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US desires level playing field in Zambian politics – Young

UNITED States Embassy Charge d’Affaires David Young says his government is interested in seeing a level playing field for all political players in Zambia ahead of the 2021 general elections.

And USAID Zambia mission director Sheryl Stumbras says a programme is being designed to establish an independent media landscape in Zambia.

In a virtual meeting to explain the US government’s K39 billion grant to Zambia that was announced on Wednesday, Young said although Washington would never take sides in Zambia’s elections, it would strive to promote equal opportunities for all participants.

Part of the programmes involved in the five-year, US $1.9 billion development strategy for Zambia, include establishment of an independent media landscape and the promotion of transparency in public finance management.

“When you look at our government and Zambia, we are democracies. So, democracy is a powerful foundation between us. You have had peaceful transfer of power between political parties and that is a powerful thing,” said Young. “We want a level playing field where all candidates will campaign on a level platform. We will support freedom of speech, freedom of the media. We don’t want to see political party cadres invading radio stations. I meet with a lot of political party leaders. I meet with the PF, the UPND and other political party leaders, including President [Edgar] Lungu. And I tell them that we want a level playing field. We don’t take sides as the US government because our interest is ensuring that democracy flourishes in Zambia where the Zambian people can make independent choices.”

Young said he also met Electoral Commission of Zambia officials on Wednesday to discuss issues to do with elections.

And Stumbras explained further on the purpose of the grant that was announced at a meeting with finance minister Bwalya Ng’andu on Wednesday

“The programme is a five-year strategy that looks at various fields of development. We’re looking to increase economic development, good public finance management and transparency. We also want to establish an independent media landscape, and we want to expand the role of the private sector in Zambia,” said Stumbras. “We are in the process of designing a programme to strengthen the media. We want community radio stations to be empowered, online media, etc. We realise the challenges that the media face, so we also want to see what kind of programmes can support community radio stations.”

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