State of Emergency in Zambia – Security and Travel Risks
14 Jul 2017
On 6 July 2017, President Lungu invoked Article 31 of the constitution, leading to a state of emergency being announced in Zambia. The reason for this action was due to the recent arson attacks in Lusaka and elsewhere around the country. On 4 July 2017, a fire destroyed much of Lusaka’s main market, although no one was killed or injured. The President claimed the incident was an attack on the economy and that the opposition were behind it.
- A state of emergency was initiated in Zambia on 6 July 2017 after President Lungu invoked Article 31 of the constitution.
- This action is in response to recent arson attacks attributed by the President to the opposition.
- Since the national election in August 2016, political tensions have been building in Zambia.
- Parliament has voted to extend the state of emergency by three months.
Political: On 6 July 2017, President Lungu invoked Article 31 of the constitution, leading to a state of emergency being announced in Zambia. The reason for this action was due to the recent arson attacks in Lusaka and elsewhere around the country. On 4 July 2017, a fire destroyed much of Lusaka’s main market, although no one was killed or injured. The President claimed the incident was an attack on the economy and that the opposition were behind it. There have been other recent arson attacks reported in Kabwe, Mongu and Monze towns. Some electrical transmissions lines have also been vandalized last month in a suburb near the capital. The initial state of emergency was due to last for seven days, as per the constitution. This however, can be extended and has been done so by parliament who voted on 11 July 2017. The state of emergency will now continue for another three months. As a result, police have been given increased powers to arrest and detain suspects. Public meetings are prohibited, some roads may be closed, and curfews imposed. The opposition, the United Party for National Development (UPND), disputes the accusations laid against them by President Lungu.
SOLACE GLOBAL COMMENT
The roots of the current political tensions are found in the national elections held in August 2016. President Lungu was re-elected for a full term in a closely contested result in which he secured 50.35% of the vote. The leader of the UPND, Hakainde Hichilema, won 47.67% of the vote and claimed there was widespread electoral fraud. His party had withdrawn earlier from the ballot verification process in protest. The electoral commission in Zambia declared President Lungu as the winner, sparking protests and political clashes between opposition parties. This was the second time Lungu had won a presidential election against Hakainde Hichilema, the first being in 2015, in a presidential by-election. At present, President Lungu is undertaking his first full presidential term. Zambia’s constitution allows for two five-year terms to be served as president.
In April 2017, Hakainde Hichilema was arrested and charged with treason after his convoy allegedly refused to move out the way on a main road for President Lungu’s motorcade. The incident occurred in Mongu, a town located 500km west of Lusaka. Hichilema and five of his aides were also charged with breaking the highway code and using insulting language. The charge of treason does not allow for bail to be made and if convicted, Hichilema could face 15 years in jail or potentially the death penalty. Numerous NGOs and Zambian action groups have denounced the arrest and charges, viewing the move as a clear act of suppression for the opposition. In a further crackdown, 48 members of the parliament from the UPND were suspended for 30 days after boycotting the president’s speech. In light of the parliamentary decision to extend the state of emergency, which required a majority to pass, this political move has now become more significant by removing his opposition from the decision-making process in the legislative body. Parliament endorsed the state of emergency as requested by the President. Failure to extend the state of emergency would have reflected poorly on President Lungu, and potentially lead to a vote of no confidence in him.
The State of the State
The Zambian economy has been under some pressure recently, with President Lungu’s support base threatened by ongoing domestic challenges. Power shortages and high levels of debt, combined with weak copper prices (Zambia’s principal export) and declining currency rates have possibly fuelled Lungu’s desire to consolidate power in the presidency. Until recently, Zambia was considered one of the few stable democracies in Africa. The last state of emergency in Zambia occurred in 1997, when the military attempted a coup against President Frederick Chiluba. However, the attempt lasted for three hours without any violence being committed; the coup leader, known as Captain Solo, was largely ridiculed for his attempt and sentenced to a prison term of 13 years. The current crackdown on the opposition is an attempt to limit growing unrest. The negative impact of the controversial state of emergency could result in being more costly to President Lungu. Foreign investment in Zambia is at risk as more questions are raised over its future political stability.
The overall risk rating in Zambia remains low, however due to significant political tensions and growing unrest, there is potential for this to change. Whilst opposition leader Hichilema remains on trial, the threat of demonstrations by the opposition remains. The state of emergency provides powers to the security forces to crack down on the opposition or those accused of vandalism. The developments in Zambia are worrying for a state previously seen as one of the most stable democracies on the continent. Whilst the state of emergency is in place, travellers to Zambia should comply with instructions by local police, especially at checkpoints or roadblocks. It is not recommended to attend any large public political gatherings due to the risk of a potential escalation into violence. President Lungu has said the state of emergency could end early if there is an end to the acts of sabotage.
The primary security threat to travellers to Zambia remains petty crime. A variety of criminal activity is evident throughout the country, from petty thievery to violent carjackings and burglaries. It is recommended for travellers to pre-arrange a security driver and vehicle prior to their arrival in country, as local transport infrastructure is weak. For all travel to Zambia, Solace Global would advise that clients seek pre-travel security advice, and employ travel-tracking technology with an intelligence feed in order to stay up to date on recent developments.
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