Zambia is on edge ahead of its elections, slated for tomorrow. The Wall Street Journal:
Supporters of the rival candidates in what has long been one of Africa’s most stable democracies have repeatedly clashed on the streets, forcing a 10-day halt to campaigning in the capital Lusaka in July. Hundreds of additional police officers have been deployed in flashpoint regions to combat violence. Officials at the presidency say the military has also been put on high alert. […]
Nearly a quarter of Zambia’s 6.7 million voters live in several mining towns along its northern border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Once the engine of the country’s double-digit economic growth, the copper industry is now grappling with spiraling unemployment and rising social tensions.
Amid a broader decline in commodity prices, copper has fallen to six-year lows, aggravating the impact of an El Niño-induced drought and a crippling electricity crisis. Mines have cut thousands of jobs and several food manufacturers have closed. Growth has collapsed to the lowest level in two decades and inflation has surged past 20%.
African development, which is real in both economic and social terms, is a much more explosive and destabilizing process than Afro-optimists understand. Countries that aren’t undergoing development don’t have copper mines that go bust when foreign economies slow, don’t have large masses of urban workers whose fortunes are tied to the money economy (as opposed to subsistence farmers living off the land)—and also don’t have the politicized social networks and information flows that generate ethnic chauvinism and religious conflict.
The fact that Zambia is facing these headwinds also underscores the fragile nature of the happy-clappy democratization narrative that the foreign aid lobby keeps trying to sell. Though conditions vary enormously from country to country, African state institutions tend to be weak, and social and ethnic pressures tend to be strong. Africans, not well-intentioned outside consultants, will have to solve the resulting problems, and it is unlikely that they will always find peaceful, win-win solutions that please the Western human rights community.