Flirting With Danger: Where is Zambia Headed?

By Prince Kurupati

President Edgar Lungu
President Edgar Lungu

Zambia is one of the few African countries that has managed to steer clear from international headlines whether on the good side or bad side since her attainment of independence in 1964. Zambia has largely found itself stuck in the middle, something which has made her less appealing to the media.

All spheres of Zambian life seem to be stuck in the middle ground, politically, Zambia is neither a fully-fledged democracy (at least according to African standards such as the South African democracy) nor is it a fully-fledged dictatorship (as has been the case with Ivory Coast, the Gambia or even its neighbour, Zimbabwe). Economically, the country is neither an African giant nor is it a basket case and the same can be said of the social life of Zambians.

Despite this seemingly ‘okay’ Zambia, a closer look reveals that for years, the country has been steadily sliding into the unwanted territory, political wise. Since the end of the one-party state in 1991, successive Zambian presidents have exhibited traits of authoritarianism. While all of them failed to fully establish themselves as ‘strong’ rulers, they left their authoritarian tools when they left office such as constitutional amendments meant to promote and preserve the influence of the incumbent.

The first major example of this came when Fredrick Chiluba manipulated the constitution in a bid to stop his predecessor from running against him. Chiluba succeeded, largely because many did not want to see the return of Kenneth Kaunda, a man who had ruled the country for years before. The precedence set here was bad, as seen by Chiluba’s attempts later to amend the constitution to allow a president to serve three consecutive terms instead of two.

The democratic rot has been going on and the current president, Edgar Lungu to some extent is guilty of following this same path of trampling on the country’s democracy. While Lungu may be doing the same things that his predecessors did in the past and got away with, his challenge is that he is operating in a different environment. Most of Africa’s poorly governed countries and authoritarian states such as the Gambia, Ivory Coast, and Zimbabwe are no longer in the news as they have a new leadership. This means there is more scrutiny paid to the lesser talked about countries such as Zambia and his failings are now being mirrored at a larger scale to a larger audience. The result is the conscientisation of the masses subsequently leading to processes such as the one he is facing, impeachment.

Calls for impeachment

Lungu is not the first Zambian President to face an impeachment but his, is tougher as it’s not only the opposition parties that want him gone but also some renegades from his own party, Patriotic Front. In addition to opposition parties, Lungu faces resistance from civil society. The Conference of Catholic Bishops, a revered organisation in Zambia has also called for Lungu to step down.

Why the outcry

Everyone seeking the ouster of Lungu seems to have a genuine reason. The opposition has some strong points when it comes to labelling Lungu an authoritarian who is ruthlessly cracking down on dissent. The arrest of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema on treason charges when there is no evidence to substantiate the charge is seen as a way of silencing opposition voices.

Another key point of discontent between Lungu and the opposition is with regards to the election of 2016. The main opposition party, United Party for National Development (UPND) raised a legitimacy question in the aftermath of the elections saying there were electoral flaws. The opposition wanted Lungu to step aside and let the Speaker of the National Assembly lead while the courts heard the opposition’s case. Lungu refused and the opposition since feels aggrieved. The Conference of Catholic Bishops though not stating if Lungu should have step aside after the 2016 election say that the courts erred by not hearing the opposition’s plea. It’s their conviction that Lungu might have played a part in silencing the courts.

While the concerns of both the opposition parties and the civil society agree that Lungu has let the country down, Lungu still has some support namely in the form of the Patriotic for Economic Progress group which says the matters raised in the impeachment are baseless and meant at settling personal scores.

Regardless of whether the move to impeach the president is justified or not, Lungu has a case to answer especially when it comes to the matter of Hakainde Hichilema. Why is he still in custody for treason charges when there is no evidence to suggest that he committed acts of treason?


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