Saturday, August 6, 2011

Current Events Here and There

Zambia will hold a presidential election September 20. The incumbent President, Rupiah Banda, is running for re-election. He succeeded to the presidency three years ago in a special election after the death of the third Zambian President, Levy Mwanawasa. However, his candidacy for the office is now being challenged. The issue is his parentage. His opponent claims Banda's father was born in Malawi.

Why should it make a difference where his parents were born? It does, and that's an interesting story.

After independence in 1964, Zambia had a one-party system. The first President, Kenneth Kaunda, served for 27 years before he lost his office in the first contested election. Candidates from the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) have won every election since then, although in the last election the Patriotic Front (PF) candidate came quite close to winning.

Once in power, the second President, Chaluba, was interested in securing his position. He therefore wrote an odd provision into the constitution he was drafting, and which was later adopted. It required that the parents of any candidate for the office of the President must have been born in Zambia. It was widely understood that the reason for this criterion was to prevent Kauanda, the former President, from running again. Kaunda's parents were born in nearby Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Now that constitutional provision is being used to question whether Banda, the incumbent, can be a legitimate candidate for election. One of his parents was allegedly born in Malawi. Banda has denied this, saying that his father only worked in Malawi as a casual laborer, but was born in territory now part of Zambia. His opponent has brought forth a challenge, and the court must decide in the next few days, before the ballot papers are due to be printed. Since this issue was not raised the first time he ran, just after Mwanawasa's death, I doubt that the court will decide for the challenger...but who knows?

Andy used to say that legislation based on one case was usually a bad idea. It may make the party in power feel good, but it often has unanticipated consequences later on. Banda tried to get the constitution changed with respect to this provision, but Parliament did not approve his request.

The other current events I have been following relate to the budget deficit battles back home in America. BBC has quite good coverage, and it is interesting to listen to commentators from another country as they try to understand and critique our system. They are knowledgeable and good critics, but sometimes seem puzzled by the degree of acrimony and pig-headed uncooperativeness they witness in Congress and between the GOP leadership and the President.

From my place of distance, I think there is a lot of "fear-mongering" going on in America in the popular media. Yes, it is too bad that Standard & Poor's has downgraded our credit rating from AAA to AA+, but since when is Standard &
Poor’s such a good judge of creditworthiness? They gave all those sub-prime financial instruments [that are now recognized as junk bonds] AAA ratings! And I agree with the BBC commentator who said he found their declaration that we need to reduce Medicare outlays offensive. It is not their role to recommend policy directions, and if it were, how about recommending reducing spending on the wars, which are a major drain on our economy and the source of 35% of our debt?

What we need is more revenue (tax the wealthy again) and more investment in recovery. Unemployment benefits need to be extended, given the reality of the shortage of jobs. That money goes right back into the economy in purchases of goods and services. The extremely wealthy tend to save, or to spend on things like a second house, which does not stimulate the economy as much as buying food and gas and daily need items. The ever-growing gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots"--or, really, between the upper 10-20% and the rest of the people, is not only wrong, but I believe that it is dangerous.

We don't see such dramatic differences here in Zambia. Yes, there may be some wealthy Zambians, but I have never encountered one. There is a small middle class and mostly poor people helping each other and their families as much as they can. Sometimes they can't, and we have child-headed families and street kids and abandoned elders, but not by choice.

Living in a place where there is more equality feels good, even if the standard of living is low. We all feel as if we are in it together.

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