After months of speculation, Zambian President Rupiah Banda has finally announced that the country will go to the polls next month and that he will be standing for re-election.
The 74-year-old head of the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) faces tough competition from Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front (PF).
He only narrowly managed to beat Sata in the 2008 poll convened after the mid-term death of former president Levy Mwanawasa.
However Sata, who is known for his disapproval of Chinese involvement in the country’s mining sector, enters the race weakened by his party’s split from an alliance with Hakainde Hichilema’s United Party for National Development.
This could work in the MMD’s favour.
Days into the campaign, and with a week still left for more candidates to come forward, Banda and Sata have wasted no time in exchanging insults, setting the tone for what is likely to be a lively seven weeks in a country where personalities dominate politics.
At the official launch of his campaign this week in Lusaka, Banda is reported by the state-owned Zambia Daily Mail to have accused Sata of being more talk than substance, dubbing him “yesterday’s man”, with no new policies.
The incumbent president made much of the fact that his rival had run unsuccessfully for president on three previous occasions.
He said: “Sata likes to call himself ‘the cobra’. I never trust a creature that slithers on its stomach. Would you trust a snake?
“I warn all Zambians: if you play with the cobra, expect to be bitten. But that is democracy for you. Everybody has a right to stand, even Michael Sata.”
Sata’s PF, meanwhile, has announced plans to write to the Southern African Development Community, the African Union and the United Nations to complain about the “unconstitutionality” of Banda’s candidacy because he was born in Zimbabwe and, according to Sata, had a Malawian mother.
At a public rally in Nyimba, in the Eastern Province, Sata brushed aside his previous defeats and urged the crowd to vote for change.
“You have to change and liberate yourselves,” he reportedly said.
In a pitch to the 59% of Zambians living on the breadline, Sata said: “I know poverty because my father was just a cook.”
Banda’s MMD, of which Sata was once a part, has ruled Zambia since the advent of multiparty democracy in the 1990s.
The country is currently enjoying an unprecedented economic boom thanks to the high price of copper, its main export, and bumper harvests.
Gross Domestic Product swelled by 7.1% last year, making it one of the continent’s fastest-growing economies.
The presidential, parliamentary and municipal polls will take place on September 20.