At the end of the summer, presidential elections were held in Zambia. Against expectations, the opposition candidate Hichilema took home the victory and the country became overnight a prime example of a well-functioning, political transition in Africa. - The peaceful transfer of power made me feel very proud to be a Zambian, says Pezo Mateo-Phiri, who works at the Swedish embassy in the capital Lusaka.
On Zambia's election day, August 12 this year, Pezo Mateo-Phiri was in the eastern part of the country - in the Malambo constituency. The atmosphere was calm and peaceful when she, like 70 percent of the population, queued to cast her vote. In addition to a few cases of violence, the election went smoothly, confirms among other things Al Jazeera.
After six years in power, President Edgar Lungu lost the presidential election to opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema. This is despite the fact that experts before the election predicted that Lungu would remain in power, says Sofia Hallqvist, Zambia warden at the Foreign Policy Evening and former intern at the Swedish embassy in Zambia.
- Before the election, many were quite pessimistic, but among my friends who are young Zambians, there was a sense of hope. They kind of felt that something was about to change in the country, she says.
The voices of young people are crucial
It was mainly the young people's voices that made Hichilema win over Lungu. Over half of all votes came from people under the age of 40, according to Al Jazeera. One reason why Hichilema is so popular with young people is because he is not only a politician, but also the businessman from the countryside who made a career in housing market, tourism and healthcare.
- It is important for the young population to have a president who knows how to handle money, says Sofia Hallqvist.
With his United Party for National Development (UPND), Hichilema went to the polls with the promise to save Zambia from the economic crisis in which the country finds itself. During the years with Lungu as president, the country was shaken by corruption scandals that contributed to Zambia now having huge debts . The new president Hichilema is said to have been shocked when he saw the treasury for the first time, enligt BBC. It turned out that Lungu had not been completely honest about how empty it actually was.
Negative democratic development before the election
Pezo Mateo-Phiri, who is in the capital Lusaka on a daily basis where she works as a program manager at the Swedish embassy, believes that Zambia, in addition to the economic crisis, has had a negative democratic development in recent years.
- Above all, freedom of expression has been threatened. Police violence has become more common. Before the election, we were on our way to a lawless society, she says.
With Hichilema in power, Pezo Mateo-Phiri and Sofia Hallqvist hope for change in the opposite direction. In speaking to the nation, the new president has promised to his government must safeguard democracy and human rights.
- Hichilema definitely seems more progressive than Lungu. For example, he wants more Zambian women to have leadership positions in society, says Sofia Hallqvist.
Swedish development assistance promotes democracy
Pezo Mateo-Phiri says that the Swedish embassy played a certain role in the positive development of democracy that the election brought with it. Through funding from Sida, they have supported both the Zambian Electoral Commission and civil society organizations working to strengthen voter turnout among women and young people.
But when it comes to democracy and human rights, both Sofia Hallqvist and Pezo Mateo-Phiri agree that it is still too early to know how much of what Hichilema says is just words and how much will actually be turned into action.
However, the new president already seems to be fighting corruption. It was recently reported that Zambia's Commission against Corruption has arrested a number of government officials for allegations of corruption.
Jump to the rest of Africa
Global Bar Magazine mean that the peaceful change of power in Zambia has given some hope to democracy in neighboring Uganda and Tanzania, which has become more and more totalitarian in recent years. According to the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), that hope could spread to the entire continent.
- Zambia's presidential election provides important lessons for Africa and for all of us about the importance of strengthening democratic institutions, type USIP in an article.
Pezo Mateo-Phiri agrees.
"Zambia has shown the rest of Africa that peaceful transfers of power are possible and that the democratic power of young people is to be reckoned with," she concludes.