The SADC Wrap: Is Zambia’s president alive or not?

Each week award winning journalist KRISTEN VAN SCHIE brings you all the news that’s worth knowing from across the SADC region. Here is this week’s SADC wrap.

If you’re a regular reader of the SADC Wrap, you’ll be familiar with the ongoing rumours about Zambian president Michael Sata’s health and, you know, General State of Aliveness (Is he? Isn’t he? Who knows?)

He’s missed numerous public appearances including the US-Africa Leaders Summit and took what government labelled a “working holiday” in Israel earlier this year (despite Israeli reports that he was actually in hospital there).

Zambian diplomats abroad were even reportedly ordered to refrain from “online publications spreading falsehoods” and only stream the state broadcaster for information on Sata’s health.

But things really came to a head last week when Newsweek reported Sata had died while in New York attending the United Nations General Assembly – a rumour sparked by Sata’s failure to pitch for his speech.

Turns out that wasn’t true, as the reporter noted minutes later.

Turns out, Sata didn’t die, but he was reportedly on the edge.

According to Zambian Watchdog, Sata’s wife Christine Kaseba called 911, quoting an unnamed intelligence source: “Dr Kaseba, (a medical doctor) together with the president’s personal doctors realized that her husband’s condition was terrible and even passed on hence her distress call to 911, calling for emergency help. It was at that time that the American doctors rushed to the hotel and took over the treatment, luckily enough they were able to resuscitate him though his chances of survival still remain at 50-50.”

Police also confirmed Sata was never hospitalised, but did need medical help.

Not that the Zambian government is having any of it.

Instead, vice president Guy Scott said Sata’s health was “entirely normal” – which is probably true if you adjust “normal” for the health of a 77-year-old.

“I spoke to the president this morning,” Scott reportedly said. “He has not received any emergency or specialist medical treatment.”

Three candidates have been approved for Botswana’s presidential elections next month, including President Ian Khama. He’ll be pitted against Dumelang Saleshando of the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) and Duma Boko of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), reports the Botswana Press Agency.

Don’t expect any surprises come October 24, though.

Much like the ANC in South Africa, Khama’s Botswana Democratic Party is expected to keep its comfortable majority nearly 50 years after it first came to power.

“The 24 October election is likely to be a one-sided affair as usual with the BDP expected to easily win again, as always since independence,” reports the African Elections Project.

Cyril Ramaphosa Lesotho facilitation 3

A month after Lesotho’s political crisis was flung onto the global stage – a parliament suspended, a Prime Minister escaped, a military versus a police force, a general gone rogue (you can read it all here) – the country’s leaders are allegedly determined to fix what they broke.

I say allegedly because every deal reached so far as been neatly tossed aside and ignored.

But this time, it’s for realzies, says South Africa’s deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, who’s playing peacemaker in the whole mess and helped move the country towards elections.

Returning last week from a visit to Lesotho, Ramaphosa said, “I’m encouraged by the tenure and the way of the discussions and all the parties are committed to implement decisions that were taken by SADC summit leaders.”

South Africa sent police officers to fill the security vacuum in the wake of the country’s political crisis, and now Namibia is sending its own cops through too while, hilariously, absolute monarchy Swaziland will contribute troops (eclipsed in hilarity only by that paragon of well-run elections Zimbabwe sending election observers to Mozambique).

Meanwhile, Michael J Jordan for AFP scored an interview with Lesotho prince Seeiso Bereng Seeiso, baby bro to King Letsie III.

Unsurprisingly, he reckons the monarchy could fix Lesotho – if it had more powers.

“Where are we as a nation, that whenever we have a political fall-out, we always need foreign intervention?” he said. “Let’s step back and ask: ‘Are there any internal mechanisms, or voices of reason, amongst us?’ Yes, there is someone among us who can step into that role to mediate, His Majesty … Allow His Majesty to slam on the brakes, when needed.”

While Ebola continues to ravage West Africa – and with really alarming estimates of the disease’s possible trajectory – some good news out of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a separate strain of the disease seems to be coming under control.

The DRC had its seventh outbreak of the disease in August, and the number of infected people jumped rapidly from about a dozen to over 60 at the beginning of September. An article early last week said there had been no new cases reported in the 12 days prior, while another said 27 people had recovered from the disease. Consider that in proportion to the size of the outbreak: 70 in the DRC, as of last Wednesday, as opposed to the over 6500 cases in West Africa.

“The current epidemic is the seventh to have broken out in DRC and possibly explains why the health practitioners might have found it easier to contain,” explained one report. “A quarantine zone was immediately established in a 100-km radius around Boende District, where the cases were reported, to prevent the virus from spreading farther.”

By US Department of State [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsMalawi
A year after Cashgate – when a number of civil servants were caught with literal stacks of hard cash looted from government coffers – Malawi’s president Peter Mutharika is trying to win back the foreign aid that ran dry in the wake of the scandal.

A whopping 40% of Malawi’s national budget comes from aid, but much of that was withheld over the last year.

At the United Nations General Assembly in New York last week, Mutharika was reportedly at pains to woo those donors.

According to the Maravi Post, the president said after a meeting with EU diplomats, “We have done everything that a responsible government should do and we have the hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Mutharika also defended Malawi’s messy presidential elections earlier this year, which saw Joyce Banda ousted despite trying to nullify the elections entirely when it looked like she might lose.

“Malawi has come out of the election much stronger than before,” said Mutharika.

Over 20 elephants were killed in Mozambique in the first two weeks of September, a devastating number given the massive toll poaching has already taken on the continent’s elephant population. According to AFP, they’re just some of the between 1,500 and 1,800 elephants that are killed each year by poachers in the country. AFP quotes an environmentalist saying, “The killing of elephants in the north of Mozambique … is reaching proportions never seen before. The killing of elephants is being industrialised.”

The news comes as Mozambique kicks off its second elephant census. According to APA, the first census in 2008 had the population at 22,000, but that number is now expected to be down to 19,000.

Kristen van SchieKristen van Schie is a South African journalist working at the Weekend Argus in Cape Town. Raised in Namibia, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa, she has reported from the Central African Republic, Somalia, Syria, Namibia, Vietnam, Antarctica, and a ship in the Indian Ocean. She is a three-time winner at the Sikuvile Journalism Awards, South Africa’s premier newspaper awards. She blogs about news from the region at The SADC Wrap. Follow her on Twitter.