CW 31/2021: Power battles
Press Review 31 July 2021 to 6 August 2021

Election campaign in Zambia continues to intensify

A few days before the start of the presidential election on 12 August, political tensions in Zambia continue to rise. On 1 August, the incumbent president Edgar Lungu authorised the deployment of the army, the air force and the civil defence to support the police in stopping the escalating violence. Earlier on Saturday, two ruling party members of the Patriotic Front (PF) were killed in an attack on the PF election campaign camp in the capital Lusaka. Four suspects were arrested and, according to local police, are believed to be members of the rival opposition United Party for National Development (UPND). As in the 2016 election, candidates Edgar Lungu (PF) and Hakainde Hichilema (UPND) are competing against each other for the presidency. For the 59-year-old Hichilema, it is already his sixth candidacy. In 2016, 64-year-old Lungu won with a narrow majority of more than 50% of the vote against his rival who had just under 48% of the vote. A similarly close result is expected this year. Many sections of the population are dissatisfied with the government in view of rising food prices and unemployment. The outcome of the election seems open. However, there are doubts about the free and fair conduct of the election. Amnesty International, for example, published a report on 28 June 2021 in which considerable concerns were expressed about the human rights situation in Zambia in the run-up to the election. The opposition also complained of favouritism towards the ruling party and the incumbent president throughout the election campaign. For example, the air force had banned Hichilema from travelling around the country for the election campaign and the police had banned opposition rallies, citing the Covid situation, while rallies of the ruling party had been allowed. Against the background of the now authorised military operation, the opposition is also complaining about the instrumentalisation of the security forces in favour of the government apparatus.

New parliament sworn in South Sudan

After long negotiations, hundreds of delegates to South Sudan’s newly formed national parliament were sworn in last Monday. A total of 588 delegates from both the ruling party and former rebel groups were appointed to the parliament. The formation of the parliament is seen as a crucial part of the peace deal signed in Addis Ababa in 2018 by President Salva Kiir and current Vice President Riek Machar. Since the still very young state was able to achieve independence from Sudan in 2011, political disputes, border conflicts and economic crises have characterised the country. At the end of 2013, this led to a civil war between the supporters of Salva Kiir of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Sudan People’s Liberation movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO), to which Riek Machar belongs. The five-year civil war further worsened the situation in the country, so that to date some 8.3 million of the 13 million inhabitants are dependent on humanitarian aid. The signed 2018 peace agreement provides for both the Revitalised Transitional National Legislative Assembly (R-TNLA) and the Council of States to be reconstituted to include all signatories to the peace agreement. Together, the two bodies form the Transitional National Legislature (TNL), the parliament. The swearing-in of parliament took place one year later than originally planned. With 650 MPs, the House of Representatives is expected to be significantly larger than its predecessor with 400 seats, and the necessary expansion of the parliament building has not yet been completed. Meanwhile, 62 MPs stayed away from the swearing-in ceremony for various reasons, including unresolved power-sharing issues in the agreement. Moreover, on the day of the swearing-in, two prominent activists of a coalition of civil organisations mobilising people for a peaceful protest for political change were arrested. Moreover, the SPLM-IO announced on Wednesday that they had sacked Riek Machar as party president, saying he had failed to heed the movement’s vision. In this respect, it remains to be seen to what extent the constitution of parliament can contribute to the political stabilisation of the country.

In other news

Last Wednesday, Ivindo National Park in Gabon was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It is the second natural site in the central African country to be inscribed by UNESCO, following Lopé Park in 2007. The park, which covers almost 300,000 hectares, is known for its extensive biodiversity and is home to several species that are now considered endangered, such as forest elephants, gorillas and chimpanzees. The designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site facilitates the protection of the area through funding and allows the park to gain greater visibility. Overall, however, Gabon’s designation is an exception for the African continent. Less than 9% of UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located in Africa – in comparison, almost half of the 1154 World Heritage Sites are located in Europe.

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