This morning as most Americans were asleep Zambians headed to the polls to elect either the candidate of the ruling party, Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front founded in 1991 by the late President Michael Sata, or the leading opposition candidate representing the United Party for National Development, Hakainde Hichilema. Political observers say the race is close and there is no definitive leader at this point. Polls close at 6 PM Central African Time Zone.
Zambia one of the leaders on the continent of copper production along with the DRC and both candidates disagree about taxing mining companies that employ many Zambians in the Copper Belt according to Al Jazeera. A contentious subject, Lungu believes the copper companies should be heavily taxed while Hichilema believes taxes on the companies should not increase which could cause mine closures that could in turn hemorrhage workers. As expected, both candidates have promised increased job creation and more aid to poor, rural Zambians across the country, a move that researchers at the London School of Economics say is key to helping elect African politicians. Most African politicians favored overwhelming urban campaigning to curb urban violence during election time, but have quickly learned that re-election proves difficult without the rural vote.
Hichilema is running to increase the number of frontline health workers and to improve training and respecting health workers. The United Party for National Development’s health provisions range from decreasing taxes on health care and medicines and providing free care to poor Zambians to increasing the number of frontline health workers. Of note, the UPND has placed an emphasis on fighting malaria and HIV/AIDS.
The Patriotic Front has created a Health Services Provision that lays out in six parts how the party will improve Zambia’s health care system starting with every Zambian’s right to quality health care. The Patriotic Front is also committed to better education and working conditions for health workers based on the contents of the Provision. It also calls for a realignment of the Mother and Child function.
Health care is an important issue for a country that has a maternal mortality rate of 591 out of 100,000 live births (one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world ) and mortality for children under the age of five is 119 per 1,000 according to UNICEF.
Thus far copper mining, which accounts for more than 86 percent of Zambia’s foreign direct investment and has made Zambia the eighth largest producer of copper, seems to be primary on the political agenda. After the election, only time will tell if health care, particularly maternal and child health, can compete with the copper industry and job creation.