The Zambian Candidate

NEW YORK – It went almost unnoticed on a day of brinkmanship and geopolitical pyrotechnics. At the United Nations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rolled out his demand for full statehood. Israel responded predictably, backed by the United States and others. Diplomats scuttled hurriedly to and fro, seeking compromises and middle ground – anything to do a deal that would keep the matter from coming to a vote in the Security Council or General Assembly.

Meanwhile, famine in the Horn of Africa continues. A new UN mission began to deploy in Libya – the vanguard of the international community’s effort to help a newly liberated and, one hopes, democratizing country emerge from conflict and 42 years of despotic rule. As the first week of the annual UN General Debate drew to a close, there was lofty talk of seize-the-moment imperatives – from climate change and sustainable development to renewed pledges of aid for the impoverished and the advancement of women around the globe.

But, on the radar of gloom and challenge, one bit of good news – the result of the presidential election in Zambia – scarcely made a blip. True, Zambia is a small African country, far from the international spotlight. Events there seldom reverberate globally. Certainly, the Zambians’ achievement cannot compete with the intervention in Libya or the drama of the Arab Spring. And yet, what happened in Zambia is related to those developments – and thus relevant everywhere.

What made Zambia’s election so important is that the challenger won. Indeed, he defeated an incumbent who really wanted to keep his job, and who might reasonably have been tempted to follow the lead of other African leaders defeated in a popular vote by simply refusing to accept the result. After all, smooth transitions of power are not to be taken for granted.