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Alba Iulia
Thursday, June 10, 2021

Xenophobia flares ahead of Zambian elections

General News Xenophobia flares ahead of Zambian elections

Rwandan traders in Zambia are fearful because certain elements have said they will attack shop owners during the 12 August presidential and national assembly elections.

“Some people come in and ask for goods on credit or at a lower price and if I refuse, they tell me I should watch out during elections, my shop and I will be harmed,” says Isaac, who declined to give his full name.

Isaac owns a tuck shop in Bauleni township, 20 minutes from Lusaka’s central business district.

He lowers his voice every time a customer enters his shop or a car drives past.

He was arrested in December for not renewing his residency permit on time and only released in February.

Isaac is experiencing the same xenophobic attitudes towards him as other Rwandan shop owners nearby, he says.

“I have even stopped fighting back nowadays, because it is an ongoing situation. I have many of these experiences, where customers say awful things to me,” says Isaac.

Zambia has been mostly peaceful compared with its Southern African Development Community neighbours when it comes to xenophobia.

The most notable incident was in 2016, when Rwandan refugees were accused of committing ritual killings in Lusaka and xenophobic riots erupted, resulting in two deaths and 60 Rwandan-owned shops being looted.

A man who calls himself Uncle John says only a few people discriminate against him.

He says it would be helpful if the Zambian government sped up the process to get documented.

“I was made to feel like I’m not a human. When a man asked for goods on credit and I told him no, he started insulting me and asking me how dare I refuse him what he wants when I’m not even Zambian. He threatened me and said they are voting this year as Zambians and I will be sorry,” said John.

Around two million ethnic Hutus fled in July 1994 as the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front captured the capital of Kigali, ending 100 days of ethnic killings during which Hutu extremists had slaughtered about 800 000 people, mostly members of the Tutsi ethnic group.

Many of those who left settled in camps across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

But others continued walking as far as Angola, before settling in neighbouring Zambia.

The United Nations declared it safe in July 2013 for Rwandans living across Africa to go home and revoked their refugee status, encouraging voluntary repatriation.

Despite diplomatic efforts and assurances, about 4 000 Rwandans in Zambia at that time did not want to return to Rwanda and applied for Zambian citizenship.

Data from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees suggests that several hundred more Rwandans have joined those 4 000, saying Zambia is more conducive to creating a better life for them and their families.

Other traders in foreign countries face similar threats.

In South Africa, Congolese and Pakistani traders say people come into their shops demanding goods on credit and if they refuse, the customers become abusive.

In Isipingo, south of Durban, migrant traders have hired security guards to patrol outside their shops during business hours, because criminals walk out with their stock in broad daylight.

Isipingo trader Musa Imulani, who is from the DRC, says he has shortened his trading hours because he feels unsafe leaving his shop in the evenings.

“People say hurtful remarks, especially if you don’t give in to their demands. I have to make a profit. I can’t keep selling at a lower price. The biggest problem we have here is crime. Many times, criminals just walk in here, take what they want and leave. Some point a knife, some have guns. We are never really safe,” says Imulani.

The common thread for xenophobic attitudes is migrants being blamed for spiralling crime, stealing jobs and putting strain on country resources in the two countries, says Adeoye O Akinola, a senior researcher at the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation in the humanities faculty at the University of Johannesburg.

“Dwindling economic opportunities and challenging economic realities, political discontent and poor service delivery continue to aggravate social tension and reinforce xenophobia in the southern African region. It is thus concluded that governance failure explains xenophobic attacks in these countries,” says Akinola.

Elections seem to be a trigger for xenophobic violence.

Some of the most notable attacks on migrants in South Africa have coincided with election periods.

Politicians issue xenophobic statements and political parties scapegoat migrants for the wider disenfranchisement of residents in South Africa and Zambia.

There is high unemployment, inequality and widespread poverty in both countries, which the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated, and this is fertile ground for an increase in xenophobic violence.

Zambia’s population was estimated at 18.8 million people in mid-2020, according to UN data.

Of this, 65% is under the age of 30 with the median age being 17.

The unemployment rate was at 13.2%, with rural unemployment higher at 14.2% compared with urban unemployment of 12.6%.

Youth unemployment was 18.2%, with a lower rural youth unemployment rate of 16.2% compared with 18.1% in urban areas, as stated in the Zambian Central Statistics Offices’ 2019 report.

Akinola says good governance that prioritises lifting people out of poverty and making policies that don’t place the already vulnerable migrant community in a more precarious state is the solution to xenophobia.

“To stem the tides of xenophobia, it is imperative for the government to exploit the opportunities presented by immigrants in terms of skills acquisition and transfer, and also implement pragmatic policies for effective governance and improvement in the lives of the masses,” he says.


  1. Vi puba! why are you not xenophobic to the real thieves stealing from you in broad day light? You have thieves looting from you and the best you can do is target your follow Africans. Vi silu bati.

  2. i have noted that there is Patriotic Front in Zambia; Patriotic Front in Zimbabwe; Patriotic Front in Rwanda, yet non of these countries is doing fine economically or politically. So what is patriotic about these parties?

  3. When two elephants fight it’s the
    Grass that suffers.This is similar to
    This situation. Nothing much can
    Be done as there is less protection
    In compounds all the time.

  4. Those unemployment figures are grossly under reported……….

    The unemployment situation in zambia is more like 30 to 40 %…….

  5. Our rwandan brothers do not worry. The people planning to do that are upnd and as you know those f00ls will never lead this country. So don’t stress yourself with worrying over nothing. Should they decide to touch you or your property, we have a well stocked police force ready to unleash full force on them

  6. @ number 3? Rwanda is doing very well economically, it usually tops the list in Africa.
    And the political situation there is clear. For all intents and purposes, Kagame is authoritarian, but that doesn’t mean that there is political failure.

  7. This kind of lies should be stopped. I have been around the world and lived in so many countries as a Zambian. If you think Zambia is not safe for you, then go back to Rwanda. Otherwise, ever since independence, we have lived with people of all races and religions. My advice is to be thankful we as a country gave you a home when your country of Rwanda was on fire. I mean, who is stopping you from going back to your own country?

    • You seem to be speaking nonsense. The reporters are talking tostressed Rwandans and you think they shouldn’t say whats happening to them?

    • Who is stopping you from going back to Zambia if you are in the US? as stated here. Its just Xenophobic language. Let the man stay in Zambia. Africa is our motherland and home

  8. @akapS, maybe it’s the terminology used; marketeers, maids/garden boys, seasonal farm workers, bus conductor etc all claim to be unemployed. Eleven Nostradamus’ Bemba sisters and nieces who sell sex on Addis Ababa drive and also those who Dance akalela at functions and are paid all claim to be malova

  9. @akapS, maybe it’s the terminology used; marketeers, maids/garden boys, seasonal farm workers, bus conductor etc all claim to be unemployed.

  10. i denounce this type of prograganda reporting. there is no Xenophobia in Zambia. this is cheap journalism. why don’t you get credible news to report on? you interview one person and you say Xenophobia? this is really silly. give us creduble news and not these lies?

  11. Zambia’s General Elections should be based on issues of development in all aspects of human life. Need to focus on developing industrial bases, road & rail infrastructure, agriculture, health, education and international trade within southern Africa. The instigation of xenophobia against foreign nations is PRIMITIVE & EVIL. Failure by an opposition party to use ECL’s eligibility to contest the 2021 Presidential Election through Constitutional Court has driven this party to cultivate and nurture prospects of xenophobia as an avenue to bring about instability in Zambia. Many Angolans, Congolese, Rwandans, Zimbabweans have lived in peace in Zambia, in the same way that Zambians have been accepted to live in Angola, Congo DR, South Africa and Zimbabwe. For example, former Zambia’s Home…

  12. For example, former Zambia’s Home Affairs Minister Aaron Milner has been well integrated among farming communities in Zimbabwe. Championing xenophobia is a primitive brand of politics which must be curtailed.

  13. Talk of “xenophobia” reminds us of an opposition party leader who recently went to South Africa to dwell on xenophobia. This leader used a South African platform to criticize Zimbabwe’s economic problems as reasons why many Zimbabweans migrated to South Africa to displace the indigenous people from job prospects. Yet the ANC Govt has NEVER criticized Mugabe’s nor Munangagwas’ Govt in respect of Zimbabwe’s economic plight. HISTORY IS VITAL. The ANC Govt knows that the Lancaster House Agreement included a British acceptance to contribute towards paying white farmers for land earmarked for distribution to black Zimbabweans. But when the British abrogated on this part of Agreement, Mugabe was forced to grab white farmers land for distribution to indigenous Zimbabweans, an act that prompted…

  14. However, when the British abrogated on this part of Agreement, Mugabe was forced to grab white farmers land for distribution to indigenous Zimbabweans, an act that annoyed the British Govt and prompted Britain so solicit the help of USA to impose economic sanctions on Zimbabwe. In the books of Africa’s intellectually informed leaders, the British aggressive policy has been the genesis of Zimbabwe’s economic plight.

  15. We certainly know that the Bruntherst Foundation has been funding opposition parties (including the notorious RENAMO) to gain prospects of regime change in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. This Foundation hired a Nigerian Obasanjo to use his military skills to breed instability in East and Southern Africa, when Africa expected Obasanjo to apply his skills to stop insurgence perpetrated by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Besides, what kind of thinking propels a Zambian opposition party to resort to promotion of xenophobia when Zambians have relatives living in Congo, South Africa and Zimbabwe? Yet the Speaker of Zimbabwe’s Parliament is known as Jacob Mudenda. Politics must hinge on improving human livelihood rather than breed chaos in Africa.

  16. This is not xenophobia. It is the conspiracy hatched by UPND to create unrest in the country. This is the easy way to vent the anger and conceal the defeat.

  17. Apply some common sense. Who will go on rampage like this ahead of elections? It is nothing but political suicide to behave like this. If one has even slightest of political understanding, he can understand that it is the handy work of UPND to malign image of PF and President Lungu.

  18. Stop defaming Zambia. This is fake news or planted by someone with vested interests. If xenophobia was reality, why there was no news about it earlier? Why only when elections are round the corner? Do you think we don’t understand the real motive behind this news?

  19. This is one of the campaigns Cambridge Analytica runs for its clients. The objective is to create unrest in the country and corner the government. We all know how Cambridge Analytica works and who has hired it.

  20. Dear Rwandan friends, don’t worry. The government is there to protect you. The UPND thugs will soon be arrested.

  21. This is yet another cheap political stunt by UPND. Since they stand no chance to win the elections, they are resorting to violence.

  22. Stop spreading lies. Such things can’t happen in peace loving country like Zambia. These people are exaggerating and your reporter is adding his own imagination to it.

  23. I dare your reporters to bring those so called Rwandan people to police and lodge a complaint. Until then I won’t believe it.

  24. I thought it was only some news portals that spread fake news. This was not expected form Lusaka Times!

  25. Now I believe that this is election year. As the elections are closing in, the news are getting more and more entertaining.

  26. They are only reacting to the high levels of poverty in Zambia other wise calling us as ne ng xenorphobic is an insult
    If u r not happy just go back to Rwanda after all your country is doing better economically than Zambia

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