Freedom in the World
You are here
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Zambia received an upward trend arrow due to the formal inclusion of civil society groups in the country's constitutional review process and the president's aggressive efforts to root out government corruption.
The legitimacy of Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa's 2001 electoral victory remained under scrutiny in 2003, with some 80 witnesses testifying about voting irregularities in a petition to the country's High Court by three of the losing candidates to recount the votes. The results of September parliamentary by-elections, which increased the number of seats held by the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), were rejected by the main opposition party, which also boycotted a national conference on constitutional reform.
President Kenneth Kaunda and the United National Independence Party (UNIP) ruled Zambia 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 Frederick Chiluba and his MMD won convincingly. By contrast, the November 1996 presidential and parliamentary polls lacked legitimacy, largely because of a series of repressive measures instituted by the government. State resources and media were mobilized extensively to support Chiluba and the ruling MMD, and 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 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 December 2001 presidential elections, President Chiluba 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, who narrowly won the vote by only 29 percent against a divided opposition. Both domestic and international election monitors cited serious irregularities with the campaign and election. President Mwanawasa must now defend his victory before the country's High Court, but it is unlikely that a ruling will come in time to affect his current term in office. During concurrent parliamentary elections, the MMD captured 69 seats out of 150 elected members.
A motion by opposition legislators to impeach Mwanawasa on charges of graft and nepotism was defeated in August 2003. Although widely perceived as former president Chiluba's handpicked candidate, Mwanawasa has backed wide-ranging legal inquiries into alleged corruption by Chiluba and his senior associates while they were in power. Meanwhile, hotly contested by-elections in September increased the number of seats held by the MMD to 75. The main opposition party rejected the results.
Under pressure to introduce electoral reforms and to allow a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, Mwanawasa organized a national conference in October that drew more than 600 delegates. However, the country's main opposition parties boycotted the forum, and the press was barred from covering the deliberations. The government had originally sought to steer the reform process through a handpicked Constitutional Review Commission, but agreed to a more representative and transparent process after intense criticism from civil society groups.
Zambia's privatization program slowed in 2003, after the government sold off 257 state-owned companies out of 280 enterprises earmarked for privatization since the mid-1990s. Some of these deals, especially in the mining sector, have allegedly involved significant corruption. Relations deteriorated with the IMF and foreign donors in 2003 because of a $125 million budget deficit, although the country has continued to receive limited debt relief from the World Bank. New business formation is slowed by the country's weak financial structures.
The country is among those suffering most from the AIDS pandemic; government figures indicate that Zambia already has more than 700,000 AIDS orphans. UNAIDS estimated infection rates in 2002 at 21.5 percent.
The ability of Zambians to change their government democratically 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. President Levy Mwanawasa, who was reprimanded by Acting Chief Justice Ernest Sakala in 2002 for intimidating witnesses during the 2001 presidential election, has said he intends to drag the case out until the next election. Zambia's president and parliament are elected to serve concurrent five-year terms. The National Assembly includes 150 elected members, as well as 8 members appointed by the president and the speaker of the house.
High levels of corruption have burdened development, although President Mwanawasa has taken the initiative in rooting out state graft. He earned praise for banning cabinet ministers and senior officials from bidding on government contracts and for sacking his own vice president, Enoch Kavindele, for involvement in an irregular oil contract. Zambia ranked 92 out of 133 countries on Transparency International's 2003 Corruption Perceptions Index.
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. In November, police raided the offices of the privately owned Omega television station in the capital and ordered it to cease broadcasting, following a dispute over the station's license. Other tools of harassment have included criminal libel suits and defamation suits brought by MMD leaders in response to stories on corruption. Reporters Sans Frontieres ranked Zambia 86 out of 166 countries in a 2003 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. The law 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. However, in November 2002, Vice President Kavindele abruptly withdrew the bill, citing global security concerns after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States. The government does not restrict access to the Internet.
Constitutionally protected religious freedom has been respected in practice. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
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.
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. The 1993 Industrial and Labor Relations Act protects collective bargaining rights, and unions negotiate directly with employers. About two-thirds of the country's 300,000 formal (business) sector employees are union members.
The judicial system, which has at times been subject to political influence, is under considerable pressure, with several high-level cases pending. In February, Chiluba was formally charged with theft of state funds during his tenure as president, having lost his immunity from prosecution the year before. His trial, on 168 counts of theft related to an overseas bank account, is set to begin in early December. Four other officials face similar charges.
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 prisons cause many deaths. More than 200 people were 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. Customary courts of variable quality and consistency, whose decisions often conflict with both national law and constitutional protections, decide many civil matters. 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. Following a report by Human Rights Watch on the sexual abuse of women and girls and its role in the spread of HIV/ AIDS, President Mwanawasa promised in 2003 to create a government program to combat gender-based violence.