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. Although the recent by-elections were marred by violence and intimidation, the opposition has been able to prevail in a number of contests.
Opposition parties are able to operate but often face intimidation and violence. PF leader Michael Sata has been arrested and charged with various offenses, including sedition, since 2001. In March 2009, the PF joined forces with the UPND to challenge the MMD in the 2011 elections, and the leaders of both parties have faced subsequent threats of violence and sexual assault by ruling party cadres. In 2010, members of the opposition were harassed and detained by the police, while others were violently attacked by individuals associated with the MMD.
The country has registered some successes in prosecuting corruption cases over the last few years, though concerns over the government’s commitment to anticorruption efforts became more acute in 2010. In May, the national secretary of the ruling party was convicted of corruption and received a five-year prison sentence. However, the government appeared willing to protect other political figures and weaken the legal regime against corruption. President Rupiah Banda launched an official anticorruption policy in July 2009, but has abetted the political rehabilitation of former president Frederick Chiluba. A 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 the ruling, he was dismissed from his position. In 2007, a judge in Britain, where some of Chiluba’s alleged corrupt activities had occurred, ordered Chiluba to pay millions of dollars to compensate for money he was accused of stealing.In August 2010, a Zambian high court ruled that Zambian laws did not allow the enforcement of overseas rulings, and the Zambian government refused to appeal the ruling, a move criticized by civil society groups and internationaldonors.
In July 2010, the government sponsored legislation to remove an “abuse of office” clause from the Anti-Corruption Act, sparking criticism from the local chapter of Transparency International (TI); the legislation was passed in October 2010. International donorsmaintain that instances of poor accountability have increased in programs they sponsor, and a report released by the auditor general in 2010 pointed to financial mismanagement and irregularities in government-controlled companies. Following the lead of the Swedish and Dutch governments, the Global Fund in June 2010 suspended funding to the health sector over corruption concerns. Zambia was ranked 101 out of 178 countries surveyed in TI’s 2010 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 continued to delay the passage of a freedom of information bill.
While the independent media play a significant role in Zambia, reporting conditions remained poor in 2010. Journalists faced aggression from law enforcement officials, threats of violence from ruling party members, and persistent warnings from government authorities that they might enact legislation to regulate the media. Criminal libel and defamation suits have been brought against journalists by MMD leaders in response to stories on corruption. In June 2010, the editor of the largest independent daily newspaper, the Post, was convicted of contempt of court and sentenced to four months in prison for allowing the publication of an article in 2009 that discussed a court case involving another journalist accused of distributing obscene materials.
Constitutionally protected religious freedom is respected in practice. However, the Catholic clergy, occasional critics of the government, became the target of threats by ruling party activists in 2010. One priest known for political activism was arrested and detained for a brief period in March on charges of conduct likely to breach the peace. 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. Police broke up a rally by a civic movement for political change in April 2010, and a meeting of a regional independence movement was disrupted by authorities in October. Although nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have operated freely in the past, legislation passed in 2009 places new constraints on their activities, such as requiring registration and re-registration every five years. The law also established 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 and 2010, especially those concerning former-president Chiluba, tainted the public image of the judiciary and raised concerns that the executive branch was exercising undue influence over the institution. Legislation passed in 2009 allowed the executive to increase the number of judges serving on the High and Supreme Courts. However, the courts continue to lack qualified personnel, in part because of poor working conditions, which contributes to significant trial delays. Pretrial detainees are sometimes held for years under harsh conditions, and many of the 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. In 2010, Human Rights Watch, the Prisons Care and Counseling Association, and the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa conducted an investigation into prison conditions in Zambia, interviewing hundreds of inmates and visiting six prisons. The three NGOs released a report in May that decried forced labor, prisoner abuse at the hands of prison authorities, and deplorable health conditions.
Property rights are generally respected. However, ruling party members allegedly used violence and intimidation in April 2010 to acquire land designated for displaced individuals.
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 2005 legislation against homosexuality.