Can anyone stop Zambia’s slide into authoritarianism?

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Ester Lungu with Her husbands at Woodlands Last rally
Ester Lungu with Her husbands at Woodlands Last rally

Lungu may be taking his country down a path from which it’ll be hard to return.

By Simon Allison

Zambian President Edgar Lungu is not a dictator, and nor does he want to be.

That’s his version, at least, and he’s sticking to it. ‘Zambia is the most accomplished democracy in this region or the whole of Africa. If this is dictatorship, there is no democracy in Africa,’ he told a press conference in Lusaka last week. ‘I know that people think I am targeting political players. I am not targeting any political player. I am only trying to bring sanity.’

Lungu’s actions, however, tell a different story. This year has seen him accrue more and more power at the expense of local media, civil society and opposition parties. Three incidents in particular stand out.

The first came on 11 April, when opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was arrested at his home. Hichilema and his family took refuge inside a safe room while heavily armed police laid siege to the residence, using tear gas in an attempt to smoke him out. Hichilema alleges that members of his household staff were tortured.

Eventually Hichilema was persuaded to emerge. He was charged with treason for allegedly endangering the president’s life in a traffic incident at a cultural festival. The charge is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds, and seems clearly designed to sideline the popular opposition leader.

Lungu’s term runs until 2021 – and with special emergency powers, can his local critics stop him?

The second came in mid-June, when the speaker of the National Assembly unilaterally suspended 48 members of Parliament belonging to Hichilema’s party, the United Party for National Development (UPND), without pay or voting rights for a month. Their offence was to have boycotted the president’s state of the nation address; because, they said, they did not recognise the president’s legitimacy.

There is no room for this kind of dissent in Lungu’s Zambia, apparently; no space for the lively debate and disagreement that is the hallmark of successful democracies.

And finally, last week came the most ominous development of all. In response to a fire at a popular Lusaka market, Lungu declared the threat of a state of emergency. This gave him special powers to deal with it, including the ability to suspend Parliament entirely, restrict freedom of movement, arrest potential troublemakers and impose a curfew.
The declaration effectively allows Lungu to circumvent all remaining checks and balances envisaged by Zambia’s constitution.

As any student of history will know, declaring a state of emergency, or the threat of one, is a dictator’s favourite tool. This is especially true when the pretext for such a declaration is so flimsy: if Zambia is such an ‘accomplished democracy’, surely its police and judiciary should be capable of investigating the fire in Lusaka without the need for the president to resort to such measures?

Given these worrying signs of Lungu’s growing authoritarianism, attention turns to what can be done to prevent him from turning into a fully-fledged dictator. And if that really is his end goal, who is going to stop him?

South Africa, which wields significant influence in Lusaka, has been deafeningly silent

Domestically, the president has successfully hobbled the official opposition by detaining Hichilema and suspending members of Parliament. He has also succeeded in weakening local media; most flagrantly, in June last year authorities shut down independent newspaper The Post – again on a flimsy pretext. Its editor and owner, Fred M’membe, remains in hiding.

There is still some fight left in civil society, however, with several prominent institutions – including the Civil Society Constitution Agenda and the Law Association of Zambia – criticising the declaration of the threat of a state of emergency. Some of the country’s highly influential church groups have also voiced their disapproval.

Clearly Lungu is not going to have it all his own way. However, given that his term in office runs until 2021, and given the special emergency powers he has arrogated to himself, it’s hard to see what his local critics can do to stop him.

More levers of power are available to the international community. Zambia’s economy is in a rut, and the country remains heavily reliant on international partners for investment, aid and other forms of financing. But of these powers, few are speaking out.

South Africa, which wields significant influence in Lusaka, has been deafeningly silent, seemingly preoccupied with its own leadership troubles. China, a major investor in Zambia’s natural resource sector, can hardly condemn the muzzling of political opponents given its record at home. And the United States has offered little more than platitudes.

Another potential pressure point comes in the form of the International Monetary Fund, which is in the process of negotiating a $1.3 billion credit facility with Zambia. It’s money the Zambian government desperately needs, but should it come with good governance strings attached?

Zambia desperately needs the IMF deal – should it come with good governance strings attached?

Lungu remains defiant. ‘If the IMF thinks we have gone beyond the norms of good governance and democracy, they are free to go. We cannot sacrifice the Zambian people at the altar of economic expediency,’ he told last week’s press briefing.

Nonetheless, the economy remains the most obvious way in which the international community can reverse Zambia’s backsliding. ‘This is a vulnerable government with an economy that is fast running out of money,’ says Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy and International Development at the University of Birmingham.

The question, he says, is whether the will is there to do so. ‘Right now, it does not seem to be the case. However, the IMF deal is not yet done, and I would think that some pressure is being brought behind the scenes both within Zambia and without for a compromise to be found.’

What worries Cheeseman is that Lungu sees what Mugabe has been able to do in Zimbabwe – ‘take his country to the brink of ruin and hang on regardless’ – and that this has emboldened the president to go down a path from which it is hard to return.

The Author is a Consultant at the Institute for Security Studies.

55 COMMENTS

    • +6
      -6
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      They can say all they want. Their twisting of the truth will not get the lawless campaigners anywhere.

      Some Zambians and their foreign friends were leading the country down a path previously unknown to us.

      We were losing sanity.

    • +17
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      Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph. Haile Selassie

    • +5
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      That is your opinion Simon.

      The country is a Democratic and the tenets of democracy are what are STILL binding the Governance of this country.

      WHO are you anyway?

      Thanks

      BB2014,216

    • +7
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      I HAVE FOUND ECL TO BE A SADIST WHO ENJOYS IN THE SUFFERING OF OTHER PEOPLE. HE DERIVES GREAT PLEASURE IN INFLICTING PAIN ON OTHER PEOPLE. HE IS HEARTLESS AND CRUEL. IT IS NOT GOOD FOR THE COUNTRY TO HAVE SUCH A PERSON FOR PRESIDENT. THE COUNTRY NEEDS A PRESIDENT WITH HUMAN HEART. LUNGU IS ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT INFLICTING PAIN. HE HAS EVEN DECLARED A STATE OF EMERGENCY TO HAVE MORE PEOPLE ARRESTED AND TO HAVE MORE BLOOD SHED. THOSE WHO ARE APPLAUDING HIM HAVE EVIL SPIRITS LIVING IN THEM.

    • +2
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      I respect all humanity but abhors masqueraders. Simon’s rants are not only repurgenant, but despicably foolish hallucinations and can only fly to retards. Consultant to whom and based on what level of knowledge on Zambia? Does he realize that we are more versatile educated Zambians? Such ignoramuses are better off to keep their zeal to their chests because we are solidly experienced and grounded in multiple disciplines including Democracy, security studies, Security and conflict management than his coached cryptic article.

    • +9
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      10 WAYS TO TELL IF YOUR PRESIDENT IS A DICTATOR By Prof. Stephen Walt, Harvard University

      1) Demonizing the opposition. (Lungu’s abduction of HH, suspension of opposition)
      2) Systematic efforts to intimidate the media. (Closure of Post, Komboni radio, Radio Mano, Muvi TV)
      3) Building an official user-friendly media network. (DeadNBC, Daily Nation, Times of Zambia, Daily mail, millenium radio)
      4) Politicizing the civil service, military & the domestic security agencies. (kanganja, ZAF Eric Chimese, flooding ZP with cadres)
      5) Using government surveillance against domestic political opponents. (ZICTA, Shushushuz)
      6) Using state power to reward corporate backers and punish opponents. (Awarding Govt road contracts to cadres, squeezing of GBM contracts, )
      7) Stacking the Supreme…

    • +4
      -2
      vote

      CONT’D…

      7) Stacking the Supreme Court. (Disgraceful ConCourt, Docile Irene Mambilima, PF cadre Sunday Nkonde)
      8) Enforcing the law for only one side. (PF are above the law)
      9) Really rigging the system. (Kaizer Zulu rigging Aug Elections)
      10) Fearmongering. (State of Emergency)

      Even North Korea is called “Democratic” Peoples Republic of Korea. Even mugabe & museveni claim to be democrats.

    • +6
      -6
      vote

      Not even a harder would take this for manure. Cryptic nonsense of an ignoramus masquerading as a SME on Zambia.

  1. +21
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    The sad part is that he is hiding under the burner of Christianity and he has managed to f.ool nearly all the Christians and it will be too late when they realise his true colour but some of us who have seen EL for what he is are very few, As the saying goes, NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF F.OOLS IN LARGE NUMBERS.

  2. +1
    0
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    Why do Zambian media houses repeat propganda by HH cronies. Write your own as you see events. You know this guy is paid to write this

  3. +15
    -15
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    This is a very biased article. I hope you will call France a dictatorship because it has also evoked the state of emergency.

    • +12
      -12
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      Dictatorship and corruption do not happen in Europe or the USA. It only happens in Asia, Africa, the East and South America; and many Zambian people agree to this lie.

  4. +12
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    Zambian is now a mafia state ,Governed by jungle laws.He who plants chilli will have chilli and the one planting Apples haversts Apples.

  5. +7
    -8
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    How do people manage to conjure falsehoods and hope to get sympathy? Shame of the shameless author! How so comforting to well meaning Zambians to remember that Jehovah God, who puts people He chooses in positions of power and removes them in due time, is watching over Zambia and no malicious person will succeed!

  6. +10
    -4
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    Don’t worry people. Chickens always come back home to roost. What goes around comes around. Edgar Lungu has lost a chance to legitimise his rule and continue gaining public sympathy as a humble and vulnerable man. Instead he has chosen to go on a path of self and national destruction to prove to HH how powerful he is. Is that or isn’t that inferiority complex mwebantu? Destroying a whole nation just to prove that he is more powerful than one individual? For what?

  7. +13
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    Mr. Consultant, please tell the whole story instead of deliberately leaving out some details. The Namwala issue where some people were beaten and their property destroyed. The burning down of some public buildings, the ZESCO pylons in Kafue, the promise of Armageddon and volcanoes. The list is endless. Do you, in your right frame of mind, think this is just child’s play or talk? You also forgot to mention that some bishops and members of the EFZ and CCZ disassociated themselves from the statement from Archbishop Mpundu. For your own information, Fred M’membe is not in hiding and he appeared in Court a couple of days ago. As Zambians we are not as docile as you are portraying. We fought KK when is was very strong with his One Party Participatory Democracy, we stopped the Chiluba third…

    • +13
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      We fought KK when is was very strong with his One Party Participatory Democracy, we stopped the Chiluba third. If WE think ECL is becoming a dictator, we cannot fail to handle him.

  8. +11
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    So now any twit as long as he is white thinks he is a master of democracy and can lecture us on how our country should be run??? Without any research, interviews with all church mother bodies not just the catholics or citizens from across the country, this South African clown decides to publish this rubbish on an international site?? What a rubbish article, just reached the part about the mps and stopped reading….

    • +1
      -4
      vote

      Why do you have to pretend! You know very well down your heart that Lungu is doing all this to fix one individual who has refused to acknowledge his presidency. To me that is a cowardly act compounded by inferiority complex. Mr Lungu must realize that he is punishing innocent citizens who are powerless and have nothing to do with politics.

  9. +7
    -2
    vote

    Who is the author of this article? Is he Zambian? We are no longer to be educated by colonists like this guy we know better now. This country is on the right tract the post election mood ended long time ago unless from some few stubborn and dander heads who find it difficult to accept defeat. Big problem is some one at Lusaka times working against the Zambian people find it fit to post this useless news. There is somebody at LT

    • +1
      -4
      vote

      Actually, by your reaction you are showing that you need to be re-educated from scratch. You have a nasty type of ignorance that can only come of you by the power of God! When your leader is a dictator, he is a dictator…nothing you say about it will change the fact. Whatever Lungu is doing now is the hallmark of dictatorship. Objective observers would agree but ignoramuses like you will never get it!

  10. +7
    -2
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    I do not think this is a schooled argument, this guy has comically chosen to write what his shallow mind wishes to exposition than the whole truth. If what we know from with UPND is to be published this guy may begin to appreciate and meet reality that what has been happening aren’t mere incidences but well planned activities by the FRIENDS OF UPND [simply called FOU]. For your own info HH is a product of FOU and is biological surrogate son of Mazoka. Furthermore recall the 60+1 famous pronouncement of HH; it meant votes or votes for UPND they had planned to RIG the 2016 Elections! Engage me I am ready to expose everything Dipak, Hamusankwa, Hamasaka and the likes did to even get so close! There is every reason to believe these guys and their funders mean no good. TO REMIND HH; HE TOLD A…

  11. +10
    -2
    vote

    Malabish yeka yeka! First of all, HH had an opportunity to convince us Zambians peacefully on why we should agree with him if indeed he was the victor of 2016 elections. He didn’t do that. He also had the chance to show true respect and leadership by simply ordering his entourage to stop and give way but he decided to play a high-risk game. He is fortunate to still be alive otherwise in other parts of the world, he could have been shot for such carelessness. We tend to mock politicians who have the people’s interest at heart and perceive them as weak. The same happened to President Mwanawasa when he was mocked as cabbage. You called Lungu useless drunkard and when he takes action, suddenly he is a dictator?

  12. +5
    -1
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    Biased report. If putting in place a state of emergency is dictatorship then France is a dictatorship. The closure of the Post Newspaper is in the courts of law, Lungu is not a judge, why has the author ignored to raise issues that led to the Post being closed. Thirdly Parliament has got its rules and regulations, I expected the author to quote which part of the law the Speaker broke when suspending the law. That is what ethical, balanced views must bring out to the reader and not mere accusations

  13. vote

    Uwa Mabele talangwa nshila, ati mabele yandi mwamona bige!

    An African saying from old school.

  14. +3
    -1
    vote

    Wow this is so heartless. Our weak spot is obviously our economy, play with that, not only will it the same people the upnd seems to want to govern but will also damage any chances of Zambia ever having a credible government, because whenever they please, the international community will squeeze us economically just to prove that we can’t govern ourselves

    • +2
      -3
      vote

      That’s why our government should be in top gear when it comes to economic development! But what do we have? A government only interested in power and corruption. A logical government would hasten to remove its vulnerability. Since PF came into power, our national security has been compromised. It will take a long time to undo the damage done to Zambia by Sata and Lungu.

  15. +4
    -4
    vote

    The scary thing is how his supporters can’t ‘see’ all these signs staring in their faces or they are simply in denial. In Zimbabwe his supporters were equally oblivious to the reality that Mugabe was becoming a dictator only concerned about his perpetual stay in power. Outside were seeing big signs and they accused Morgan Tshangirai of being a hired gun by western powers. The cheered along until they were affected; until they realised now they had to carry a heavy suitcase full of useless money to go and buy a loaf of bread 20 km from their home; they waited and praised Mugabe until they had to go and buy fuel and cooking oil in a small plastic bag.

    The parallels are remarkable! And often dictators are built and made by their own people who cheer along. It’s sad because my own…

  16. 0
    -1
    vote

    The PF bloggers ignore the truth. Zambia’s main vulnerability is its economy, over which the government has less control than the market forces in the copper market.

    Also, PF bloggers, present valid counter arguments as to why you think we still have a healthy democracy. Do not attack the person but his points.

    Senseless chaps.

  17. 0
    -1
    vote

    LT my innocent comment is awaiting moderation. Are you using a PF sensoring system?

  18. +3
    -3
    vote

    simon speak about xenophobia in your current country of residence. Advise your sponsor that the proper way out of all this is for your hero hh to drop his silly crusade to humiliate and fail to recognize authority a sham. He can simply apologize call on his men to prepare for 2021 if indeed he be the chosen one he will prevail but he is too big for that hence everyone is watching as he is in for a long haul…three years max in the chukes

  19. +3
    -3
    vote

    The answer is yes. Creditors can “stop Zambia’s slide into authoritarianism”. When you owe $7 billion (almost half of the country’s GDP), the puppet masters are the creditors.

  20. +2
    -1
    vote

    The West does not care…! They have nothing to lose in Zambia – no OIL. so forget it. IMF is a business venture, they prey on poor vulnerable countries like Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Venezuela, Chile, Mexico, Colombia etc…. no country will come to Zambians aid. You voted, had fair elections and life goes on…!

  21. +3
    -1
    vote

    Like dry grass, Zambians await the inevitable cleansing that shall usher herein sanity again. Let this play its full God-appointed time. Sometimes it is important that a people pass through such experiences to wake them up from their docility. Good societies don’t just happen. Good societies are made out of constant vigilance against evil through sweat and b.l.o.o.d!

  22. +4
    -2
    vote

    Clueless writer listening to clueless people! “Slide into authoritarianism?” Is he talking about Congo DR or about Zambia? Zambia just detained a person who refused to concede defeat and led a rebellion and comments on this site portray the beliefs of a tribal party which this man cannot understand!

  23. +3
    -2
    vote

    Why are these white Europeans – Simon Allison and Nic Cheeseman – suddenly “sympathizing” and developing a love affair with Zambians? I smell a rat here!

    • +4
      -2
      vote

      The writer and his friends are just shameless Boer Racist South Africans and Zambians of goodwill must hit back hard at these racists…Folks try to read the book ‘The Looting Machine’ Where another Boer racist is mentioned by the name of Greg Mills…

  24. +3
    -1
    vote

    These are evil days, my beloved Zambia is under a grip of evil men.
    Unfortunately some Bishops love for money have sold out the church of Jesus Christ to the devil.

  25. +3
    -2
    vote

    I would choose an authoritarian over anarchy any time of the day. If democracy means lawlessness, insults and lies- I am not interested. Point- let us be balanced for the sake of our country. Let’s not say or do things to impress a white man somewhere. Its backward behaviour. Any leader who puts this nation on a path of anarchy, tribal division, hatrade and or other demonic vices is nothing but an agent of Satan and must be resisted by all peace and harmony loving Zambians. Its time we stop beating about the bush.

  26. +1
    -1
    vote

    Zambia is not sliding into Authoritarianism. Anyone who is not a political cadre understands that freedoms come with responsibility. ISS is a reputable Institute, however, Mr Simon’s analysis has many red flags of bias; Correctly stating outcomes while ignoring issues that led to outlined outcomes. Misinformation.

  27. 0
    -1
    vote

    A friend to a man who made money from Zambia’s assets! A friend to friends he doesn’t know are tribal! Be careful who you listen to when you want to write about country you know not its fabrics!

  28. vote

    Anyone ever read LORD OF THE FLIES, by William Goldings? This is what we see in the charaters of Hichilema and Lungu, and the poor Zambians. Ralph, the group leader is slowly robbed of his role by the scruprous Jack. Jack, leads others to hunt the demon that he ‘creates’ to establish power over his followers (to creat the illusion that he was the right leader to protect them from this ‘danger’). Zambia would have been better if Hichilema had simply accepted the election results like any other contesting presidents on the ballot paper. The elections were not contest by Lungu and Hichilema alone. I would have loved t know what Hichilema whats, and why him of all 15 million Zambians? What I ALSO SEE IS THE ISREAL _ PALESTINE CONFLICT

  29. vote

    When you come to this site and you see one group from one region whose brother lost and are angry about it and are posting negatives, you may wrongly conclude Zambia is gone! No! Zambia is fine! You don’t understand “Namwala” so keep quiet please!

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