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Published: Wednesday, 10/5/2011


Zambia's success


Presidential elections last week in the southern African nation of Zambia illustrate that democracy does work in some countries of that continent.

Michael Sata, running for president for the fourth time, defeated incumbent Rupiah Banda, who had been elected in 2008, with 43 percent of the vote to Mr. Banda's 36 percent. Mr. Sata thus became Zambia's fifth president since independence in 1964. All of his predecessors, including Kenneth Kaunda, regarded as the father of his country, stepped down from office voluntarily after elections or left by natural death.

Democratic success does not mean that all is well in Zambia. The nation of 14 million since independence has depended too much on the sale of copper, a mineral notorious for its price fluctuations, leading to a perpetually uncertain financial situation. There have been periods when Zambia produced copper at a loss but kept the mines open because of the importance of the employment the industry provides.

A current problem is conditions in its Chinese-managed coal mines. Last year, Chinese employees fired on Zambians protesting working conditions there. Charges were dropped against the Chinese. A sign of possible trouble is the fact that Mr. Sata, a sometimes fiery speaker, based his campaign in part on a promise to keep the Chinese in line.

The admirable five-decade record of Zambia, which was Northern Rhodesia before independence, in holding successful democratic elections stands in stark contrast to that of Zimbabwe, the former Southern Rhodesia. Zimbabwe continues to be ruled by President Robert Mugabe, an 87-year-old tyrant who has been in charge of that country of 12 million since independence in 1980. He will be succeeded, most likely, only upon his death.

Zimbabwe started out with better economic prospects than Zambia. It inheriting a mixed economy that included commercial agriculture, light manufacturing, and minerals. Mismanagement of the economy by Mr. Mugabe's government, including destructive punitive measures against Zimbabwe's white farmers and violent, tribally based repression of its minority Ndebele people by Mr. Mugabe's majority Shona tribe, has left the country in misery and shambles.

Zambia shows what can be done in Africa. Zimbabwe shows what remains to be done.

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