Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Friday, October 31, 2008

A great nation goes to the polls

One of the more irritating things about the credit crunch is that it has taken up nearly all of my spare time and energy during a period when I had hoped to be paying attention tothe Zambian elections, which have now as a result almost totally passed me by. Without breaking the "no-US elections" rule, I'll note that it really is no joke having a leader die unexpectedly in office without a proper succession plan - the question of a McCain administration is now probably academic, but if it weren't, I'm sure I'd be cannibalizing some posts about the current situation in post-Mwanawasa Zambia for use in the context of the USA; it's really not a productive situation.

Anyway - basically it's Rupiah Banda against Michael Sata, with Sata looking good in early returns. Banda is the "more of the same" candidate - as I said in my Mwanawasa obituary, this basically means stasis, favourable writeups in the Economist, painfully slow progress toward land reform etc. Although Banda's generally regarded as being a reasonably worthy successor to Mwanawasa's anti-corruption agenda, I suspect that this would basically be a destruction-test of the view that good governance alone can drive development.

Sata, who currently looks like the bookies' favourite, is a little more ... interesting. Basically a populist-loudmouthist, who looks to me like he'd fit in better in South American politics than African. Having run against Mwanawasa on a "kick out the Chinese" ticket in 2006, he is currently trying to soft-pedal this view and play nice with "international investors", and also proposing to privatise a lot of state-owned businesses. He's also made a few interesting-looking promises to traditional leaders in Barotse country, which rather runs against earlier one-Zambia-one-nation rhetoric. He's also got a fair old line in getting his retaliation in first on charges of vote-rigging.

I'm not sure what to make of this - as I said, I'm frustrated by the extent to which I haven't kept up with the campaign news. But in my guts, I'm worried by Sata. Resources booms tend to throw up these kinds of politicians - although the politics are different, I really do see a sort of line drawn through Sata, Chavez and Sarah Palin; the basic model of "chuck a load of resources windfall around and hope nobody notices the massive contradictions" is shared by all three. While I've tended toward a qualified and critical regard for Chavez (mainly because the alternative is so bloody horrible, which it isn't in Zambia), I worry a lot about how this sort of politics ends up when the wheels come off, and suspect that the answer is "not well".

So my guess is that the endgame is that Zambia ends up massively more dependent on China. If China ever gets interested in playing regional politics, Zambia makes a pretty good catspaw or client state in Southern Africa given its geography and history, so maybe that's how it ends up. But I doubt this; as I wrote earlier, as far as I can tell, China regards Africa as being not much more than a lump of copper, cobalt and hydrocarbons, with a thin layer of sand and grass on top and some more or less irrelevant people on top of the grass. How they deal with the election of a nationalist-populist President with a history of playing to anti-China sentiment will be interesting, and worrying, to watch.
3 comments this item posted by the management 10/31/2008 04:30:00 AM

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