Zambia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2003

2003 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Zambia's political rights rating improved from 5 to 4 due to changes in the survey methodology.


Zambia's political environment in 2002 was dominated by fallout from presidential and parliamentary elections held at the end of the previous year. 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 ruling MMD enjoys a slim majority in parliament with 80 seats, while opposition parties have 78.

The three main losing candidates have filed a lawsuit to overturn the results, and a judicial decision is expected to take place in 2003. Although widely perceived as former President Frederick Chiluba's handpicked candidate, Mwanawasa has supported wide-ranging inquiries by legal authorities into alleged corruption by Chiluba and his senior associates while they were in power. These resulted in a number of arrests and considerable legal maneuvering on the issue of whether Chiluba himself would be immune from prosecution.

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. Chiluba's 2001 attempt, as an incumbent, to amend the constitution to allow himself a third term as president was defeated.

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. The UN-WHO AIDS working group estimated that in 1999 the HIV infection rate among adults in Zambia was about 20 percent, and that 100,000 AIDS-related deaths occurred in that year alone.

High levels of corruption also burden development. Zambia ranked 77 out of 102 countries on Transparency International's 2001 Corruption Perception Index. By mid-2002 the Zambian government had sold off 257 state-owned companies out of 280 enterprises earmarked for privatization since the mid-1990s, but some of these deals, especially in the mining sector, have allegedly involved significant corruption. A public sector reform program also had little effect. 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 subjects of intense controversy.

The November 1996 presidential and parliamentary polls were neither free nor fair. State resources and state media were mobilized extensively to support President Frederick 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.

Prior to the 2001 elections, 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 Mwanawasa. 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 with only weak support in parliament.

The judicial system, which has at times been subject to political influence, is under considerable pressure, with several high-level cases pending. In July 2002, for example, in the case brought by three of the losing presidential candidates, Acting Chief Justice Ernest Sakala said there was a clear threat to witnesses. The Supreme Court told President Mwanawasa to stop intimidating witnesses who were to testify to helping him fraudulently engineer his electoral victory.

In July, parliament voted unanimously to lift Chiluba's immunity after President Mwanawasa alleged that Chiluba stole approximately $80 million during his 10 years in office. Chiluba has challenged that decision in the courts. Several Chiluba-era officials have been charged with corruption in recent months as part of a major crackdown on graft ordered by Mwanawasa.

Overall, 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 were on death row in Zambia awaiting execution in 2001, according to Amnesty International. In 1997 8 people were executed, and between 1998 and 2000, at least 97 people were sentenced to death.

The government dominates broadcasting, although an independent radio station, Radio Phoenix, presents nongovernmental views. The Public Order Act, among other statutes, has at times been used to harass and intimidate 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.

Reporters Sans Frontieres ranked Zambia 81 out of 139 countries in a 2002 study of press freedom.

The independent media supported the 2002 introduction into parliament of the Freedom of Information, Broadcasting, and Independent Broadcasting Authority draft legislation, which aims to facilitate easier access to information held by government and quasi-governmental organs, transform the state-owned and government- controlled Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) from a government propaganda organ to a public broadcaster, and establish an independent regulator to regulate broadcasting respectively.

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 has 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 land allocation. A married woman must have her husband's permission to obtain contraceptives. Discrimination against women is especially prevalent in traditional tribunals that are courts of first instance in most rural areas. Spousal abuse and other violence against women are reportedly common. The Zambian YWCA recorded 903 cases of gender-based violence against women between January and September of 2002.

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 governmental 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 (business) sector employees are union members.