African's skin was causing some eyebrows to be raised.  Imagine...WHITE Africans? They do exist -- generations of them all over the continent! and 'brown' (asian/indian) africans!  Imagine! (I am being sarcastic but the fact that Africans can be anything but black is really a shock to some people although I am not sure why -- America is not the world's only 'melting pot' and South Africa is not the world's only "rainbow nation.")  

Wikipedia has a funny story:  "In a meeting with former US President George W. Bush*, he said 'when they introduced me as Vice President, he thought they were kidding'."  (*GW is a frequent visitor to Zambia and is very involved personally in community/charity work here).  This is a link to a great article that perhaps I should have just copied instead of blabbing on and on: "I am Africa's First White Democratic Leader."  There is a great photo of the Obamas with Guy and Charlotte -- America's 'black' president and first lady with Zambia's 'white' ones. Love it.

To complicate things, the Z constitution requires that a president's PARENTS also be Zambian 'by birth or descent'.  This is nearly impossible, however, because Zambia only became a country in 1964 so almost no-one who is old enough to run for president was born after 1964 and I don't think anyone who could run for office has parents who are under 50 years old!  So, the past presidents' parents have been Rhodesian, Malawian, Congolese, Angolan or who knows what, but for the White Guy whose parents were Scottish and were not even born in the neighbourhood of Zambia, it was not a detail that people were willing to just gloss over, even if his father moved to what became Zambia way back in 1927 and who served in parliament here, etc.  Blah blah blah. 

And so...Zambia quickly moved from Party Mode, celebrating her 50th to Mourning Period. The triumphant new flags -- freshly stitched and recently raised were just days later lowered to half-staff.  Just as quickly they had to move onto political campaigning.  The VP decided to just 'drop it' already and he is presently sitting at State House as Interim President, and is waiting to see who will take over for the remainder of the term.  He could have contested, he could have run for office but there were far too many obstacles in the way to make it worthwhile personally or politically to drag Zambia thru the mess.  One big thing that again is not discussed is his own ill-health and rumors of advancing/progressing disease.  

In another 18 months, Zambia will do thru it all again because this election is only to fill the seat for the remainder of the term of 2016 there will be another, even bigger election season.


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