Zambia: From Democracy to Dictatorship?

AfricaFocus Bulletin
April 25, 2017 (170425)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor’s Note

“Our country is now all, except in  designation, a dictatorship and
if it is not yet, then we are not far from it. Our political leaders
in the ruling party often issue intimidating statements that
frighten people and make us fear for the immediate and future. This
must be stopped and reversed henceforth.” – Zambia Conference of
Catholic Bishops, April 23, 2017


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This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains three short commentaries on the
current political crisis in Zambia, by Simon Allison, Nic Cheeseman,
and Tendai Biti. Another AfricaFocus, also to be sent out today,
focuses on the wider African and global context of “media repression
2.0” in the internet era, including a report on attacks on press
freedom in Zambia.

The statement cited above from the Catholic Bishops of Zambia is
available at

The Council of Churches in Zambia has also issued a strong statement
condemning the arrest of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema (

For keeping up with recent news on Zambia, two key sources are and The Mast ( or, successor to The Post, which was
shut down by the government in 2016.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Zambia, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor’s note+++++++++++++++++

Analysis: Dark, dangerous days for Zambia’s democracy

After the attack on the home of Zambia’s opposition leader, and then
his arrest on spurious charges, Zambia’s reputation as a beacon of
democracy in Africa is under serious threat.

by Simon Allison

Daily Maverick, 20 April 2017 – direct URL:

Hakainde Hichilema is famously suspicious. The Zambian opposition
leader travels with a phalanx of bodyguards, and often brings his
own food wherever he goes, just in case anyone wants to poison him.
He claims to have received repeated death threats. He has a safe
room installed in his house.

Until Tuesday last week, it was easy to dismiss Hichilema’s paranoia
as exactly that – paranoia. This is Zambia, after all, one of
Africa’s most established and most successful democracies. No one
bumps off opposition leaders in Zambia. It’s not Russia, or
Venezuela, or Tunisia.

And then, in the early hours of that Tuesday morning, everything
changed. For Hichilema, and for Zambia.

Dozens of armed police descended onto Hichilema’s property. They
broke down the door. They threw tear gas into the house. Dazed and
confused, and above all scared, the politician and his family
retreated into the safe room.

I spoke to him there, on the phone. He didn’t raise his voice above
a whisper, and it trembled as he talked. He said that his wife and
children were injured from the tear gas, which was periodically
pumped through the vents of the safe room in a bid to force them
out, and that his servants had been tortured. He said he could hear
their screams. “This guy is trying to kill me,” he said. “This guy
is a dictator, a full-blown dictator.”

He was talking, of course, about President Edgar Lungu.

The siege lasted until mid-morning. By then, Hichilema’s legal team
had arrived, as had journalists. His lawyers eventually coaxed
Hichilema out of the safe room. He was immediately arrested, and
charged shortly afterwards with treason.

No one is dismissing Hichilema’s paranoia now – and no one is quite
sure what would have happened in the absence of that safe room into
which he could retreat.

What we do know is that Hichilema’s arch-rival, Lungu, has now
abandoned all democratic niceties in a bid to consolidate his grip
on power.

It was the nature of Hichilema’s arrest that was most concerning:
the midnight raid, the tear gas, the casual brutality meted out to
the servants. It was all entirely unnecessary. Hichilema is a public
figure, and could have been quietly arrested at any time. But the
raid was designed to intimidate, to send an unmistakeable message to
the president’s opponents that Lungu’s authority shall no longer be

It wasn’t just Hichilema, either. Chilufya Tayali, head of the
Economic and Equity Party and a vocal critic of President Lungu, was
arrested just two days later. His crime? A Facebook post in which he
criticised the “inefficiency” of Zambia’s police chief. He has
subsequently been released on bail.

If that sounds ridiculous – well, it is. But not as ridiculous as
the charges levelled against Hichilema, which are so far entirely
unsubstantiated by evidence or detail. The only concrete allegation
is that Hichilema endangered the president’s life when his vehicles
did not give way to the president’s motorcade at a cultural

In Lungu’s Zambia, a traffic incident has somehow become treason.

It’s not Lungu’s Zambia quite yet, however, as embarrassed
government prosecutors learned in court. In their submissions
against Hichilema, prosecutors made a Freudian slip, referring to
the opposition leader’s alleged offences against the “Government of
President Edgar Lungu”. They were forced to amend the charge sheet
when the defence observed that such an institution does not exist:
there is still only a Government of the Republic of Zambia, as much
as President Lungu might like it to be otherwise.

But make no mistake: these are dark, dangerous times for Zambia. And
if Lungu’s end goal really is to dismantle the country’s hard-won
democracy, then it’s hard to see who or what will stop him.

Domestically, the arrests of Hichilema and Tayali, along with a
sustained assault on independent media, will have a chilling effect
on civil society. It will take extraordinary courage and commitment
to take on President Lungu’s administration now.

Internationally too, Lungu faces remarkably little pressure. He has
already brushed off statements of concern from the United States and
the European Union, warning diplomats that they are “wasting their
time”; just as he brushed off concerns that his 2016 election win
was marred by serious electoral fraud.

South Africa, the regional superpower which does exert real
influence in Lusaka, has been deafeningly silent; as analyst Greg
Mills observed on these pages, it can’t be a coincidence that Lungu
may well have been encouraged down this path by the example of the
“patronage regime” emerging in South Africa. The less leadership
South Africa displays at home, the less it can project abroad.

Zambia’s in trouble. For so long a beacon of democracy in Africa,
its enviable reputation has already been tarnished by President
Lungu’s actions. The risk now is that Lungu undoes that democratic
progress entirely.

If this all sounds a little paranoid, just remember that Hakainde
Hichilema was paranoid too. And on this, he is being proved right.


Zambia: President Lungu sacrifices credibility to repress opposition

by Nic Cheeseman

Democracy in Action,  21 April 2017 – direct URL:

NicDiA’s Nic Cheeseman looks at the political crisis in Zambia,
where the opposition leader has been charged with treason, and
analyses the prospects for democratic backsliding. Nic Cheeseman
(@fromagehomme) is the Professor of Democracy at the University of

Zambian President Edgar Lungu finds himself caught between a rock
and a hard place in both economic and political terms. As a result,
he has begun to lash out, manipulating the law to intimidate the
opposition, and in the process sacrificing what credibility he had
left after deeply problematic general elections in 2016.

Let us start with the economy, where the president is stuck in
something of a lose-lose position. On the one hand, his populace is
growing increasingly frustrated at the absence of economic job and
opportunities, while a number of experts have pointed out that the
country is on the verge of a fresh debt crisis. Economic growth was
just 2.9% in 2016, while the public debt is expected to hit 54% of
GDP this year, and the government cannot afford to pay many of its
domestic suppliers.

On the other, a proposed $1.2 billion rescue deal with the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) has the potential to increase
opposition to the government for two reasons. First, it would mean
significantly reducing government spending, including on some of
Lungu’s more popular policies. Second, many Zambians are
understandably suspicious of IMF and the World Bank, having suffered
under previous adjustment programmes that delivered neither jobs nor
sustainable growth.

The president faces similar challenges on the political front.
Having won a presidential election in 2016 that the opposition
believes was rigged, and which involved a number of major procedural
flaws, Lungu desperately needs to relegitimate himself. However,
this need clashes with another, more important, imperative – namely,
the president’s desire to secure a third term in office when his
current tenure ends in 2020.

The problem for Lungu is that while it looks like he will be able to
use his influence over the Constitutional Court to ensure that it
interprets the country’s new constitutional arrangements to imply
that he should be allowed to stand for a third term – on the basis
that his first period in office was filling in for the late Michael
Sata after his untimely death in office, and so should not count –
such a strategy is likely to generate considerable criticism from
the opposition, civil society and international community.

Lacking viable opportunities to boost his support base and
relegitimate his government, President Lungu has responded by
pursuing another strategy altogether: the intimidation of the
opposition and the repression of dissent. While in some ways
represents a continuation of some of the tactics used ahead of the
2016 election, when the supporters and leaders of rival parties were
harassed and in some cases detained, the recent actions of the
Patriotic Front (PF) government represent a worrying gear-shift.

Most obviously, opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, who came so
close to leading his United Party of National Development (UPND) to
victory in the latest polls, has been arrested and his home raided.
His crimes? There appear to be two sets of charges. One set is
relatively mundane, and relates to an incident in which Hichilema is
accused of refusing to give way to the president’s convoy. For this,
the opposition leader has been charged with breaking the highway
code and using insulting language.

The second charge – that of treason – is much more serious, but also
much less clear. Court documents state that Hichilema “on unknown
dates but between 10 October 2016 and 8 April 2017 and whilst acting
together with other persons unknown did endeavour to overthrow by
unlawful means the government of Edgar Lungu.” Although this charge
has also been linked to the recent traffic incident, it seems more
likely to be motivated by the president’s ongoing frustration that
the UPND continues to contest his election and refuses to recognise
him as a legitimately elected leader.

If this is the true motivation for the charges, it will only be the
latest of a number of moves to cow the opposition. For example, in
response to the refusal of UNPD legislators to listen to Lungu’s
address to the National Assembly, Richard Mumba – a PF proxy close
to State House – petitioned the Constitutional Court to declare
vacant the seats of all MPs who were absent.

The opposition are not alone. Key elements of civil society have
also come under fire. As a result of the waning influence of trade
unions, professional associations now find themselves as one of the
last lines of defence for the country’s fragile democracy, most
notably the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ). It should therefore
come as no surprise that a government MP, Kelvin Sampa, recent
introduced legislation into the National Assembly that would
effectively dissolve the LAZ and replace it with a number of smaller
bodies, each of which would be far less influential.

The bills introduced by Mumba and Sampa may not succeed, but in some
ways they don’t need to. Their cumulative effect has been to signal
that those who seek to resist the governments are likely to find
themselves the subject of the sharp end of the security forces and
the PF’s manipulation of the rule of law. The nature of Hichilema’s
arrest is a case in point. Despite numerous opportunities to detain
him in broad daylight, armed police and paramilitaries planned a
night attack in which they switched off the power to the house,
blocked access to the main roads, and broke down the entrance gate.
Inside the property, the security forces are accused of firing tear
gas, torture, urinating on the opposition leader’s bed and looting
the property.

It is therefore clear that the main aim of the operation was not an
efficient and speedy arrest, but rather the humiliation and
intimidation of an opponent.

Such abuses may help Lungu to secure the short-term goal of
prolonging his stay in power, but they will threaten to undermine
Zambia’s future. It will – or at least it should – be politically
embarrassing for the IMF to conclude a deal with Zambia while the
opposition leader is on trial on jumped up charges and civil society
is decrying the slide towards authoritarian rule. Rumours now
circulating in Lusaka suggest that President Lungu may be preparing
to enhance his authority by declaring a State of Emergency in the
near future, which would further complicate the country’s
international standing.

Lungu’s blatant disregard for the rules of the democratic game also
has important implications for the county’s political future. Many
Zambian commentators reported that the 2016 election was the most
violent in the country’s history, and forecast rising political
instability if this trend was not reserved. Rather than heed this
warning, President Lungu appears determined to put this prophecy to
the test.


Zambia and Zimbabwe: Why fair elections are essential for Africa’s

by Tendai Biti

Daily Maverick, 20 Apr 2017 – direct URL:

[Tendai Biti was finance minister of Zimbabwe under the unity
government from 2009-2013.]

Zimbabwe is used as a case study of a broken society; a country in
which those in power concern themselves only with maintaining power
and amassing wealth. Zimbabwe is also often cited as an exceptional
case. However, while it’s situation undoubtedly has its own
peculiarities, Zimbabwe has not followed a path that is impassable
for others. It is dangerous to think otherwise.

Despite the popularity of the “Africa rising” narrative that has
sounded over the past decade regarding the pace of Africa’s economic
growth and the prospects for development, the continent continues to
face significant challenges in unlocking the benefits for the
majority of its citizens.

While there is no singular reason for this, the one with the
greatest explanatory power is the mindset of self-enrichment at the
cost of social development among the elite. There is little doubt in
my mind that the solution to turning this around also lies in the
hands of leadership and the choices they make. And getting the right
leadership in place, to make the right choices, is a question of

As a former minister of finance in Zimbabwe, the proposals that came
on to my desk for government financing of projects that would make a
significant impact on our country were countless. Yet there was –
and continues to be – absolutely no money made available by the
government for any of these projects. It was often a difficult pill
to swallow when all around the country malnourished families were
starving while the lavish lives of those in the president’s inner-
circle were there for all to see.

Zimbabwe is used as a case study of a broken society; a country in
which those in power concern themselves only with maintaining power
and amassing wealth. Zimbabwe is also often cited as an exceptional
case. However, while it’s situation undoubtedly has its own
peculiarities, Zimbabwe has not followed a path that is impassable
for others. It is dangerous to think otherwise.

People often ask me how it is possible that we have been able to get
ourselves into this position as a country where everything is so
fundamentally broken. You cannot break things overnight, I answer,
but you can slowly chip away at the fundamentals and if no one does
anything to stop you then quite quickly all expectations of a
democratic society are abolished.

The increase in the number of elections taking place in Africa since
1990 has frequently been read as a positive indicator for the
continent’s future development prospects. Elections are only a
necessary but not a sufficient component of democracy. Yet this is
undermined if the international community adopts the convenient
fallacy that at least by going through the motion of holding
elections a country will get it right eventually, and so the extent
to which they can become a smokescreen has largely been overlooked.

The frequency of elections is much easier to observe and tick off a
checklist than adherence to the rule of law. However, it is the rule
of law that determines a country’s ability to function properly.
When the law is undermined and eroded, countries can follow a
downward spiral that leads to total collapse and from which it is
almost impossible to recover without outside support.

The rule of law in Zimbabwe has long been considered broken. The
same can now be said of our neighbour north of the Zambezi, Zambia.

Zambia’s leadership seems intent on destroying the 50 years of work
post-independence to build democracy by replicating actions we have
routinely seen in Zimbabwe, notably the systematic harassment and
intimidation of press, civil society and the opposition. While in
the past Zambians have looked to the rule of law to protect their
rights when under threat, today they find there is little prospect
for protection or redress.

Zambia’s major independent newspaper has been closed, with its
editor on the run; reports of intimidation and bribery of legal and
electoral officials have become widespread; and, now, as of a week
ago, popular opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has been
incarcerated and charged with treason.

Shocking as this bold attempt to charge the opposition leader with
an offence that in theory could carry the death penalty appears, as
well as the violent and shocking manner in which the arrest was
conducted, if you look at the pattern of activity by the authorities
in recent months and years it is less surprising.

Over time Zambia’s leadership has become more and more confident
that they can sit above the law. While cases in which people have
spoken ill of the president or alleged corruption in public
institutions result in arrests and court charges, justice is slow
and often elusive for those outside the ruling elite.

The manner in which last year’s contested election was handled by
the Zambian authorities is a landmark case in this history. It’s a
story of the cost of electoral authoritarianism. Today, with
Hichilema behind bars, it is also testament of how the region and
the international community missed a critical opportunity to stem a
tide of poor governance by speaking out against an electoral sham.

When Hichilema’s party, the United Party for National Development,
challenged the 2016 election result on several grounds he was
advised to call on his supporters to remain peaceful and petition
the outcome in the courts, as is his constitutional right. The
petition was never heard, however, on the basis of a technicality
that his party continues to challenge through various appeals and
court submissions to this date.

This stands in stark contrast to how events played out in Ghana
following the 2012 elections. Then the opposition challenge of the
outcome led to a lengthy court case. While the outcome was
ultimately upheld by the court, the case revealed several failings
in the process for addressing ahead of future elections, and it
enabled the opposition a chance to present their evidence. The
process upheld the rule of law, and sent a clear signal to elites
and citizens alike that they can expect to be held accountable to
the law. This helped to pave the way for the peaceful transfer of
power to the opposition subsequently in January 2017.

The consequences of the soft approach of observers and the
international community following last year’s contested elections in
Zambia appears to be coming back to haunt them, however. Their
cautious approach and hesitancy to challenge leadership has been
taken as a near enough blank check for the elite to step by step
deconstruct the rule of law.

While national sovereignty must be respected we must not forget that
if the government in question is itself undermining the rule of law
and the rights and safety of its own citizens then it has already
undermined the grounds for sovereignty in a democratic nation.
Moreover, the more states that are allowed to continue down this
path unchallenged, the fewer voices there are left to speak out
against such infractions and the more leaders elsewhere that will be
motivated to preserve their stay in power through illicit means. DM


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