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African turmoil? Zambian president doesn’t think so

March 8, 2011

AFRICAINVEST-SUMMIT/ZAMBIA-POLITICS/One of the big questions at the Reuters Africa summit has been what impact the turmoil in North Africa is going to have south of the Sahara – something we’ve looked at on this blog too.

Zambian President Rupiah Banda doesn’t expect much on the political front, at least not in his country.

As he put it to us at the Reuters offices in Johannesburg: “We have gone through that period long before.”

“In 1991, the Zambian people removed the one party state, they moved towards multi-party democracy.”

“If someone stood up today and said let’s remove this government, I think the Zambian people would say ‘Why do we have to run the risk of burning this country when we are going to have elections this year?’”

Zambia was one of the first countries to take the multiparty route when protests to demand democracy erupted across the continent after the Cold War.

It is widely seen as one of the better examples of a functioning multiparty system. There are plenty of examples of countries south of the Sahara where reforms didn’t really happen in the early 1990s or since.

As Banda pointed out, openness can have its downside too – such as what you read about yourself in the press.

“They even call me Rupiah and you know for an African when you are an old man you don’t want to be called by your first name. They do that to make me feel the pain,” he said.

“I decided I am a democrat and I have to allow people to speak, allow people to say what they want and many times they say it to their own detriment. Because when I hear them, if there is something good in what they are saying, I implement it so that they have nothing to say.”

Banda said he was confident of winning this year’s presidential election by a bigger margin than in 2008 despite efforts by his opponents to unite against him.

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