Zambia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2010

2010 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 civil liberties rating declined from 3 to 4 due to new legal restrictions on the activities of nongovernmental organizations.

The government and ruling party stepped up pressure on civil society and the media in 2009, including passing a law that increases restrictions on the activities of nongovernmental organizations. Former president Frederick Chiluba, found guilty of corruption in a British high court in 2007, was acquitted of the charges and has enjoyed a political rehabilitation at the hands of President Rupiah Banda. Meanwhile, two foreign governments suspended funding to Zambia’s health sector in the wake of corruption scandals in the ministry of health.

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 jureone-party state. In the face of domestic and international pressure, Kaunda agreed to a new constitution and multiparty democracy in 1991. In free elections that October, former labor leader Frederick Chiluba and his Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) captured both the presidency and the National Assembly by wide margins. However, in the 1996 elections, the MMD-led government manipulated candidacy laws, voter registration, and media coverage in favor of the incumbents. Most opposition parties boycotted the polls, and the MMD renewed its parliamentary dominance.
Dissent within the MMD, as well as protests by opposition parties and civil society, forced Chiluba to abandon an effort to change the constitution and seek a third term in 2001. Instead, the MMD nominated Levy Mwanawasa, who went on to win the 2001 elections. The MMD also captured a plurality of elected parliament seats. Domestic and international election monitors cited vote rigging and other serious irregularities. In the September 2006 presidential poll, Mwanawasa won a second term with 43 percent of the vote. In concurrent legislative elections, the MMD won 72 seats in the 150-seat parliament, while the Patriotic Front (PF) took 44 and the United Democratic Alliance captured 27. The remaining seats were split between smaller parties and independents. The polls were deemed the freest and fairest in 15 years.
Mwanawasa suffered from a stroke in July2008 and died in August. Prior to his death, Mwanawasa and his one-time fierce political rival, Michael Sata of the opposition Patriotic Front (PF), publicly declared an end to their feuding, which had been a source of tension. After years of public rancor over the constitutional reform process, a National Constitutional Conference (NCC) was underway in 2008, although it was boycotted by elements of civil society and the opposition.
The presidential by-elections in October 2008that followed Mwanawasa’s death pitted his vice president, Rupiah Banda, against Sata and Hakainde Hichilemaof the United Party for National Development (UPND). Banda was elected president with 40 percent of the vote, against Sata’s 38 percent, and Hichilema’s 20 percent. Sata claimed that the elections were fraudulent and filed a legal challenge calling for a recount, but his request was rejected by the Supreme Court in March 2009.
During Banda’s time in office, the overall political situation in the country has been characterized by contentious politics and governance challenges. Banda has been in conflict with members of his party who have sought to challenge his leadership and presumed candidacy for polls scheduled for 2011. Meanwhile, government and ruling party actors have taken aggressive and sometimes violent actions against the political opposition and elements of civil society thought to be against the president.

Despite substantial progress from 2004–2007, economic growth slowed in 2008 and 2009 owing to the global economic recession. Increases in the global price of copper in 2009 may generate improvements in 2010, however. Zambia experienced considerable debt relief in 2005 and 2007, and has obtained substantial investment in recent years from China. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2008 pledged $79 million to support poverty alleviation and economic growth, and in 2009, it agreed to provide over $250 million to strengthen and stabilize the kwacha.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Zambia is an electoral democracy. While local and international observers declared the 2008 presidential elections to be free and fair, opposition parties and civil society groups raised concerns about fraud, including the printing of additional ballot papers and the incumbent’s use of state resources for campaigning. 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 8 members appointed by the president.
The opposition has been able to operate, although under some duress. PF leader Sata has been arrested and charged with various offenses, including sedition, since 2001. While violent clashes took place between supporters of the PF and the MMD in both 2008 and 2009, there is no evidence of systematic harassment of the PF by the government. In March 2009, the PF joined hands with the UPND to challenge the MMD in the 2011 elections.
While President Rupiah Banda’s government launched an official anti-corruption policy in July 2009, concerns have emerged over his administration’s commitment to anti-corruption efforts. One of Banda’s ministers was forced to resign in April 2009after being found guilty by a judicial tribunal of inappropriate behavior. However, a high court ruling overturned the verdict, and the minister was subsequently re-appointed to a cabinet position. Banda has also abetted the political rehabilitation of former president Frederick Chiluba. A 2007 British high court judgment against Chiluba on corruption charges has not yet been registered or enforced in Zambia. Another corruption trial in a Zambian high court in August 2009 found the former president not guilty of embezzlement charges. When the head of a special task force on corruption attempted to appeal this ruling, he was dismissed from his position. Separately, an auditor general report issued in early 2009 stated that huge sums of money had been lost in 2007 through misuse, theft, and misappropriation of public resources. Also in 2009, the Swedish and Dutch governments both suspended funding to the health sector after it was revealed that millions of dollars had been embezzled from the ministry of health. Zambia was ranked 99 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 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 owing to prepublication review, journalists commonly practice self-censorship. The state-owned, progovernment Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) dominates the broadcast media, although several independent stations have the capacity to reach large portions of the population. The government has the authority to appoint the management boards of ZNBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which regulates the industry and grants licenses to prospective broadcasters. The government has also delayed passage of a bill designed to give the public and journalists free access to official information. The independent media continue to play a significant role, although journalists have been arrested, detained, and harassed by government and MMD supporters in previous years. Criminal libel and defamation suits have been brought against journalists by MMD leaders in response to stories on corruption.
Conditions for the independent press and media deteriorated considerably in 2009. The government and ruling party aggressively harassed and interfered with press outlets deemed opponents of the administration, specifically the leading independent newspaper, the Post. As of July 2009, the Post’s staff had been physically or verbally attacked by MMD members on at least six occasions. In July, the government brought charges against the Post’s editor for distributing obscene material after a photo of a woman giving birth on the street was circulated. In August, the government threatened to introduce a bill to regulate the media if it failed to come up with its own regulatory body.
Constitutionally protected religious freedom is respected in practice. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
Under the Public Order Act, police must receive a week’s notice before all demonstrations. While the law does not require permits, the police have frequently broken up “illegal” protests because the organizers lacked permits. In 2009, police detained nine individuals who participated in a public campaign of blowing car horns to protest the acquittal of Chiluba and threatened to disperse meetings of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) seeking to organize the protests. Although NGOs have operated freely in the past, the government passed legislation in 2009 placing new constraints on their activities. The law requires the registration of NGOs and re-registration every five years and establishes a board to provide guidelines and regulate NGO activity in the country.
Zambia’s trade unions are among Africa’s strongest, and union rights are constitutionally guaranteed. The Zambia Congress of Trade Unions operates democratically without state interference. About two-thirds of the country’s 300,000 formal-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. While unions remain engaged in public affairs, they have become weaker both financially and organizationally in recent years.
Judicial independence is guaranteed by law. However, several decisions in 2009, including Chiluba’s acquittal, tainted the public image of the judiciary and raised concerns that the executive branch was exercising undue influence over the institution. Legislation was also passed in 2009 that allows the executive to increase the number of judges serving on the High and Supreme Courts. The lack of qualified personnel, in part because of poor working conditions, contributes to significant trial delays. Pretrial detainees are sometimes held for years under harsh conditions, and many accused lack access to legal aid owing to limited resources. In rural areas, customary courts of variable quality and consistency—whose decisions often conflict with the constitution and national law—decide many civil matters.
Allegations of police corruption, brutality, and even torture are widespread, and security forces have generally operated with impunity. Prison conditions are very harsh; poor nutrition and limited access to health care have led to many inmate deaths. Despite government efforts in 2007 to reduce crowding, in part by pardoning convicts, overcrowding remains a serious problem.

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 assaults. Women are denied full economic participation and usually require male consent to obtain credit. Discrimination against women is especially prevalent in customary courts, where they are considered subordinate with respect to property, inheritance, and marriage. In 2005, an amended penal code banned the traditional practice of “sexual cleansing,” in which a widow is obliged to have sex with relatives of her deceased husband. In an alleged effort to intimidate members of civil society, Vice President George Kunda stated in 2009 that the government could prosecute the known homosexuals in the country using legislation passed in 2005 against homosexuality.