Zambia’s political system features regular multiparty elections, and some civil liberties are respected. While Zambia experiences democratic transfers of power, most recently in 2021, opposition parties face onerous legal and practical obstacles to fair competition. Restrictive laws that narrow political space and online speech remain in force.
- In January, the Kenmark Broadcasting Network (KBN TV) aired a recording of two government officials discussing how to interfere in a by-election that the Democratic Party (DP) was competing in. A KBN TV manager was investigated for violating a cybercrime law after the network aired the recording.
- In December, a penal-code provision that criminalized insults directed at the president was repealed. The provision had been criticized by civil society for being used against government critics.
- Also in December, the government removed a penal-code provision that allowed for the death penalty, which has not been imposed in Zambia since 1997.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
The president is directly elected to serve up to two five-year terms. In August 2021, United Party for National Development (UPND) candidate Hakainde Hichilema defeated incumbent Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front (PF) in what was Hichilema’s third attempt against Lungu. Hichilema won 59 percent of the vote, while Lungu won 38.7 percent. Turnout was high, at 70.6 percent. Lungu initially questioned the results but later conceded; Hichilema assumed office later that month.
The electoral period was marred by violence between PF and UPND members; the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) consequently ordered a temporary halt to campaigning in four provinces that June. Hate speech and social media disruptions also affected the election.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
The unicameral National Assembly comprises 156 elected members, up to 8 members appointed by the president, and 3 seats allocated for the vice president, the speaker, and a deputy speaker. The August 2021 polls were held concurrently with the presidential election and featured the same problems. The UPND won a majority, displacing the PF as the largest party in the National Assembly. As of early October 2022, the UPND held 84 seats, the PF held 55, and the Party of National Unity and Progress held 1. The remaining 22 seats were held by independents and unaffiliated lawmakers.
Two PF lawmakers were removed from their seats in 2022; in July, Bowman Lusambo lost his seat due to voter-fraud allegations while Joseph Malanji was disqualified in August because he lacked an educational certificate. In late August, the ECZ said it would not consider their renewed candidacies. The by-elections for those seats were ultimately held in October; the UPND gained both amid allegations of vote buying, improper use of government resources, and political violence by supporters.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
The ECZ is responsible for managing the election process but lacks capacity. The US-based Carter Center, which monitored the 2021 polls, criticized the ECZ for managing the electoral process “without proper consultation with stakeholders” and noted that the government did not implement previous recommendations to independently select commissioners. In June 2022, President Hichilema did not reappoint ECZ chairman Essau Chulu or vice chairperson Emily Sikazwe to their posts.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
Political parties are registered under the Societies Act and do not regularly face onerous registration requirements. However, in January 2022, then DP president Harry Kalaba claimed that the government was attempting to manipulate an internal conflict over the party’s leadership. That same month, sources within the UPND shared a recording in which two government officials discussed targeting the DP ahead of a by-election, noted the reluctance of the ECZ’s chief executive to assist them, and intimated President Hichilema’s involvement in their efforts. Kalaba left the DP in July; in October, he became the leader of the Citizens First Party and accused the government of denying registration to his previous group, the Liberty Party.
Leaders and officials in other parties faced charges and threats of violence in 2022. Raphael Nakacinda, a high-ranking PF official, was charged with defaming President Hichilema in April. In September, Patriots for Economic Progress leader Sean Tembo was charged with hate speech for comments directed at Hichilema. In October, an UPND youth leader threatened violence against opposition leaders. In November, National Democratic Congress leader Saboi Imboela was arrested on libel and hate speech charges. Also in November, Economic and Equity Party (EEP) president Chilufya Tayali was arrested for allegedly defaming Hichilema.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
In 2021, Zambia experienced its third democratic transfer of power between rival groups. Opposition parties regularly win National Assembly seats. However, laws against election-related violence are poorly enforced. Opposition leaders faced harassment, arrest, and detention during 2022.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?
The people’s political choices are largely free from domination by democratically unaccountable groups, though political parties are accused of employing undemocratic tactics including vote buying to ensure election victories.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 3 / 4
Suffrage in Zambia is universal for adult citizens. Although women have equal political rights under the constitution, gender-equity legislation not been consistently applied. Successive administrations have overlooked the establishment of an autonomous Gender Equality and Equity Commission to guarantee that legal gender-related provisions are implemented.
Female political representation is low. Only 15 percent of National Assembly seats were held by women as of December 2022, while only four women held cabinet posts.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
Candidates elected in 2021 were able to assume power smoothly. The UPND passes legislation with little effective resistance from opposition legislators.
In March 2022, 30 opposition PF lawmakers were suspended from the National Assembly for 30 days. The lawmakers were protesting over an issue with the national budget.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
Corruption in government is widespread, and impunity is common. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Anti-Financial and Economics Crimes Commission, and the public prosecutor operate under the president’s office. Since taking office, Hichilema has named independent nominees to the ACC.
Arrests and investigations of high-profile corruption, particularly involving PF members, increased significantly during 2022. In March, acting PF president Given Lubinda was arrested for possessing allegedly ill-gotten gains, including property. In July, former first lady Esther Lungu disclosed that the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) seized properties belonging to her over similar concerns; she was questioned later that month. In October, former health minister Chitalu Chilufya was arrested over allegations of official corruption. Also in October, the UK-based Financial Times reported that the ACC questioned Lungu-era defense minister Davies Chama over payments made by Glencore, a Swiss trading firm the ACC was investigating.
Highly publicized cases are thought to reflect political motivations as mainly opposition-aligned figures were arrested and prosecuted without thorough investigation; in September 2022, for example, the DEC apologized to Edgar Lungu for saying it seized property that belonged to him when it belonged to someone else. Relatively few corruption cases were closed during the year, with the ACC reporting 8 convictions out of 71 arrests as of November.
In June 2022, the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), a government anticorruption watchdog, reported 3.56 billion kwacha ($208.9 million) in suspicious transactions in 2021, up from 3.14 billion kwacha ($184.2 million) in 2020. FIC investigations found that powerful individuals and lawyers laundered money through real estate, construction projects, and offshore accounts. Several large bank accounts were also frozen.
Opposition figures have called on Hichilema to investigate growing allegations of corruption within his administration in 2022. In October, the PF called on Hichilema to dismiss a minister who allegedly sought a bribe over a hospital construction project; the administration cancelled the project in November.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because Zambian authorities have actively pursued corruption cases under the Hichilema administration, though concerns over official corruption persist.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
The Anti-Corruption Act, which requires some public officeholders to make financial declarations, is loosely enforced. An access-to-information bill was first drafted in 2002 but has not passed. Journalists, civil society groups, and constituents experience challenges obtaining information about state operations and government programs.
However, in 2022, the Hichilema administration regularly provided often-unprompted ministerial statements to lawmakers and subjected the budget-making process to legislative and public review. Information on public-sector recruitment, constituency projects, and empowerment funds was transparently shared.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because the Hichilema administration is more transparent in its spending and policy decisions.
|Are there free and independent media?
Press freedom is constitutionally guaranteed but restricted in practice. Public outlets continue to exhibit a progovernment bias while private outlets are largely polarized. Self-censorship remains common. Police officers have arrested and intimidated journalists for reporting critical stories; journalists have also faced retaliation from political actors. Press freedom is also impacted by the 2021 Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act (CSCCA), which received civil society criticism upon its passage. In 2022, at least eight journalists were detained or arrested in the course of their work.
In January 2022, KBN TV aired a recording in which two government officials allegedly discussed manipulating the affairs of the opposition DP ahead of a by-election. Two days later, authorities interrogated a KBN TV manager and investigated her under the CSCCA. In November, two MUVI TV staff members were detained while covering the arrest of EEP leader Chilufya Tayali.
In an August 2022 report released by the Open Spaces Zambia initiative, 34 journalists and three media houses reported harassment and threats from police, political-party figures, and government officials between January and June. In May, MISA Zambia objected to a local official’s efforts to influence the staffing and broadcasting decisions of Kasempa Radio. In late December, UPND supporters disrupted operations at Kokoliko FM as Tayali of the EEP was being featured in a radio program.
In September 2022, the Labor Ministry reported that 41 percent of women journalists were harassed at work; just one in five incidents was reported.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
Constitutional protections for religious freedom are generally respected.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
The government generally does not restrict academic freedom and student associations freely protest issues of a political nature.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
Zambians enjoy some freedom of private discussion, though a penal-code provision criminalizing insults towards the president remained in force for much of 2022. Before the provision’s December repeal, ordinary citizens were arrested for allegedly insulting Hichilema; two people received hard-labor sentences as recently as June for this offense. Civil society had called on the president to repeal the provision in September, saying it was being used against government critics.
Online activity is also impacted by the CSCCA. In 2021, Collaboration on International Information and Communication Technology Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), a nongovernmental organization (NGO), warned that the act offered limited data-interception protections and criminalized the possession or transmission of content that would “corrupt morals,” though CIPESA also noted that some of the act’s provisions required a warrant. In September 2022, Technology Minister Felix Mutati said the government intended to amend the CSCCA to better address cybercrime.
While in power, the PF acquired the capability to monitor digital communications, which then minister Brian Mushimba admitted in 2018 when he said the government was targeting online abuse. In 2020, then president Lungu said that the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority could track social media activity.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed. While that freedom has not been consistently respected by the government, fewer police bans and assembly restrictions were imposed in 2022 compared to previous years. Opposition parties regularly held press conferences, lawmakers met constituents unimpeded, and public demonstrations over labor disputes and other matters were held without obstruction. COVID-19-related assembly restrictions and social-distancing rules were rescinded in September.
However, protesters did face detention or arrest during the year. In September 2022, police dispersed an anti-LGBT+ protest in Lusaka and detained participants for lacking a permit. Five journalists were also detained. In November, Copperbelt police briefly detained opposition leader Harry Kalaba for allegedly holding an illegal assembly.
Under the Public Order Act (POA), the authorities must be notified of all public gatherings in advance; police have been known to misapply the POA, though its use declined in 2022. In May, the cabinet gave its initial approval of a bill that would amend the POA, though it remained in force at year’s end.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because authorities reduced their use of the Public Order Act to restrict peaceful assembly, though protesters were still arrested during the year.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
NGOs operate in a restrictive environment and must register every five years under the 2009 NGO Act. In 2020, the PF government amended the law to increase monitoring of NGO funds for possible illegal activities such as money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The Hichilema cabinet committed to repealing and replacing the act in June 2022, though it remained in force at year’s end.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
The law generally provides for the right to join unions, strike, and bargain collectively, though workers in essential services do not have the right to strike, including the mining industry. Zambian trade unions, which were once among Africa’s strongest, suffered interference and marginalization under the PF.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
Judicial independence is guaranteed by law, but the judiciary is subject to political pressure in practice.
In October 2022, Hichilema named Gilbert Phiri director of public prosecutions, replacing Lilian Siyuni, a Lungu appointee. Siyuni, whose involvement in the corruption case of a Lungu-appointed mine liquidator led to disagreements with Hichilema, contested the move at the Constitutional Court but Phiri’s appointment took effect by December.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
Pretrial detainees are sometimes held for years without trial owing to case backlogs. Many of the accused lack legal representation. Bail is frequently denied to detainees. In rural areas, customary courts of variable quality—whose decisions often conflict with the constitution and national law—decide many civil matters. In September 2022, the Human Rights Commission called on the police to more speedily bring suspects to court and grant bail.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
Allegations of police brutality, including the use of torture to extract confessions, are widespread. Security forces generally operate with impunity. Conditions in pretrial detention facilities and prisons are poor, with reports of forced labor, abuse of inmates by authorities, and deplorable health conditions.
In December 2022, the government removed a penal-code provision allowing for the death penalty. However, the penalty still remains in Bill of Rights, which can only be amended by a referendum. No executions have taken place since 1997.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
Women are constitutionally guaranteed the same rights as men, but gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment are prevalent in practice. Same-sex sexual activity is criminalized and is punishable by up to life in prison.
LGBT+ groups faced opposition from religious and anti-LGBT+ activists for their apparent participation at a September 2022 fashion event in Lusaka. That month, Home Affairs Minister Jacob Mwiimbu reiterated the illegality of same-sex activity and warned that the government would prosecute cases.
Refugees are protected under local and international law but often suffer from limited access to basic services and gender-based violence. As of October 2022, Zambia hosted nearly 67,000 refugees, many from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
The government generally respects the constitutionally protected right to free internal movement and foreign travel. However, internal movement is often impeded by petty corruption, such as police demands for bribes at checkpoints.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
Agricultural land in rural areas is mostly administered under traditional authorities. However, the president retains ultimate authority over all land and can intercede to block or compel its sale or transfer. Women are frequently discriminated in property and inheritance matters. The process of meeting regulatory requirements for starting and operating businesses can be lengthy and opaque.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
Personal status issues such as marriage and divorce are governed by either statutory or customary law, with customary practices varying among different ethnic groups.
Domestic abuse is common, and traditional norms inhibit many women from reporting assaults.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
Labor exploitation, child labor, and human trafficking are prevalent in Zambia. The US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2022 noted that the government launched a national action plan to address trafficking but also noted that forms of child sex trafficking were not explicitly made illegal during its reporting period. In November 2022, the government amended the Anti-Trafficking Act prohibiting child trafficking. Ethiopians have been trafficked into Zambia; in December, 27 men believed to be Ethiopians were found dead near Lusaka.
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Global Freedom Score54 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score59 100 partly free