Zambian Election Marks Africa's Democratic Shift Vote Was One of Continent's Most Peaceful Transitions to Democracy

By John Battersby, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 4, 1991 | Go to article overview

Zambian Election Marks Africa's Democratic Shift Vote Was One of Continent's Most Peaceful Transitions to Democracy


John Battersby, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE landslide electoral defeat of Kenneth Kaunda's ruling party in a peaceful ballot over the weekend could mark the turning point in Africa's march to democracy.

The democracy movement in Africa is picking up the momentum of the tide that swept governments from power in Eastern Europe two years ago, a Western diplomat says.

Western diplomats predict that Kenya, Malawi, and Zimbabwe will be the first nations to feel the spin-off effects of the Zambian poll. The vote could also speed up faltering transitions to democracy in Angola, South Africa, and Mozambique.

"It will be much more difficult for oppressors to keep people oppressed after what has happened here," said former United States President Jimmy Carter, who headed an international monitoring team that declared the Zambian ballot "free and fair."

President Frederick Chiluba's Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) crushed the ruling United National Independence Party (UNIP) by winning at least 124 of the 150 parliamentary seats after surprisingly low voter turnout of less than 50 percent. Kaunda was confident

Dr. Kaunda, who had led the country since independence in 1964, appeared confident of a landslide victory until polling day, which bolstered his critics' charges that he had lost touch with the nation he founded 27 years ago.

The significance of the Zambian poll lies in the fact that it was the culmination of one of the most peaceful transitions to democracy in Africa. It is the first former British colony to change its head of state through democratic elections - and one of only a handful ever to have done so.

Mr. Chiluba garnered 76 percent of the presidential vote against Kaunda's 24 percent. The extent of the MMD'S victory surpassed even its most optimistic predictions.

Zambia joins eight other African states which are classified as democratic by Richard Joseph, director of the African Governance Program at the Carter Center of Emory University. Impact on Africa

The Zambian transition is going to have more of an impact on Africa than any other that has taken place on the continent, said Mr. Joseph, a leading member of Mr. Carter's monitoring team.

According to the Center, 30 African states are in the process of transition to democracy, and only six qualify as "authoritarian systems in which rulers have no accountability.

Carter has appealed to the Bush administration to reward Zambia's commitment to democracy by targeting it as a priority nation for United States aid.

"I hope that my government will take the leadership in calling on the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the lending institutions to move boldly to give Zambia assistance - not handouts," Carter said.

"I think this would be an investment which would pay rich dividends ... to see democracy strengthened here," he added. He also called for Zambia's $8 billion in foreign debt to be written off.

Foreign investment would enable Chiluba to show early benefits in the pitiful state of Zambia's schools and hospitals.

International monitoring teams, which included a Commonwealth team and a group of British jurists, played a key role in ensuring a fair ballot. …

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