Freedom in the World
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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 Rights rating improved from 4 to 3 because of the successful conduct of the country’s presidential election, reportedly the best since 1991, and concurrent legislative elections.
As 2006 began, President Levy Mwanawasa remained locked in a struggle with civil society groups and the opposition over the constitutional reform process. Mwanawasa rejected calls to create a Constituent Assembly and adopt a new constitution before the 2006 elections. A new electoral law, designed to address the problems in the previous elections, set the stage for the 2006 polls. Although Mwanawasa faced serious health problems and a formidable opponent in Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front, he ultimately won reelection in what international observers called the country’s freest and fairest elections in the last 15 years. In contrast to previous years, no candidate challenged the results in court.
Zambia gained independence from Britain in 1964. President Kenneth Kaunda and his United National Independence Party (UNIP) subsequently ruled Zambia as a de facto—and, from 1973, a de jure — one-party state 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 (Zimbabwe) and Portuguese-controlled Angola and Mozambique. UNIP’s socialist policies, combined with a crash in the price of copper, Zambia’s primary export, precipitated a two-decade economic decline.
In the face of domestic and international pressure, Kaunda agreed to a new constitution allowing for multiparty democracy in 1991. In free elections in October, former labor leader Frederick Chiluba and his Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) won convincingly, capturing both the presidency and the National Assembly by wide margins. However, the November 1996 presidential and parliamentary polls lacked legitimacy, as the MMD-led government undermined the electoral process. Candidacy laws, voter registration, and media coverage were all manipulated in favor of the incumbents. Most egregiously, constitutional reforms prior to the elections disqualified candidates whose parents were not Zambian by birth or descent, effectively barring Kaunda from seeking to regain his former office. Most opposition parties boycotted the polls, in which the MMD renewed its parliamentary dominance. International observer groups and domestic monitors declared the process and the results to be fraudulent.
Prior to the December 2001 presidential elections, Chiluba supported a move within his party to change the constitution so that he could run for a third term. Dissent within his party, as well as protests by opposition parties and civil society, forced him to abandon the idea. Instead, the MMD nominated Levy Mwanawasa, who won narrowly with just 29 percent of the vote against a divided opposition; Anderson Mazoka of the United Party for National Development (UPND) took 27 percent. During concurrent parliamentary elections, the MMD captured 69 out of 150 elected seats. Both domestic and international election monitors cited serious irregularities in the campaign and elections, including vote rigging, flawed voter registration, unequal and biased media coverage, and the MMD’s improper use of state resources. Three opposition candidates petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn Mwanawasa’s victory.
Mwanawasa’s first term thus began with his legitimacy as president in question, and he held only tenuous control over the ruling MMD. Chiluba had allies in key positions in the party, and it initially remained under his leadership. Ultimately, however, the president asserted his authority over the party and the political arena. In February 2005, the Supreme Court upheld his election, declaring that the 2001 poll was flawed, but not so severely as to affect the outcome. Mwanawasa undermined opponents in the MMD as he spurred the party’s National Executive Committee to abolish the position of party vice president and expel certain members. In July 2005, Mwanawasa defeated a challenge to his leadership of the MMD at the party convention.
Mwanawasa’s administration has been characterized by a campaign to deal with corruption and an attempt to manage the economy more prudently. Both of these have been applauded by international donors. He earned praise for banning ministers and senior officials from bidding on government contracts and for sacking his own vice president in 2003 for involvement in an irregular oil contract. However, a lack of concrete results in the anticorruption effort and the somewhat selective prosecution of cases have eroded public confidence in the process. On the economic front, Zambia obtained considerable debt relief in April 2005. Economic progress has been evident in the appreciation of the kwacha currency, lower inflation, and some degree of poverty reduction.
As 2005 ended, Mwanawasa remained in a bitter dispute over constitutional reforms, at the heart of which were questions about when a new constitution would be adopted (before or after the 2006 elections) and by what process (via a Constituent Assembly and national referendum or by parliamentary vote). In November 2005, the MMD used its parliamentary majority to defeat a motion to create a Constituent Assembly. This led to renewed public protests in December, sponsored by civil society and opposition groups. While Mwanawasa initially acceded to demands for a Constituent Assembly (although not before the 2006 elections), he later backtracked.
Mwanawasa began formally campaigning in February for the 2006 elections. A major setback occurred in April when he was flown out of Zambia for medical treatment in Britain. During his three-week stay, it was revealed that he had suffered a minor stroke, which led some to question whether he would be able to run for a second term. Shortly after his return, one of his leading opponents, Anderson Mazoka of the UPND, died, leaving that party and its alliance grouping, the United Democratic Alliance (UDA), without a leader. Benefiting from these events was former Chiluba stalwart Michael Sata, leader of the Patriotic Front (PF). A bitter foe of Mwanawasa’s, Sata had a firm base of support in the Copperbelt province and appealed to poorer urban Zambians, which made him a formidable candidate.
By August, three primary contenders for the presidency had emerged: Mwanawasa of the MMD, Sata of the PF, and Hakainde Hichilema of the UPND and UDA. Each of these found support bases in particular regions. During the campaign, Mwanawasa touted his economic and poverty-reduction policies, while others questioned his health and offered more populist messages. Under new leadership since August 2005, the Electoral Commission of Zambia received high marks in the run-up to the polls for consulting regularly with the parties and showing less bias toward the ruling party than in previous years. The polls, conducted on September 28, were endorsed by international observers as the freest and fairest in 15 years. Although initial returns favored Sata, by October 2 it was clear that Mwanawasa had won a second term with 43 percent of the vote, followed by 29 percent for Sata and 25 percent for Hichilema. As Sata disputed the results, riots broke out in PF strongholds. These dissipated after civil society groups appealed for calm and Sata announced that he would not formally challenge the results, but would instead work in Parliament and local councils where the PF had achieved some successes. Of the 150 parliamentary seats that were contested in concurrent legislative elections, the MMD won 72; Sata’s PF and Hichilema’s UDA won 46 and 27 seats, respectively.
The AIDS pandemic dramatically affects Zambia. UNAIDS estimated HIV infection rates in 2002 at 21.5 percent, and government figures indicate that Zambia already has nearly 700,000 AIDS orphans. While Zambia’s efforts to provide antiretroviral medication to people suffering from HIV/AIDS have made progress, it remains difficult to access the drugs in rural areas.
Zambia is an electoral democracy. The 2006 elections represented a step forward in terms of the ability of citizens to democratically change their government. Both the 1996 and 2001 elections featured substantial flaws and were subjects of intense controversy. International observers criticized the 2001 elections, as did Zambia’s Supreme Court in its 2005 ruling upholding the election of Levy Mwanawasa as president. Seeking to correct some of these shortcomings, the parliament passed a government-backed electoral reform law in April 2006. It included provisions for transparent ballot boxes, new voter cards, restrictions on the use of public resources for campaigns, and requirements for balanced coverage of candidates by the state-owned media. However, the law empowered the president to set the date for elections and prevented the media from publishing speculative analyses and unsourced opinion polls in the run-up to the contests. The law, along with efforts by the Electoral Commission of Zambia to consult with the parties and remain unbiased, facilitated a relatively scandal-free electoral process.
The president and the unicameral National Assembly are elected to serve concurrent five-year terms. The National Assembly includes 150 elected members, as well as eight members appointed by the president.
The opposition has been able to operate, although under some duress. PF leader Michael Sata has been arrested and charged with corruption-related offenses and sedition since 2001. In February 2006, he was arrested on charges of defaming the president. After his defeat in the presidential polls, rumors circulated about his setting up “parallel governments” on local councils where the PF held majorities, leading Mwanawasa to accuse him of treasonous behavior. In the months that followed, Sata and the PF became the target of considerable harassment. In December, he was arrested on charges that were subsequently dismissed by the courts. The government also ordered police to deny his party permits to hold rallies. The other opposition block, the UDA, has had problems maintaining its unity. In late 2006, splits in the alliance appeared to leave the UPND and UNIP as the sole remaining partners.
Mwanawasa’s campaign to tackle the corruption problem continued in 2006, although many questioned the sincerity of his efforts. In 2005, Mwanawasa attempted to shield his ally, former health minister Kashiwa Bulaya, from prosecution. Key MMD officials and Mwanawasa allies, party chairman Michael Mabenga and national secretary Katele Kalumba, have been implicated in major corruption scandals. Cases against former government officials accused of economic plunder have languished. A case against former president Frederick Chiluba, filed in a British high court, has yet to come to completion. On the positive side, Samuel Musonda, former director of the state-owned Zambia National Commercial Bank, was convicted in 2006 on charges that he used his position to inappropriately provide credit facilities to the Office of President and Cabinet when Chiluba was in office. In May, Zambia and the U.S. government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation signed a two-year, $22.7 million Threshold Program agreement to reduce corruption and improve government effectiveness. In August, the Anti-Corruption Commission announced the formation of integrity committees in several ministries. Zambia was ranked 111 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed, but the government often restricts this right in practice. The government controls two widely circulated newspapers, and the state-owned, progovernment Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) dominates broadcast media. Owing to prepublication review at government-controlled newspapers, journalists commonly practice self-censorship. Broadcast media continue to be biased in favor of the government. One independent study indicated that although there had been improvement from previous years, the ZNBC continued to provide more favorable coverage for the incumbent during the 2006 election campaign. Beyond this, the government continues to challenge in court the implementation of two 2002 media laws that gave the parliament control over who sits on the management boards of ZNBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority. The latter has the authority to regulate the industry and grant licenses to prospective broadcasters.
The independent media continue to play a significant role. The Public Order Act (POA) and other statutes have at times been used to harass journalists. Other tools of harassment have included criminal libel and defamation suits brought by ruling party leaders in response to stories on corruption. While journalists have been arrested, detained, and harassed by MMD supporters in previous years, there was little such activity in 2006. The government does not restrict internet access.
Constitutionally protected religious freedom is respected in practice. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
Under the POA, the police must be notified of all demonstrations seven days in advance; while the law does not require demonstrators to acquire a permit, the police have frequently broken up “illegal” protests because the organizers lacked permits. In March 2006, police refused to grant a permit to Sata to hold a rally. Apart from this, the POA was not used to restrict opposition activities in the run-up to the elections. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in promoting human rights, such as the Zambian Independent Monitoring Team, the Zambian Civic Education Association, the Law Association of Zambia, and the Legal Resources Fund, operate openly. All NGOs, however, are required to register with the government.
Zambia’s trade unions are among Africa’s strongest, and union rights are constitutionally guaranteed. The Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, an umbrella organization for the country’s 19 largest unions, operates democratically without governmental interference. About two-thirds of the country’s 300,000 formal (business) sector employees are union members. While collective bargaining rights are protected by statute, labor laws also require labor organizations to have at least 100 members to be registered, a potentially burdensome rule.
Judicial independence is guaranteed by law. While courts do act independently and have staked out adversarial positions vis-à-vis the government, capacity issues, corruption, and political influences all undermine the efficacy of the judiciary. The court system is severely overburdened, and many suspects and defendants do not have access to legal aid owing to limited resources. A lack of qualified personnel (in part because of poor working conditions) contributes to significant trial delays, and pretrial detainees are sometimes held for years under harsh conditions. In rural areas, customary courts of variable quality and consistency, whose decisions often conflict with both national law and constitutional protections, decide many civil matters.
Prison conditions are very harsh. Severe overcrowding, poor nutrition, and limited access to health care have led to many inmate deaths and—along with unsafe sex, tattooing, and drug use—make inmates more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Allegations of police brutality and the use of torture are widespread, but security forces have generally operated with impunity. In 2005, tensions arose between the police and the Police Public Complaints Authority amid accusations that the police were trying to impede investigations of abuse. While the government Human Rights Commission investigated complaints against police and denounced the torture of suspects in a 1997 coup attempt, it has no power to bring charges against alleged perpetrators.
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, tribe, gender, place of origin, marital status, political opinion, color, or creed. However, societal discrimination remains a serious obstacle to women’s rights. Domestic violence and rape are major problems, and traditional norms inhibit many women from reporting such assaults. An October 2004 survey by the U.S. Agency for International Development found that 48 percent of Zambian women have been subjected to physical or emotional abuse by their spouse or partner. Women are denied full economic participation and usually require male consent to acquire credit. Discrimination against women is especially prevalent in customary courts; women are considered subordinate with respect to property, inheritance, and marriage. In September 2005, an amended penal code banned the traditional practice of “sexual cleansing,” in which a widow has sex with relatives of her deceased husband.