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Monday, 24 December, 2001, 21:43 GMT
Kabwe voters put jobs first
Voter education kiosk
Kabwe desperately needs voter education
By the BBC's Richard Lee in Kabwe

The town of Kabwe enjoys a special place in the political history of Zambia.

It was the birthplace of the United National Independence Party (Unip), which ruled the country for the first 27 years after independence.


Apathy is a problem here because politicians have failed to fulfil their promises

Mwiche Songwe
Anti-Voter Apathy Project
However, times have changed and Unip no longer has much support in Kabwe.

Instead, the vote appears to be split between the ruling MMD and a few opposition parties, such as the FDD and Heritage Party. But the eventual outcome is far from clear.

"I am still not sure whether I will vote on December 27th," said taxi driver, Shadrick Banda. "Every party is promising to create new jobs but I have not yet heard any concrete policies that will help all the unemployed people here."

Election boost

Job creation is the major election issue in the town, which lies 138km (86 miles) north of Lusaka.

Kabwe is the capital of the central province and has been badly hit by the country's economic decline, with many industries being forced to shut.

Zambia Mulungushi Garment Company
One textile company has profited from the election

"Most people have no formal job," said Reverend Stanley Mwewa. "The next government must encourage more textile and other companies to start up in Kabwe."

One of the few remaining factories belongs to the Zambia China Mulungushi Textiles Joint Venture. It reopened in 1997 and now employs over 1,700 people.

It has benefited directly from the election by manufacturing thousands of campaign wrap-around cloths or "chitenges" for the numerous political parties.

Uncertain future

Kabwe also boasts the headquarters of Zambia Railways.

"The railway is absolutely vital to Kabwe," said the company's public relations officer, Naomi Sichinga. "Along with the direct jobs, many small businesses depend on the railway and in particular on the workshops."


However, Zambia Railways is in the process of being privatised.

"We hope that privatisation will not seriously affect the railways' operations in Kabwe," said the spokeswoman. "However, we are not entirely sure what will happen."

The election campaign has focused on economic growth. It has also been relatively low-key.

Peaceful

The parties have only held a few, large rallies. Instead, they have relied on small-scale meetings and vehicles mounted with loudspeakers to try and win over the voters.

"People are interested in the election but the turnout in Kabwe might still not be very high," said Mwiche Songwe, who works for the Anti-Voter Apathy Project.

Railway Headquarters
Zambia's railways are about to be privatised

"Apathy is a problem here because politicians have failed to fulfil their promises. Along with parties, we are trying to stir up excitement, but it is a slow process."

At least the election campaign has not stirred up any trouble.

Opposing party supporters have hurled insults at each other but nothing else. There have been no reports of physical violence.

"The most beautiful thing about the campaign in Kabwe is that it has been completely peaceful," said Charity Chibomba, a representative of the monitoring organisation Coalition 2001.

"Most of the candidates and supporters are local so they all know each other. Some families have even found themselves divided. All this has helped to keep a lid on any trouble."

See also:

26 Nov 01 | Africa
Voter apathy in rural Zambia
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