JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka
LUSAKA City needs a mayor, who will it be?Two years after electing its first-ever executive mayor, Lusaka residents will on July 26 go back to the voting booth to elect another mayor to replace Wilson Kalumba, who died in office last month.
A mayoral by-election is unprecedented in Zambia. Before the Constitution Amendment of 2016, a mayor was elected from among the elected councillors, and in case of vacancy before the term ended, the decision to fill the position was left to the councillors.
And before the constitutional amendment, the office of mayor was largely ceremonial rather than functional.
On Tuesday, nine candidates filed nominations to run for mayor, promising to tackle the many challenges facing the city of Lusaka.
And the job description of the executive mayor is one that is rehashed by the two million-plus Lusaka resident – clean drinking water, good roads and clean environments.
It is an endless list of needs.
For motorists, it is gridlocked roads.
Initially designed for a smaller population in 1935, Lusaka city now needs transformation to accommodate its over two million residents.
And Lusaka City was billed to be the garden city, with tree-lined streets and well-manicured lawns, but it is a visionary image that has never really being realised.
And now, the city is still recovering from one of its worst cholera outbreaks, which claimed over 70 lives.
It had to take presidential orders and a battalion of soldiers to clear the streets of vendors and tonnes of garbage.
But the garbage is slowly beginning to pile up again, and in some streets, the vendors are slowly creeping back.
And without doubt, one of the biggest problems facing Lusaka is the growth of unplanned settlements and slums, which come with a myriad socioeconomic challenge.
As the mayoral candidates hit the campaign trail in the next four weeks, these are some the issues they will be promising to address.
Political scientist Dr Alex Ng’oma says the position of executive mayor is a serious job and this is no time to experiment.
“I think it is important to appreciate the fact the position of executive mayor is function and requires somebody who is mature, someone who is knowledgeable, ideas and experience to be able to meet the various challenges head on. This is not time to experiment,” he says.
Dr Ng’oma says Mr Kalumba left big shoes to fill, not only because of his high academic credentials and work experience, but because of his vision.
Mr Kalumba’s vision for Lusaka city was clearly stated in his curriculum vitae; he wanted a council that is “Responsive to the needs, interests and aspirations of individuals and stakeholders within its community…and seek to ensure that council resources are used prudently and distributed equitably.”
Mr Kalumba had proposed ideas such as collecting revenue for garbage collection through airtime purchases, although the idea was strongly opposed by the residents.
He also talked about methods such as cremation of bodies as a way of skating around the problem of diminishing burial land in the city.
That proposal must still be in the in-tray in some office somewhere.
Dr Ng’oma says the candidates must be honest with themselves and ensure that they have what it takes to be Lusaka city mayor.
But he also has a warning for the voters to avoid voting on party lines as that may be detrimental to development.
Dr Ng’oma also says the government must be willing to work with whoever will be elected as mayor.
“Our country is a democracy and it requires that the person who becomes mayor works well with the government of the day regardless of whether this person comes from the opposition. And I want to encourage the government of the day that just in case an opposition candidate won the position as mayor for the city of Lusaka, it is important to refrain from saying this person is from another political party so we won’t support him. That would be undemocratic, it would be like insulting the people who voted for that person,” he says.
Dr Ng’oma also thinks the mayoral election will be a litmus test for the political parties and could foretell something about the 2021 general elections.
But he fears there may be voter apathy.
“I encourage the Electoral Commision of Zambia and the civil society to mount serious campaigns to encourage people to vote because have voted many times and there might be voter fatigue,” he says.
Lusaka has about 840,000 registered voters, and in the 2016 general elections, 464,615 voted in the mayoral election, representing 55.38 percent.
Mr Kalumba polled 270,161 votes to win the seat, followed by his closest rival, the UPND’s Maureen Mwanawasa who had 150,807 votes.
The mayoral race in 2016 had attracted eight candidates, with four standing as independents.
The candidates are:
Lesley Chikuse – Republic Progressive Party candidate
Saboi Imboela – National Democratic Congress
Dr Saviour Chishimba – United Progress People
Madalitso Musukwa – United Prosperous and Peaceful Zambia
Kangwa Chileshe – United Party for National Development
Miles Sampa – Patriotic Front
Mundia Mukubesa – People’s Alliance for Change
Denis Bwalya – National Restoration Party
Rev. Alfred Banda of the United National Independence Party is attempting to become Lusaka mayor for the second time, having stood in 2016. He got 2,854 votes then.
And so who will be the city’s next mayor? Lusaka residents will decide.
JACK ZIMBA, Lusaka