With Zambia’s First Female VP Hope Grows For Gender Equality

With Zambia’s First Female VP Hope Grows For Gender Equality

In January, only about a third of the registered voters in Zambia’s presidential election turned up to choose  a new leader for the landlocked central African country.

Results summarized from the country’s 150 constituencies by the Electoral Commission of Zambia showed that the then Defense Minister Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front (PF) party had defeated businessman and politician Hakainde Hichilema of the opposition United Party for National Development in a tight political contest.

While Africa’s second largest copper producer and the eighth biggest producer in the world, Zambia’s economy faces some heavy challenges in the post-Sata era due to falling global copper prices in the last two years, voices of hope have been echoed as the country’s first female vice-president was appointed.

What seems a positive development is the appointment of Inonge Wina, former minister of gender and child development, as vice president and Irene Mambilima, as chief justice.

“Although Lungu’s cabinet does not have a high gender record with only four women, Wina’s position will no doubt strengthen the status of women, as in the history of the country it is the highest ranking female position so far,” Agnes Ngoma, a University of Florida senior lecturer and outreach director at the Center for African Studies, told AFKInsider.

Wina’s appointment is not the first in Africa. She follows in the footsteps of Liberia’s current president Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf and immediate former Malawi president Joyce Banda.

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“Wina appointment”

“The situation in Zambia is a good sign that women are beginning to take leadership roles not only in business but also in political circles,”Denise Kodhe, executive director of the Institute for Democracy and Leadership in Africa, told AFKInsider.

“Although the political terrain in Africa is hard, harsh and not very conducive to participation by many women, I am happy that women are weathering and the trend is changing and many women are now daring to go and try, despite the difficulties and challenges,” Kodhe said.

Although Goran Hyden, Emeritus Professor at the Center for African Studies of the University of Florida, acknowledged that “the Wina family has always been prominent and influential in Zambian politics and it is nice to see that this time it is a female member rather than the males that have been chosen,” relatively few decision-making positions are held by women.

More than one in 10 women aged 15 to 49 have had no education while 42 percent of women working in Zambia are either paid in kind or not paid at all, according to Ian Taylor, a professor at the School of International Relations at St. Andrews University in Scotland. “So, Wina’s appointment needs to be put in context,” Taylor told AFKInsider.

Wina’s position will no doubt strengthen the status of women, Ngoma said.

However, it’s also worth noting that the present administration will have less than two years in office before the next general election so its performance may be limited.

External actors

Zambia is still desperate for investment and its economy heavily depends on natural resources that is mostly utilized by external actors.

China, for instance, has developed a strong interest in Zambia’s natural treasures, and Sino-Zambian relations look very promising and are likely to improve after Sata’s death. Sata heavily criticized the Chinese for their business practices, in particular labor conditions.

“Census data show that about 100,000 Chinese live and more than 500 Chinese companies are engaged in farming, retail trade, pharmacies, hospitals, information and communication technologies as well as road-building, mining and manufacturing in Zambia. This is likely to continue and deepen,”said Taylor.

“The days of Sata using the Chinese as a political football seem to be over fortunately,”

There will still, however, be problems as Chinese behavior in the country is mostly “unregulated by the Chinese government and the corrupt nature of many Zambian officials means that misbehaving Chinese can bribe bureaucrats and get away. This is only likely to fuel a lingering suspicion about the Chinese,” concluded Taylor.

All these issues are expected to stay high on the political agenda in the new presidency, which now has a more female face, which may contribute to the resolution of some of the tensions and also to the launch of proper policy responses to crucial economic questions.

Istvan Tarrosy is assistant professor of political science and director of the Africa Research Center at the University of Pecs, Hungary. He is Fulbright Alumnus (2013-14) at the Center for African Studies, University of Florida. He is co-editor of “The African State in a Changing Global Context, Breakdowns and Transformations” (Berlin, 2010) and editor of “Afrika Tanulmanyok,” the Hungarian journal of African Studies.