By JOWIT SALUSEKI –
AS the country bids farewell to 2021, it is time to look at the highlights that made headlines in the media.
With the COVID -19 now in its second year, on January 8, Zambia reported 1,029 new COVID-19 infections and 18 deaths in one of the highest daily spikes and deaths since the outbreak of the pandemic.
On February 12, then President Edgar Lungu addressed the Fifth Session of the 12 th National Assembly on the progress made in the application of values and principles in the country.
On February 28, Chaminuka Nature and Wildlife Reserve owner Andrew Sardanis died aged 89.
Mr Sardanis who was born and educated in Cyprus, worked as a journalist and moved to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) in 1950.
He participated in Zambia’s independence liberation movement and played a major role in the first administration of the country.
After a business career that took him to almost all the sub-Saharan countries in Africa, Mr Sardanis later resigned to take care of the Chaminuka Nature and Wildlife Reserve.
On March 25, Zambia failed to qualify to the Africa Cup of Nations (AfCON) for the third time in a row, after playing to a 3 all draw against reigning champions – Algeria – at Heroes Stadium in Lusaka.
On April 14, 2021, then Health Minister Jonas Chanda officially launched the COVID-19 vaccination at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Lusaka.
This was after Zambia received the first consignment of 228,000 doses of the vaccine from the COVAX facility, a global initiative representing a partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO) and Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).
Others were the United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), working on the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
The voluntary COVID-19 vaccination exercise in the country was initially targeting a total of 8.4 million people above the age of 18 years.
Other co-operating partners have since come on board after the re-launch of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign by President Hakainde Hichilema in Lusaka.
This was after his election to the presidency.
On June 17, Zambia’s founding President Kenneth Kaunda died aged 97.
He was buried on July 7 in Lusaka at the Embassy Park.
On August 30, the Ministry of Higher Education as well as the National Science and Technology of Zambia organized a webinar on the contribution of Dr Kaunda to higher education, science and technology in Zambia and South Africa.
The webinar served to commemorate and put into context the contribution of President Kaunda in the domain of higher Education, Science and Technology in the two countries.
On August 12, Zambians went to the polls to cast their votes in general elections.
The political landscape was dominated by two parties, the then ruling party the Patriotic Front (PF), led by Edgar Lungu, and the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), led by Hakainde Hichilema.
After a tense election, Mr Hichilema of UPND emerged as winner of the presidential election
with a million more votes than the incumbent.
The 2021 general elections were held during a period of heightened political tension, economic challenges and arguably shrinking democratic space.
The political scene during the election period was characterized by pockets of violence, misinformation and hate speech, particularly by political party leaders and their supporters from the PF and UPND.
Aside from the political environment and the shrinking democratic space, economic hardships played a significant role in the election victory of the UPND.
In the last few years, Zambia has experienced a sharp economic decline due to fluctuations in prices, the impact of climate change, high foreign debt and unsustainable fiscal policies, high inflation and mismanagement of public resources.
The COVID-19 pandemic further worsened the economic situation, pushing the country’s economy into recession.
The promise of the UPND was premised on economic restructuring to improve the country’s economic outlook and to sustainably manage the debt levels, provide employment and to reduce commodity prices.
The atmosphere on Election Day was generally peaceful and calm, although some parts of the country recorded incidents of violence.
Out of an estimated 18 million Zambians, the total number of registered voters was 7,023,499 – of whom 70.61 per cent turned up to vote.
It was arguably the highest voter turnout in recent years.
Although no official report has been drawn up, the country experienced an Internet shutdown
on Election Day, with some sections of society claiming that the move was orchestrated by the government to restrict and limit information and dissemination of election results.
Pre-election activities were also characterised by shrinking democratic space, closure of media houses, censoring of public opinion, lack of transparency and restriction of opposition political parties to mobilize and gather, which was partly attributed to COVID-19 restrictions.
On September 28, Simon Zukas, one of Zambia’s independence heroes and most admired figures, died aged 96.
Mr Zukas was one of the proponents of the reintroduction of multi-party politics who held several positions in the MMD government.
On October 21, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) announced that the Joint Investigative Team from the ACC, Zambia Police, Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) and the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) had concluded investigations involving Margaret Chisela Musonda.
Ms Musonda, a journalist, was found in possession of K65,333,046 and US$ 57,900, which was discovered in a house in New Kasama in Lusaka.
She was later to forfeit the property and money to the State after an amnesty.
On October 28, Zambia’s former President Micheal Sata was remembered during a memorial service in Lusaka.
The event was almost overshadowed by placard carrying supporters of firebrand politician Chishimba Kambwili who were showing their solidarity for him to take over the PF presidency from Mr Lungu.
On December 16, authorities in Zambia increased the price of fuel after removing subsidies on petroleum products to resort to a cost reflective price of the commodity.
The pump price of petrol was increased to K21.16 per litre from K17.62 per litre, while diesel price rose to K20.15 per litre from K15.59 per litre.
This was according to a statement issued by the Energy Regulation Board (ERB).
The justification was that the old pump prices had been kept artificially low since December 2019 despite movements in international oil prices and depreciation of the local currency, the Kwacha.
Earlier in December, Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane said an International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme to try to get the country’s global debt mountain back under control would include removing unsustainable subsidies on energy.
In the same month, the IMF and Zambia reached a staff level agreement on a $1.4 billion, three-year extended credit facility.
On December 20, Health Minister Sylvia Masebo announced that the country has entered into the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic following a surge in a number of positive cases.
These and many other events made headlines in the 2021.