SHAPI SHACINDA
Lusaka

ZAMBIA, one of Africa’s biggest success stories under late President Levy Mwanawasa, faces political and economic uncertainty as the race heats up to replace him.
Rifts are widening in the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), which only narrowly beat the opposition at the last election, raising questions over policies appreciated by donors and investors in Africa’s top copper producer.
More than a dozen candidates are vying to lead the party into a presidential vote in November to succeed Mwanawasa, whose burial was on Wednesday.
Investors hope Zambia’s new leadership will stick to Mwanawasa’s fiscal discipline, which won him praise from Western donors and billions of dollars in debt relief.
In a sign of concerns over economic policies, the head of the Chamber of Zambian Mines (CZM) called on the government this week to ensure the investment environment remains stable.
’’I see possible cracks after the burial of Mwanawasa because he was like a coating of paint hiding the cracks that have always existed in the party,’’ said Bennett Siamwiza, of the University of Zambia.
Some of the shine is also coming off Zambia’s economic performance. The kwacha has lost six per cent of its value against the dollar since Mwanawasa’s death, mostly due to political uncertainty although also the stronger greenback.
Finance Minister Ng’andu Magande, among those contesting the leadership, said the current inflation rate of 13.2 per cent was far above the target of seven per cent by December.
On paper, Magande is well qualified to steer Zambia’s economy. He was Mwanawasa’s point man on pulling in more foreign investors to the key mining industry. But analysts say he does not have enough grassroots support.
The other top contender, acting president Rupiah Banda, has held many diplomatic posts. But he is not an MMD insider.
’’(Banda) is a man of integrity but I don’t think he can hold the MMD together because he is considered an outsider and was only brought in the MMD for political expedience,’’ said Bennett Siamwiza, a University of Zambia historian.
Others in the frame are Home Affairs Minister Ronnie Shikapwasha, a former pilot, prominent lawyer Wila Mung’omba, a former IMF official, and Health Minister Brian Chituwo, a retired army officer and medical doctor.
The divisions within the ruling party could cost the ruling party ground to main opposition leader Michael Sata — who narrowly lost to Mwanawasa in 2006 presidential polls — particularly if infighting gets worse.
Sata has criticised the government’s pro-business policies and crucial Chinese investments in Zambia, saying the money does not improve the lives of millions of impoverished Zambians.
Oliver Saasa, of Zambia’s Premier Consult, said the ruling party risks scaring investors away.
’’If this leads to a split then it will not be good for the country because investors who want to come in and those that have already invested here will take a wait-and-see position,’’ he said.
Zambia’s economic track should still reassure investors, said Razia Khan, head of Africa research at Standard Chartered.
The economy has averaged 5 per cent growth over the last six years. Inflation declined to single digits in 2006 for the first time in over three decades, although it has accelerated recently on higher global fuel and food prices.
Non-mining foreign investment is expected to climb to $3bn in 2008 from $1.4bn in 2007, Treasury data shows.
’’The government was keen to do all the right things. There are unlikely to be any huge risks,’’ said Khan.
Zambia’s democracy after years of one-party rule could cushion any political upheaval, said Professor Steven Friedman, political analyst at the University of Johannesburg. But he took a cautious view.
’’Whenever something like this opens up and you don’t have a clear succession, it’s not automatic who will take over then you are always going to test that stability,’’ he said.
On the foreign policy front, where Zambia has taken a tough stand on Zimbabwe’s crisis, few changes are expected if the ruling party keeps power.
Mwanawasa set himself apart from other African leaders by speaking out against Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe over the political and economic troubles spilling over into the region.
’’It will be a betrayal of our late president to make a u-turn because it’s good for Zimbabwe and the region that we all maintain democracy,’’ said government spokesman Mike Mulongoti.
’’We did not help Zimbabwe to get independence so that they can clone white oppression with a black one.’’
The outlook could be different under Sata. He has praised Mugabe and analysts say the Zimbabwean leader could look to Sata as an ally if he takes over.
But all issues are now taking a back seat to the political manoeuvring and analysts say that could be costly.
’’The ruling party and the opposition were aware of the fact that President Mwanawasa was ill,’’ said Nel Marais of Executive Research Associates consultancy.
’’But there wasn’t really a clear strategy on the side of the ruling party on how to deal with this.’’

Source: This Day

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