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Zambia’s Plan to Revamp Its Flailing Economy? Divine Intervention.

Zambia's president organized a day of prayer to cure the country's flailing economy.

Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu looks on as thousands of Zambians rally to pray against the depreciation of the countrys currency and economic crisis at the Show grounds in the capital city Lusaka on October 18, 2015. Food prices have soared and crippling power shortages have also been triggered by low water-levels in Lake Kariba, where hydropower plants supply much of the country's electricity.  AFP PHOTO/SALIM DAWOOD        (Photo credit should read SALIM DAWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
Zambian President Edgar Chagwa Lungu looks on as thousands of Zambians rally to pray against the depreciation of the countrys currency and economic crisis at the Show grounds in the capital city Lusaka on October 18, 2015. Food prices have soared and crippling power shortages have also been triggered by low water-levels in Lake Kariba, where hydropower plants supply much of the country's electricity. AFP PHOTO/SALIM DAWOOD (Photo credit should read SALIM DAWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)

When Zambia’s currency dropped to an all-time low against the dollar last month, earning itself the bottom-ranking slot on Bloomberg’s scale, President Edgar Lungu came up with a plan to fix it: a national day of prayer.

Instead of directly addressing power shortages that contributed to a dramatic decrease in copper production — an industry which accounts for at least 70 percent of the country’s export earnings and 11 percent of its annual growth — Lungu asked Zambians to pray for divine intervention to fix the country’s currency, the kwacha, which fell to 45 percent against the dollar this year.

And on Sunday, after nearly a month of power outages and dramatic inflation, bars were closed and soccer matches were canceled so that Zambians could do just that.

“Our God has heard our cries; he has forgiven us our sins, and we are sure he will heal our country [as] we face serious social-economic challenges,” Lungu said to a crowd of thousands in Zambia’s capital city. “You all know that God is love, and I appeal to all of you to do the best and leave the rest to God.”

Zambia’s founding president, Kenneth Kaunda, who was also present at the prayer service, asked Zambians to direct their prayers specifically toward Lungu and to help guide him toward economic revitalization.

“God, continue to help us solve the problems this young man may face in future,” he said, as he reportedly touched his hand to Lungu’s head.

Lungu, who is nearly 60, has only been in office since January and has already had a rough go at the presidency. In March, he collapsed during a speech for International Women’s Day and had to be transported abroad for throat surgery.

In six years between 2008 and 2014, two other Zambian presidents died while in office, and many citizens were concerned Lungu’s medical condition was more serious than he initially let on.

But although Lungu’s health seems to have improved since his episode in March, the economy has not. It received two credit downgrades this summer, first from Standard & Poor in July and then from Moody’s in September. Economic turmoil in China only added to the crisis because Chinese demand for copper had traditionally dominated the Zambian market.

Not everyone seemed convinced a day of prayer would be enough to reverse the market. The Post, a Zambian newspaper, quoted the northwest provincial chief Ntambu, who criticized the call for God to fix problems made by man.

“To fast and pray for what, for an economic miracle to happen or what?” he reportedly said. “Is it God who caused those sufferings for you to go back to him and say, ‘No, you have done this and that, and we want you to reverse your decision?’”

Photo credit: SALIM DAWOOD/AFP/Getty Images

Correction, Oct. 19, 2015: Two Zambian presidents have died while in office in the past seven years, in a six-year period between 2008 and 2014. A previous version of this article mistakenly said that two presidents have died in the past six years.

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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