Zambia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores


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Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Zambia's political environment in 2001 was dominated by presidential and parliamentary elections held on December 27. After incumbent President Frederick Chiluba's attempt to amend the constitution to allow himself a third term was defeated, Levy Mwanawasa, the candidate of the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), narrowly won the presidential election against a divided opposition. Mwanawasa's victory with only 29 percent of the vote led to charges of pro-MMD electoral fraud. The MMD lost its overall majority in the parliamentary polls.

Zambia was ruled by President Kenneth Kaunda and the United National Independence Party (UNIP) from independence from Britain in 1964 until the transition to a multiparty system in 1991. Kaunda's regime grew increasingly repressive and corrupt as it faced security and economic difficulties during the long guerrilla wars against white rule in neighboring Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Portuguese-controlled Mozambique. UNIP's socialist policies, combined with a crash in the price of copper, Zambia's main export, precipitated an economic decline unchecked for two decades.

In the face of domestic unrest and international pressure, Kaunda permitted free elections in 1991. Former labor leader Chiluba and his MMD won convincingly. By contrast, the next national elections, in 1996, lacked legitimacy largely because of a series of repressive measures instituted by the government. Economic liberalization and privatization have earned Zambia substantial external aid, but rampant corruption has distorted the economy and blocked sustainable growth. The country is among those suffering most from the AIDS pandemic; it is estimated Zambia will need to care for well over 600,000 AIDS orphans within a few years. President Chiluba stated in 2000 that the HIV-infection rate among adults in this southern African nation at about 20 percent of the adult population.

Development is burdened by high levels of corruption and inflation. Sixty-six cabinet members, deputy ministers, and members of parliament were investigated by the government-sponsored Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) from 1999 to 2000. Few of those investigated, however, have been arrested. A public sector reform program also had little effect. Privatization of state enterprises continued slowly. There was limited progress on the sale of immense state-owned copper mines. New business formation is slowed by the country's weak financial structures.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Zambia's president and parliament are elected to serve concurrent five-year terms by universal adult suffrage. The ability of Zambians to change their government democratically, however, is not yet consolidated. While Zambians' constitutional right to change their government freely was honored in the 1991 elections, both the 1996 and 2001 elections won by the ruling MMD were the subject of intense controversy.

Early in 2001, outgoing President Chiluba had supported a move within his party to change the constitution so that he could run for a third term. Dissension within his party, the opposition, and civil society forced him to back off from that plan. Instead, the MMD nominated Levy Mwanawasa, widely viewed as being the Chiluba's handpicked candidate. Both domestic and international election monitors cited serious irregularities with the presidential campaign and election. Opposition parties filed complaints with the judicial authorities, which ruled that the inauguration of Mwanawasa as president should go ahead. Mwanawasa began his presidency inauspiciously, having won less than 30 percent of the popular vote amidst numerous allegations of pro- MMD electoral fraud, and without a majority in parliament.

The November 1996 presidential and parliamentary polls were neither free nor fair. State resources and state media were mobilized extensively to support Chiluba and the ruling MMD. Serious irregularities plagued election preparations. Voter lists were incomplete or otherwise suspect; independent monitors estimated that more than two million people were effectively disenfranchised. Candidate eligibility requirements were changed, which resulted in the exclusion of Kaunda, the most credible opposition candidate.

Most opposition parties boycotted the 1996 polls, in which the MMD renewed its parliamentary dominance. International observer groups that did monitor the polls, along with independent domestic monitors and opposition parties, declared the process and the results to be fraudulent.

Some of Zambia's jurists retain a stubborn independence, while others are subservient to the MMD. The court system is severely overburdened. Pretrial detainees are sometimes held for years under harsh conditions before their cases reach trial. The Magistrates and Judges Association identified congestion in prisons and delayed trials as extremely serious problems. Malnourishment and poor health care in Zambia's prisons cause many deaths. Many civil matters are decided by customary courts of variable quality and consistency whose decisions often conflict with both national law and constitutional protections. More than 200 people are on death row in Zambia awaiting execution in 2001, according to Amnesty International. In 1997 eight people were executed, and between 1998 and 2000, at least 97 people were sentenced to death.

Wiretapping, both legal and illegal, is reportedly routine. The government dominates broadcasting, although an independent radio station, Radio Phoenix, presents nongovernmental views. The Public Order Act is among many statutes that has been used to harass and intimidate journalists. Security forces maintain surveillance of independent media and frequently arrest journalists. Other tools of harassment have included criminal libel suits and defamation suits brought by MMD leaders in response to stories on corruption. For example, in 2001 criminal charges were brought against two Zambian journalists and two political figures on charges of defaming President Frederick Chiluba in an article accusing the president of misappropriating $4 million the government had earmarked for emergency food imports several years ago.

Journalists have also been targeted for criticizing other officials, and President Chiluba's government tightened control of state-funded media in 2001. The Minister of Information and Broadcasting dissolved in May the boards of the state-funded Zambia Daily Mail, the Times of Zambia, the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, and the Zambia Printing Company.

Constitutionally protected religious freedom has been respected in practice. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in human rights promotion, such as the Zambian Independent Monitoring Team, the Zambian Civic Education Association, and the Law Association of Zambia, operate openly. In 1999, however, the government drafted a policy that would closely regulate NGOs. The government human rights commission investigated frequent complaints about police brutality and denounced the torture of coup suspects, but had no power to bring charges against alleged perpetrators.

Societal discrimination remains a serious obstacle to women's rights. A 1998 regional human development report noted that Zambia was one of the lowest-performing countries in southern Africa in terms of women's empowerment. Women are denied full economic participation and are discriminated against in rural lands allocation. A married woman must have her husband's permission to obtain contraceptives. Discrimination against women is especially prevalent in traditional tribunals that are the courts of first instance in most rural areas. Spousal abuse and other violence against women are reportedly common. A new political party, the Social Democratic Party, was founded in 2000 by Gwendoline Konie, a former diplomat, to focus on children's and women's issues.

Zambia's trade unions remain among Africa's strongest, and union rights are constitutionally guaranteed. The Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, an umbrella for Zambia's 19 largest unions, operates democratically without government interference. Collective bargaining rights are protected by the 1993 Industrial and Labor Relations Act, and unions negotiate directly with employers. About two-thirds of the country's 300,000 formal sector employees are union members.