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  • Case of Zambia’s 42-for-42 tests freedom of expression and assembly

    On May 17, six Zambia activists, civil society leader’s and a musician will appear before the magistrates in Court 3 in the capital Lusaka. This is not the first appearance as their case has been postponed several times. The six (pictured) are jointly charged with disobeying lawful orders after they held a protest last September questioning the government why it has used 42-million Kwacha to purchase 42 firetrucks, a cost that the six say is exorbitant. Laura Miti of theAlliance for Community Action who is also one of the six accused tells CIVICUS briefly about the case and why it is important.

    Defiant and standing strong: Six of the Zambian activists and civil society leaders at one of the many court appearances after they held a protest in Lusaka last year questioning the government over expenditure

    1. Can you tell us more about the court case in which you are appearing for in court on May 17?

    The court case is the result of a peaceful protest that the Alliance for Community Action led on Parliament on 29 September 2017. The protest was called for together with civil society organisations and the general public to demand that accountability for a purchase by government of 42 fire trucks for 42 million Kwacha. Protesting and freedom of expression are both values enshrined in our Constitution so we were not breaking the law. The protest was broken up by the police and 6 protesters arrested and charged with disobeying lawful orders. Instead we were arrested and held for 10 hours and later released after being charged.

    2. What does this case mean for the state of the freedom to protest and freedom of expression in Zambia?

    By misapplication of the Public Order Act, Police in Zambia routinely prevent or break up protests that are even mildly critical of the government. However, protests or marches in support of government are allowed to go on even if the protester are openly breaking the law by being carrying weapons and being violent. The way this case has been held is an assault on both freedoms and it is concerning for us.

    3. What challenges do you face as a woman human rights defender?

    The terrain for women who speak out and challenge authorities is not easy for activists and it is even tougher for women due to the patriarchal nature of our society. As happens with all female activists, those who are unhappy with my work tend to attack my person and speak about my private life rather than engage with the issues at hand. This then discourages other women from speaking out and holding the state to account.

    4. How can international civil society support you and the other 5 you are jointly charged with?

    The defence of human rights in Zambia is for Zambians to ensure but a breakdown of human rights anywhere in the world, affects us all. We therefore believe that the excesses of the Zambian government should be called out by all who believe in a just world. When representatives of the Zambian government travel to international fora, they should be asked to explain the steep degeneration of the Zambian democratic space and respect for human rights in the last few years.

    5. Please describe in one paragraph what you or your CSO does in Zambia

    The Alliance for Community Action (ACA) works to grow the routine demand and supply of public resource accountability in Zambia, with focus on instituting the demand in the general public. The ACA would like Zambians to routinely link the quality of services they access to the budgetary and expenditure choices made by government and to demand accountability. The ACA encourages Zambians to speak up and ask targeted questions about how public money is spent and capacitates ordinary citizens to do so.


  • Citizens’ Freedoms in Chains in Zambia?

    Guest article by McDonald Chipenzi


  • CIVICUS UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space

    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted joint and stand-alone UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on 9 countries in advance of the 28th UPR session (November 2017). The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 2nd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations.  

    Countries examined: Benin, Gabon, Guatemala, Pakistan, Peru, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Ukraine and Zambia.


  • CIVICUS UN Universal Periodic Review submissions on civil society space in Benin, Guatemala, Pakistan, Peru, Sri Lanka and Zambia

    The United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States once every 4.5 years.

    CIVICUS and its partners have submitted UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) submissions on six countries in advance of the 42nd UPR session in January-February 2023. The submissions examine the state of civil society in each country, including the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression and the environment for human rights defenders. We further provide an assessment of the States’ domestic implementation of civic space recommendations received during the 3rd UPR cycle over 4 years ago and provide a number of targeted follow-up recommendations. 

    Benin - See consolidated report | See full versions in English and French – The submission by the Coalition des Défenseurs des Droits Humains-Benin (CDDH-Bénin), West African Human Rights Defenders Network (WAHRDN/ROADDH), the Réseau des Femmes Leaders pour le Développement (RFLD) and CIVICUS, highlights the adoption of restrictive legislation, particularly the Criminal Code and the Digital Code, with its provisions being used against human rights defenders (HRDs) and journalists. Additionally, the submission also draws attention to the increasing restrictions and violations of the freedom of peaceful assembly, which includes blanket bans on protests, the militarisation of law enforcement and the use of excessive force, including live ammunition, against protesters, along with increasing legal restrictions to the right to protest.

    Guatemala - See consolidated report | See full versions in English | Spanish –CIVICUS, REDLAD and Accíon Ciudadania detail the use of extreme violence against HRDs and journalists, aggravated by the continued criminalisation and stigmatisation they face from authorities and non-state actors. In this submission, we also express our concern on the adoption of a restrictive legislative framework which could significantly impact on the work of civil society in Guatemala, in a context where the work of CSOs is already vulnerable to obstruction through abusive judicial and administrative proceedings.

    Pakistan - See consolidated report | See full version in EnglishIn this submission, CIVICUS and Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) report, among other issues, the legal and extra-legal barriers imposed on civil society organisations (CSOs) registration and operations in Pakistan, the criminalisation, threats and harassment of human rights defenders and the failure to hold perpetrators to account. It also highlights the alarming efforts to intimidate and censor journalists and media outlets, the criminalisation of online expression and restrictions and attacks on peaceful protests, especially by ethnic Pashtun minorities and women’s rights activists.

    Peru- See consolidated report | See full versions in English and Spanish –CIVICUS and Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos (APRODEH) underline the pervasive violence against HRDs, civil society groups and protesters, who continue to face attacks harassment stigmatisation and killings. State and non-state actors, despite the newly adopted protection mechanisms, have been able to escalate attacks with impunity. The submission further reports cases of judicial harassment against journalists and the gradual reduction of the space for a free and independent press.

    Sri Lanka - See consolidated report |  See full version in English In this joint submission, CIVICUS and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) denounce the ongoing use of excessive force against HRDs and protesters and restrictive laws to limit civic space and fundamental freedoms. Between 2017 and 2022, we observed alarming trends of a government crackdown on protests, arbitrary detention against activists and violations of the freedoms of opinion and expression. The submission further reports the alarming and continuous judicial persecution, harassment and intimidation of HRDs, journalists, student protesters and others expressing dissenting opinions against the government.

    Zambia - See consolidated report |  See full version in English – CIVICUS and Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services Initiative Zambia (GEARS Initiative) report acts of intimidation and attacks on citizens, HRDs, CSOs and journalists in the period leading up to and during the presidential and parliamentary elections in August 2021. The submission also documents the continued use of excessive force by security forces in response to protests. We are moreover particularly worried by the restrictive legal framework, which undermines the freedoms of association, assembly and expression.

    Civic space in Guatemala, Peru, Sri Lanka and Zambia is rated Obstructed, whereas Benin and Pakistan’s is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.


  • Civil Society “Contested and Under Pressure”, says new report

    Read this press release in Arabic, French, Portuguese and Spanish

    Civil society around the globe is “contested and under pressure” according to a 22-country research findings report released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL). The report, Contested and Under Pressure: A Snapshot of the Enabling Environment of Civil Society in 22 Countries, brings together insights from Enabling Environment National Assessments (EENA) conducted around the world between 2013 and 2016.


  • Civil Society’s call to stop persecution of activists arrested on 29 September 2017

    Mr. Given Lubinda
    Minister of Justice
    National Assembly of Zambia, Parliament Buildings,
    P.O. Box 31299, Lusaka
    Plot 150/2584
    Zambia Email: ;
    Minister Stephen Kampyongo
    Minister of Home Affairs Email: ;
    24 October 2017

    Dear Minister Given Lubinda,

    Civil Society’s call to stop persecution of activists arrested on 29 September 2017

    We, the undermentioned National Associations of Civil Society Organisations, write to express our deep concern over the arbitrary arrests of Mr. Lewis Mwape and five other activists including two females on 29 September 2017, as they protested peacefully en route to the Parliament building. All six were arrested as they called for transparency and accountability over the purchase of 42 fire trucks for forty-two million US dollars. They are all members of civil society groups and individual human rights defenders. The male activists were held at the Emmasdale police station and their female colleagues were detained at the Garden police post before being released.

    Mr. Minister, we recognise the fact that Zambia is a democratic state and citizens have the right to request answers and transparency on issues that affect them, including the use of public funds. The arbitrary arrests and detention of these activists and their scheduled court appearance on 27 October 2017 is a violation of their right to freedom of expression and assembly, as guaranteed in the Zambian Constitution, and of the country's regional and international human rights obligations.

    We are concerned that any form of judicial persecution of the activists may set a negative precedent wherein those who engage in peaceful protests and express views that are different from those of the government are targeted by the state. It may also compel others who would want to speak out in the future not to do so for fear of persecution. We therefore write to urge the Zambian authorities to ensure that the rule of law is respected and that the rights of all the activists are guaranteed as they appear in court.

    Mr. Minister, for some time, we have watched with trepidation, the erosion of fundamental rights in Zambia and we are worried that Zambia’s rich democratic history and its status as a model in Southern Africa is being threatened. On 5 July 2017, for example, President Edgar Lungu proclaimed a state of threatened emergency. We felt at the time that there was no reasonable justification for the executive to invoke emergency powers. These restrictions on fundamental freedoms will reverse the democratic gains made over the years, if they continue.

    We therefore urge the government of Zambia and the judiciary to drop the case against Mr. Lewis Mwape and all 5 activists when they appear in court on 27 October.

    Association of Development Agencies (ADA), Jamaica
    Acción Solidaria on HIV/aids, Venezuela
    ARCA, Costa Rica
    Burundi Child Rights Coalition, Burundi
    CIVILIS Human Rights, Venezuela
    CIVICUS, Global Civil Society Alliance
    CSO Platform for Climate Change in Vanuatu
    Coordinadora Civil, Nicaragua
    Ghana Association of Private Voluntary Organisations in Development (GAPVOD)
    JOINT Liga de ONGs em Mocambique
    KEPA, Finland
    Mauritius Council of Social Services (MACOSS)
    NGO Federation of Nepal
    Rendir Cuentas, Uruguay
    SFK/NGO Council of Kenya
    Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO)
    Tanzania Association of NGOs (TANGO)
    The West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI)
    Vanuatu Association of Non-Governmental Organisations
    Uganda National NGO Forum


  • Corruption in Zambia: 42 fire trucks for $42m

    By Teldah Mawarire and Laura Miti

    The African Union (AU) will host a heads of state summit in Mauritania on June 25, under the theme Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa's Transformation. Zambia's President Edgar Lungu will also be at the summit, showing support for its cause. Yet on the very same day his country will be moving further away from the anti-corruption ideals of the AU. As Lungu sits down with other African leaders to talk about possible ways to eradicate corruption, six Zambian activists will sit in a dock in Lusaka to be prosecuted for protesting against corruption.

    Read on: Al Jazeera


  • Statement at UN Human Rights Council: Zambia not implementing recommendations on civic space

    37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
    Joint Statement on the adoption of Zambia's Universal Periodic Review

    The Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) and CIVICUS welcome the government of Zambia's engagement with the Universal Periodic Review on human rights process. We also welcome the government's presentation of the Access to Information Bill to Parliament, recognising that it has yet to be enacted.

    However, in our joint Universal Periodic Review submission, we documented that since its last review, Zambia has not implemented 3 of the 4 recommendations relating to civic space. The existing legal frameworks that impedes and restricts civic space, including the Public Order Act and the Non-Governmental Organisations Act remain in place and have not been amended or repealed since Zambia’s last UPR examination.

    The NGO Act unduly restricts the participation of civil society through punitive sanctions for non-compliance and excessive discretion of the State to dictate the activities of CSOs. Similarly, we are concerned with the continued use of the Public Order Act to unwarrantedly limit the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

    Civic space came under serious threat during the State of Emergency declared by the government in July 2017. Six activists are currently before the courts after being arrested in September 2017 following a peaceful protest held outside of parliament demanding accountability for government expenditure.

    Several journalists have also been arraigned before the courts to answer charges related to publication of official secrets, defamation and being in possession of seditious materials. After the 2016 general elections three private Broadcasting stations had their licences suspended due to perceived support for the opposition.

    CIVICUS and ZCSD call on the Government of Zambia to take proactive measures to address these concerns and implement recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society.


  • The Political Parties Bill is ‘poison for Zambia’s ailing democracy’

    CIVICUS speaks to Zambian human rights defender McDonald Chipenzi. The Threatened State of Emergency invoked by the President on 5 July 2017 is due to expire on 13 October 2017 with no clear indication if the President will invoke a fresh Threatened State of Emergency. The country’s parliament is also considering a new Political Parties Bill. We ask Chipenzi what the Bill is about and what is the state of Zambia’s democracy.

    1. In your opinion, is there a governance crisis in Zambia?

    A writer called James Bovard (1999) once observed that: “Voting has changed from the process by which the citizens control the government to a process that consecrates the government’s control of the people.” Zambia has slipped into a governance crisis. It is on the verge of falling into an undemocratic cliff. All signs are pointing to the fact that freedom of expression, association and demonstrations or protests in Zambia have been curtailed even when citizens follow the procedure as prescribed by the law governing public assemblies. The civic, political and the general democratic spaces in the country have shrunk. There is much evidence to show that these spaces have been curtailed and citizens are now either living in fear or indeed have taken a docile and passive position in participating in national affairs.

    The declaration of the Threatened State of Public Emergency on 5 July 2017 by President Edgar Chagwa Lungu after invoking Article 31 of the Constitution over suspiciously stage-managed spates of fires believed by some to have been sponsored by the party in power has left devastating effects on people’s rights and freedoms. This meant the enforcement of the Preservation of Public Security Act Cap 112 of the laws of Zambia which gives sweeping powers to the police to search, arrest and detain suspects for longer than the constitutional requirement of 48hrs for a detained suspect to be brought before court. The Act also automatically derogates citizens’ freedoms of assembly, expression, movement and of the media.

    To buttress this suspicion, to date, the same government that emotionally attributed the acts of arson to opposition political parties’ sympathisers has failed to produce any report or evidence incriminating anybody for the arson. Religious freedoms too have not been spared and are steadily declining. For instance, the police in August 2017 sealed off the Cathedral of the Holy Cross where worshippers where supposed to conduct their Thanksgiving Prayers on account that they did not notify the police. The largest opposition party has also suffered denial to carry out their public political activities on account that the invocation of Article 31 was still in force.

    On 29 September, 2017, six civil society and opposition leaders, musicians and other activists like Laura Miti and Lewis Mwape (civil activists), Sean Enock Tembo (politician), Chama Fumba, aka Pilato (musician) and others were arrested at the entrance of the Parliament building where they had picketed the National Assembly during the presentation of the 2018 National Budget demanding accountability in the procurement processes following the controversial purchase of 42 firefighters engines at a cost of US$1-million each. They were only released at midnight after spending half a day in police detention and on paying K2 000 (US$220) each as police bond. On 2 October, 2017, the police formally charged the six with two counts of “An unlawful assembly” and “Disobeying lawful orders” They will appear in court on 27 October 2017.

    This Threatened State of Public Emergency will only come to end on 13 October, 2017.

    The country’s leadership is engulfed in alleged acts of serious national plunder, looting and misuse of public resources, corruption, bribery and other misgovernance and yet there seems to be no one to provide leadership as the President has developed the propensity of globetrotting, locally known as Kamweendo munjila. Some people estimates that since taking office in January 2015, the President has allegedly made 49 trips across the globe. This has created a leadership vacuum and consequently a governance crisis the country is now faced with. The rule of law and constitutionalism is no longer a hallmark of country’s democracy. Law enforcers have sacrificed declining professionalism, ethical conduct and integrity levels. They have become vulnerable to political patronages. The judiciary especially the Constitutional Court faces public contempt, so is the office of the Director of Public Prosecution due to an “outbreak” of Nolle Prosequi (abandoned court cases by prosecutors) which is unprecedented in the history of the country. Most of these favour the interests of the executive. Zambia has, indeed, slid into the rule of men and has assumed characteristics of a banana republic.

    The state of the country’s democracy is deplorable. The ruling elites hold a myopic view that democracy is the ballot or elections and that since they are not going to be held until 2021, the country is on the right path as far as democracy is concerned. They feel elections are the means and an end in themselves. Freedom of the media is under constant threat and self-censorship by government-owned media has become a norm. Opposition and divergent views are never entertained in government-owned media despite all citizens contributing a monthly levy to its management. Civic and political spaces continue to shrink on a daily basis. Poverty is growing in the neighborhoods of ordinary people while the opposite is different at State House and for ruling political party elites and their relatives and associates.

    There is a dictatorship and an emerging authoritarian leadership in Zambia. The religious, political, civic and media spaces are shrinking daily. Opposition, musicians and civil society members are arrested and detained on trumped-up charges. This has become the order of the day. Court orders are disregarded with impunity by law enforcement agencies at the perceived instruction by the executive. In other words, the executive has taken over all arms of government. Public confidence in public institutions such as the judiciary, police, National Assembly, electoral body among others is at its lowest. Corruption, abuse of public resources are taking their tow while the Anti-Corruption Commission remains tight-lipped if not defending corruption itself. The Zambian society has been divided on tribal lines and elections are perceived from the same angle.

    In essence, the democratic outlook in Zambia is very gloomy. What surprises us, however, is that the Southern Africa Development Community still believes in the Zambian leadership to an extent of allowing it to assume the position of deputy chair of the Organ on Security and Peace when it is a country at war with itself. This is so because, for the first time in 26 years, the country is living under a Threatened State of Public Emergency and citizens’ rights such as assembly, expression and protests are constantly denied or threatened. People have been arrested for expressing themselves on Facebook, others on TV or radio and detained for days or for months only to be released without any changes. This has prompted the church, the Commonwealth and other concerned regional and international dignitaries to intervene in the Zambian situation while SADC pursues it suspicious quiet diplomacy.

    2. Please tell us more about the Political Parties Bill

    The current debate on the need to develop a political parties’ law in Zambia has been triggered by the existing law. Article 60 of the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Act No. 2 of 2016 demands that there be a prescription of how the article on political parties would be operationalised which essentially means coming up with an Act of parliament. To this end, the government produced a draft Political Parties Bill which it later consulted stakeholders. Political parties under the umbrella of Zambia Centre for Interparty Dialogue  participated in the validation processes of the Bill which is yet to be tabled before the National Assembly for enactment. The Minister of Justice has already indicated a desire to table the Bill for enactment before the end of 2017. However, there are mixed reactions to the Bill: some commentators have described the Bill as unconstitutional while others have welcomed it. My view is that in its current form, the Bill is a recipe for stifling political parties’ existence and effectiveness.

    The proposed Political parties’ Act is about the provision of the registration and regulation of political parties services in the country. It is about the establishment of the Board of Political Parties to oversee the registration and operations of political parties and to provide mechanisms for the establishment and management of a Political Parties Fund. It will also inquire on and regulate the sources of funds for political parties and any matters connected with, or incidental, to the foregoing. This is as per objects of the draft Political Parties Bill (2017) signed off by the Attorney General, Likando Kalaluka. In other words, the pending Bill is trying to regulate, monitor and supervise political parties which consequently is likely to shrink and stifle political space in the country. In its current draft form, the suggested Political Parties Bill is draconian, unconstitutional and undemocratic.

    3. Does Zambia have other legal frameworks that govern political parties?

    Zambia has had no specific legal framework to regulate, monitor and supervise the conduct and administration of political parties in the country since independence. The draft Political Parties’ Bill, if passed into law, would be the first law specifically on political parties. However, all political parties, just like civil society and churches, are considered for registration under the Societies Act Cap 119 of the Laws of Zambia enacted in the 1960s. This is the Act which gave birth to all political parties and operationalised Articles 20 and 21 of the Constitution which entitles citizens the right to expression and association respectively. The Act is administered by the Department of Registrar of Societies hosted by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Under the current set up, political parties are required, at least to have 10 members to be registered who also undergo thorough security checks. After registration, the concerned party is issued with a certificate and holds it in perpetuity until deregistered by the Registrar or winds down on its own. In 2012, the former ruling party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) was deregistered for not paying annual returns for the party’s branches in the provinces and districts as per law requirement and only saved by the courts. A number of churches during the same period suffered threats of deregistration from the registrar.

    4. What do you think has triggered the current proposed Political Parties Bill?

    There have been concerns from various stakeholders including within the political parties’ circles that political parties must be funded because they are the soul and lifeblood of the multiparty democracy in Zambia. The other school of thought has been that funding political parties would make them more accountable and transparent in the manner they raise and use funds either from government and/or other well-wishers. Others feared that having no mechanisms on how to monitor political parties’ source of income would be putting the country on an “auction sale advert” because political parties would be promising or baiting with money lenders and other unknown people and this could endanger the country especially during electoral campaign periods without citizens knowing. To this end, submissions were made during the previous constitutional reviews to include a political party clause in the Constitution. Therefore, the 2016 amended Constitution upheld this view and included a clause that defines a political party, prescribes dos and don’ts for a political party and introduces funding of political parties with representation in the National Assembly.

    5. What are the advantages and disadvantage of the Bill for Zambia’s democracy?

    Although the proposed political parties law has some positive aspects in it which are basically meant to bait for stakeholders’ buy-ins, its disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Some of the mischiefs it intends to treat include political parties limited accountability and transparency levels, lack of intra-and interparty democracies and proposes to emphasise on political parties’ need to hold regular internal elections and also the spirit of co-existence through the formation of political parties’ alliances, mergers and coalitions respectively. These aspects are not part of the legal framework today. The proposed law also awards rights to all registered political parties such as the right to hold and address political meetings anywhere in the country without interference, the right to police protection and assistance, and equitable access to the State-owned media.  It proposes funding to parties with representation though small parties have described the provision as promoting bigger parties at the expense of smaller ones.

    However, there are fatal disadvantages in the proposed Bill for instance sections 23(1) of the draft Bill states: “The Minister shall prescribe the matters to be included in the constitution or rules of a political party.” How does a minister who is also a political functionary of another political party dictate what another party should include in its constitution? Is this not stifling competitive political ideas and space? The proposed Act also does not include political parties’ representation on the political party Registration Board, instead, it only incorporates the church and government ministries. The Board also is appointed by and reports to the President, who is also party president of a political party. This will be problematic and would raise suspicions in the operations and decisions of the board. The disclosure aspect of the Act has also been received with caution especially that it may cause local businessmen and women to away shy from helping the opposition for fear of being victimised by losing business or denied business contracts with the government.

    The proposed Act further gives immunity to board members and officers working at the Political Party Board Secretariat from their omissions and commissions during their duties. For instance, section 16 of the proposed Act states: “An action or other proceeding shall not lie or be instituted against a member of the Board or a member of staff for or in respect of an act or thing done or omitted to be done in good faith in the exercise or performance, or purported exercise or performance, of any of the powers, functions or duties conferred under this Act.” The Acts, once enacted into law, would demand a full disclosure of political parties’ source of funds and penalises whichever political party conceals such information.

    6. What advocacy has been carried out concerning the Bill?

    There has been no serious advocacy around the formulation of the proposed Act. The government through the Ministry of Justice just announced of its drafting and invited stakeholders’ submissions on the same. Political parties and few civil society organisations did their submissions. However, the government quickly organised a national conference on the draft Bill to consolidate stakeholder’s submissions. The results of this convention are yet to be officially shared with the rest of the nation. Some political parties like the Party for Economic Progress walked out of the convention citing unproductive debates.

    7. What role can civil society play in building a more participatory society in Zambia?

    To curtail the exercise of power by the government, citizens must not adopt the role of victims but victors and become effective participants in the governance processes. This is currently lacking in the Zambian situation. There is a lot of fear of being arrested and thereafter fail to have resources to hire legal representation. There is need to enhance solidarity efforts among citizens and discard the spirit of the fear of government and its leadership that has engulfed many citizens. Civil society must bring to a stop the increasingly rise of statism in Zambia which has consequently put people’s rights and freedoms in perpetual chains and slavery. Zambia’s civil society movement needs to push and advocate for a more competent, more trustworthy, more tolerant, more democratic and more benevolent government and leadership in the country and reject by confronting the any emergency of oppressive, corrupt and intolerant regime.

    Therefore, one cannot be far from the truth in stating that Zambia’s democratic space and credentials have declined in the last six years of the Patriotic Front’s reign. The human rights and governance records are crumbling very fast on the watch of its citizens and the region at large. One wonders what has happened to a country that was a citadel of stability, unity and peace not too long ago and why it is now seemingly crumbling and its citizens living under forced peace and stability. There is no critical moment since the fall of the one party system in Zambian in 1991 than now that citizens have seen the scary emergence of a strong state that has put so much power in itself and coerced the opponents and critical voices, breaking their wills and compelling them into submission. The church, civil society, trade and students’ union movements have not been spared from the fear of the executive, if not divided on tribal and partisan lines. These movements, like majority citizens, have adopted the “watch and see” approach and the “wait for the 2021 elections” notion to sanction the political culprits. Perhaps, it is time that civil society in Zambia rediscover itself and stop leaving a “burning pot” unattended. Therefore, Zambian civil society and the citizens at large must not leave this battle to a few.

    8. Any other additional analysis?

    In Zambia currently, there is a growing imbalance between the citizen’s power to bind the government and the government’s power to bind the citizens. Theoretically, Zambian leaders still claim to be democratic, respecters of human rights and practitioners of good governance but in reality their practices speak to the contrary.

    Public policy today in Zambia is a vast maze of payoffs and kickbacks, tangling everything that the state touches in political intrigue. For instance, elections have become a futile exercise to reveal comparative popular contempt for competing professional politicians.

    Justice has become whatever serves the political needs of those in power. This is what has led to the emergence of the governance crisis in Zambia which has exhibited itself through declining or suppression of religious, civic, political and other liberties. It has also manifested itself in allegations of rampant corruption and abuse of public resources. The stronger the government grows, the more irrelevant the individual voter becomes to the leaders.

    • Civic space in Zambia is rated as “Obstructed” by the CIVICUS Monitor


  • Zambia: Guarantee human rights for all during elections period

    Ahead of the highly anticipated elections in Zambia tomorrow, global civil society alliance CIVICUS calls on the government of President Edgar Lungu to guarantee the rights of all Zambians and refrain from shutting down the internet during and after the elections. 


  • ZAMBIA: ‘Electoral practices seen so far do not indicate good lessons for the region’

    McDonald ChipenziCIVICUS speaks to McDonald Chipenzi, Executive Director of the Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services (GEARS) Initiative and Chair of the NGO Council in Zambia, about the state of civic space ahead of the crucial general election being held on 12 August 2021.

    What is the state of civic space and media freedoms ahead of the elections?

    The civic and media space in Zambia remains fragile and has been shrinking due to legal restrictions. This has now been compounded by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and newly crafted rules and guidelines that have heightened restrictions on citizens’ freedom of movement and freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. This has led to ineffective citizens’ participation in national affairs.

    COVID-19 rules and guidelines have compounded the already delicate and restricted state of the civic, media and political space in Zambia. These restrictions are the result of the selective application of archaic legislation such as the Public Order Act of 1955 and newly enacted laws such as the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act of 2021, which is aimed at intercepting, monitoring and interfering with citizens’ conversations, correspondence and communications, even without a court order or warrant. This new law, viewed as aimed at shrinking virtual civic space, has instilled fear in citizens, deterring them from effectively engaging online. As a result, many have opted to remain silent or opted out of online platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook.

    The media space also remains intimidated, harassed and cowed as a result of restrictive laws and the actions of ruling elites. The closure of Prime TV, a private television station, in March 2021, sent a chilling wave through the media community. Most of them now fear hosting critical voices and opposition leaders. They fear losing government advertising and other business opportunities. Those associated with the powers that be also distance themselves from those media houses giving platforms to critical voices.

    What are the main concerns of civil society in the lead up to the elections?

    Civil society’s main concern is the security of all stakeholders, as the police are not committed to providing security to all. The police have been reluctant to deal with the violence perpetuated by ruling party elites and have even been instrumental in it. The fear is that on election day, when some parties feel that they are losing in some polling stations, they may engage in disruptive activities to push for a re-vote, which may give them advantages. Another concern is the possibility of a shutdown of internet, mobile services and social media, especially after the vote, to try to black out results.

    A third concern is the COVID-19 pandemic, which was seen to have the potential to be spread by political parties had they held rallies. According to the Ministry of Health and the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), rallies were seen as potential superspreading events for COVID-19, and therefore they recommended a ban. This mostly affected the opposition while ruling party officials were busy campaigning in the name of launching and inspecting developmental projects.

    Note that ECZ constituted a task force on COVID-19 to develop guidelines that was dominated by government institutions. Out of 14 institutions represented, nine were in government with only three spaces for the media, and two for civil society organisations in gender and water and sanitation. To prevent violence and keep violence under control if it happens, civil society is engaging with the police, encouraging them to be more professional and ethical, and with political parties to provide leadership to their cadres. 

    Regarding the possibility of a media and internet shutdown, civil society organisations have sent petitions to the President of the Republic to refrain from shutting down the internet or social media during and after the elections. For the purpose of this election, the GEARS Initiative developed what it termed as the “Ing’ombe Ilede strategy” to allow for the collection of election results in an event of an internet shutdown. A common place has been designated for constituency and provincial coordinators involved in the election to share their documents without needing to meet with each other. This strategy is borrowed from the old trade tactics at a place called Ing’ombe Ilede in the Gwembe Valley of Southern Province in Zambia. We feel this strategy will help navigate the possible internet shutdown, which the government has already signalled.

    How is polarisation increasing ahead of the election, and what are the election’s likely impacts on social and political division?

    The election has polarised the country as politicians from the ruling party are now using regionalism and tribalism to win votes from their perceived strongholds. The impact of this will be deep divisions after elections, especially if the ruling party now wins the elections as it will marginalise those they feel did not support them during the elections. Already, the groups or regions perceived as strongholds for the biggest opposition party have been marginalised and discriminated against in terms of development and economic opportunities, including political positions in government.

    Employment and trading opportunities are also a preserve of those perceived to support the ruling party. Markets and bus stations are all in hands of ruling party supporters and not the councils. This has shrunk the civic space for many citizens who survive through trading in markets and bus stations as it has led to them adopting what they have termed the ‘watermelon strategy’, symbolic of a watermelon fruit which is green on the outside (the colour of the ruling party) and red on the inside (the colour of the opposition) in order to survive at these markets, bus stops, stations and taxi ranks. This situation may be escalated should the ruling party retain power.

    What is the state of the economy and how will this influence the choices of voters?

    The state of the Zambian economy is not pleasing but biting to many ordinary people. The local currency, the kwacha, has continued to depreciate against major convertible currencies. The cost of living has quadrupled and the cost of essential commodities is skyrocketing. The poor are barely managing to live while the ruling political elites are sleeping on top of money due to excessive corruption and abuse of state resources in the absence of controls and accountability. The poor eat in order to live rather than live in order to eat. This will have effect in the peri-urban areas of major cities like Lusaka and the Copperbelt towns.

    The rural population, on the other hand, may not be as badly affected by the state of the economy as most of them had harvested good crops during the past rainy seasons and further benefited from a scheme involving social cash transfers targeted at older and vulnerable people, which has now been converted into a campaign tool. In addition, rural voters tend to be conservative and vote for the traditional political parties preferred by their forefathers.

    Zambia has been known as a bastion of democracy in the region. What impact will this election have on democracy both in Zambia and the region?

    This election is key to the unfolding of a unique trend in the region on how elections can and will be handled. If it is handled very poorly and it results in chaos, it has potential to influence the region in a negative way, as the leaders of most Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries tend to copy from each other. This being one of the few elections held in the region during the COVID-19 pandemic after Malawi’s landmark election, Zambia has an opportunity to show the region that it remains the bastion of democracy in SADC.

    However, the practices seen so far do not indicate good lessons for the region. For instance, the cancellation of rallies and other campaign activities, mainly targeted against the opposition while the ruling party and public officials continue to run their campaigns, is a very bad lesson for democracy, fair competition and credible elections. The selective application of the electoral code of conduct by the electoral manager is also a very bad example for the region. Therefore, the region will have to cherry-pick the good lessons from the bad ones. However, most electoral institutions and political leaders are more inclined to cherry-pick the bad lessons and leave the good ones aside, since bad electoral practices benefit incumbents.

    What can regional and global civil society groups do to support Zambian civil society during this period of elections and after?

    Regional and global civil society have a larger role to play to ensure that peace prevails in Zambia and targeted intimidation and harassment of the civil society movement does not occur after elections. There is a need to keep a watchful eye over the post-election events, especially regarding manoeuvres to shrink civic space. With the election a few days away, on 9 August the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Amos Malupenga, issued a statement warning citizens that the government might shut down the internet ahead of the election, a direct threat to the enjoyment of citizens’ online freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression during and after the elections.

    The army and other defence forces besides the police have been deployed on the streets around the country on pretext of quelling any possible political and electoral violence, which can potentially be abused and undermine physical civic space. Therefore, physical and online civic and political space will constantly be under threat from the establishment during and after the elections, as it has been before.

    Civil society and critical media outlets are potential targets of post-election intimidation and harassment, hence the need for global and regional civil society to support civil society in Zambia with strategies to counter the reprisals that may be imposed on them by the state machinery after the elections. If the current government wins, its categorisation, marginalisation and discrimination of civil society organisations according to their real or perceived party affiliation will get worse after the elections.

    There will be need for solidarity strategies and legal funds to help those who may be incriminated and litigated against using archaic laws. There is need to continue challenging the existence of the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Law, the Public Order Act and the NGO Act. To this end, regional and global civil society needs to support, defend, promote and protect the civic and media space in Zambia before, during and after the elections.

    Civic space in Zambia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with GEARS through its Facebook page and follow @GearsZambia on Twitter.


  • ZAMBIA: ‘Our aim is to break societal biases against girls’

    CIVICUS speaks about the upcoming International Women’s Day and Zambian civil society’s role in advancing women’s and girls’ rights with Pamela Mateyo andMwape Kapepula, co-founders of WingEd Girls.

    Founded in 2021, WingEd Girls is a civil society organisation (CSO) focused on distributing sanitary materials and teaching girls in underprivileged communities how to make reusable pads, while educating them on personal and menstrual hygiene and mentoring them through post school career paths and choices.

    WingEd Girls

    How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted on Zambian women and girls?

    The restrictions that the pandemic brought, confining people in their homes, greatly contributed to a rise in domestic and gender-based violence (GBV). Compared to 2019, the cases reported in 2020 increased by over 1,000 cases, affecting mostly women and children. 

    The pandemic also led to many businesses closing. Many of those were informal businesses dedicated to planning events or catering, thrift clothes shops, restaurants and marketplace stalls. Many were owned and run by women. As a result, households led by women were left in a very vulnerable position, often unable to access basic needs.

    At the start of the pandemic schools closed, leading to an increase in rape cases of girls staying at home. By the time schools reopened, many girls couldn’t go back because they were either pregnant or getting married, while others simply dropped out. In addition, focus on COVID-19 reduced access by women and girls to basic healthcare, including maternal care, HIV treatment and sexual and reproductive health care.

    How have civil society in general, and WingEd Girls in particular, responded to this situation?

    CSOs like World Vision worked in partnership with the government to ensure that while schools were closed children were still engaged in schoolwork, for instance by sponsoring radio and television programmes that taught children basic subjects.

    We founded WingEd Girls in the middle of the pandemic to respond to very urgent needs. But this also brought many challenges. The work we do depends on interaction with girls. However, as the number of people that could gather was restricted, it was very hard to reach out to schools and communities. To be able to do our work, we secured bigger spaces and engaged more peer educators to work with smaller groups of girls in breakout group sessions.

    The pandemic also made it difficult for us to get the funding we needed to conduct outreach and purchase sanitary materials for distribution. This was partly because prices increased, and also because we had to spend money on additional items, such as sanitisers, masks and handwash soap. Most of our donors also faced financial challenges and couldn’t donate as much as they would like, and this is a challenge we continue to face.

    For schools to reopen, a lot of CSOs, church-affiliated organisations such as the Salvation Army and local businesses donated hand sanitisers, masks, handwashing basins and soap. We helped ensure girls had access to basic needs to remain in school.

    Civil society also called on the government to lessen restrictions on public interactions so that small businesses could reopen as well.

    What are the main women’s rights issues in Zambia and how is civil society tackling them?

    Some major women’s and girls’ rights issues in Zambia are GBV, economic inequality and unequal access to quality education.

    According to African Impact, only about 31 per cent of girls in Zambia finish primary school, and only eight per cent complete secondary school. This is partly attributed to early marriages and pregnancies, but also to challenges such as lack of access to menstrual hygiene management products and facilities, especially in rural schools.

    Low levels of literacy make girls more vulnerable as they grow into women. Most of them don’t understand the rights they have as women, especially those concerning sexual and reproductive health.

    This also contributes to a lack of financial independence, which in turn makes women more susceptible to GBV. Limited education means limited access to business opportunities and funding. Many women are not able to draft a business plan, which is required to get a loan. Most lending institutions also require collateral, which most women don’t have, as they typically don’t own property. All this puts them at an economic disadvantage and increases their vulnerability.

    There is a cultural trend for women to get just the bare minimum level of education and then become homemakers. Systems are not built to accommodate even the few who may want to take a different path.

    Civil society works with government and communities to tackle these issues and bridge these gaps. Many CSOs, including WingEd Girls, support girls in different ways so they stay in school. We have a project to train girls to make reusable pads. The Salvation Army drills boreholes and builds toilets in rural schools. Copper Rose Zambia teaches girls about menstrual hygiene management and sensitises women on GBV and sexual and reproductive health and rights. Other CSOs, such as Africa Leadership Legacy, help women acquire business, financial and leadership skills. These efforts have inspired the government to take further action to support women and girls, and there are now government programmes to empower women, encourage women to establish businesses and provide greater access to education, especially in rural areas.

    How can gender equality be achieved in Zambia and what is being done to that effect?

    At WingEd Girls we believe that for real change to happen there needs to be an intentional change in direction, especially by the government. There is a need to mainstream gender policies and create awareness among girls and women of their rights.

    Some policies to that effect already exist, but institutions seem to lack the motivation to implement them. Other policies are non-existent, and the government must put them in place. Policies around land ownership, access to education, gender-specific healthcare and access to business opportunities and financial assistance should be mainstreamed. Specific budget lines should be established to ensure an equal access to resources. More awareness programmes are needed to help women and girls learn about their rights and ways to access resources or assistance.

    As GBV rose, church bodies and CSOs such as Zambia National Women’s Lobby have called on the government to take quick action. The government responded by promising it would establish fast-track courts for GBV cases, put in place policies and legislation to combat GBV and build shelters for GBV victims within communities. They in turn called on civil society to join in efforts to ensure anti-GBV services were made easily available for victims or potential victims.

    To keep girls in schools, the government has recently included funding in the national budget to distribute sanitary towels in all schools across the country. But this has not made civil society stop its own work in that regard. WingEd Girls and other CSOs see a potential for partnering with the government and will continue to distribute menstrual hygiene management resources to girls.

    To support female-led households, the government has partnered with the World Bank. Through a World Bank-funded project, Girls’ Education and Women’s Empowerment and Livelihood, it will help women access seed money to start businesses and access farm inputs. Lending institutions are also being encouraged to re-evaluate their loan access requirements to accommodate more women.

    The International Women’s Day (IWD) theme for 2022 is #BreakTheBias. How have you organised around it in the communities you work with?

    For IWD we organised a school outreach in a rural district of Zambia’s Southern Province. We moved it to 11 March because 8 March is a holiday and children will be off school that day. As usual, the event will include menstrual health hygiene talks and career mentorship sessions. We will distribute WingEd kits’,a package containing reusable and disposable pads, underwear, washing soap, and painkillers.

    We have partnered with several organisations, including Africa Leadership Legacy, which will conduct talks about leadership and financial skills, and Toy-lab, an organisation led by a group of medical doctors who will talk about menstrual hygiene management. To inspire the girls with business ideas, a local business leader will also come to talk to the girls. Peer educators from Mike’s New Generation Version will also be part of the team.

    Our aim is essentially to break the bias that society and communities have against girls, starting with access to education and career choices. In line with Sustainable Development Goal 4, we want to ensure girls have access to quality education despite the various challenges they face, including menstruation. We hope the mentorship we provide will enable them to choose career paths based on their passions and interests.

    They shouldn’t have to choose a career because it is deemed suitable or ‘easy’ enough for a girl. What they really need is help to overcome challenges and exposure to information about the variety of career options available to them.

    Civic space in Zambia is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with WingEd Girls through itsFacebook andInstagram pages. 


  • ZAMBIA: ‘The abolition of the death penalty is a victory for civil society calling for respect of the right to life’

    MacdonaldChipenziCIVICUS speaks about Zambia’s recent abolition of the death penalty and the role played by civil society with Macdonald Chipenzi, outgoing Executive Director of the Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services (GEARS) Initiative Zambia, a civil society organisation (CSO) that promotes democracy and electoral integrity.

    What led to the recent decision to abolish the death penalty in Zambia?

    Though the issue of the death penalty has been controversial and divisive in Zambia for some years now, and some people wanted to keep it on the statute books, there were various reasons behind the government’s decision to abolish it.

    First, since Zambia was declared a ‘Christian Nation’ in 1992, only one execution of a death warrant was done, in 1997 by then-president Fredrick Titus Jacob Chiluba. Since then, no president has been willing to sign a death warrant for any convict condemned to death. Another president, Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, even vowed never to sign any such warrant because he did not want human blood on his hands. The abolition of the death penalty was necessary both for consistency with the declaration of Zambia as a ‘Christian Nation’ whose belief in the Bible is unequivocal and to keep up with regional and global trends.

    Second, Zambia committed to abolishing the death penalty in the course of its successive Universal Periodic Review (UPR) examinations at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the latest of which took place in 2017. Several donor missions repeatedly reminded the state of Zambia that it must do away with death penalty and several meetings were attended in Geneva by successive Ministers of Justice on the same matter. Arguably, the desire for Zambia to have a tangible presentation on its commitments to the UNHRC to offer at the next UPR session, slated for later this year, explains the speed at which the abolition process has proceeded.

    Third, there was consistent advocacy from a majority of civil society towards the abolition of the death penalty to comply with the principle of respect for the right to life enshrined in our constitution. The constitution has not been amended because this would require a referendum, but the elimination of the death penalty from the Penal Code means no court will be able to issue a death sentence and the highest sentence for those convicted of capital offices will be life imprisonment.

    The development is therefore a victory for the CSOs that have been consistent in calling for the abolition of the death penalty and for respect of the right to life in Zambia. The death penalty was in contradiction to both the provision on the right to life in the constitution and the ethos of Zambia as a Christian Nation. However, there remains the gigantic job of removing the death penalty from the constitution – which is important to do, because if one day the country is led by a bloodthirsty leader they could still apply it if they find a constitutional provision allowing it.

    How has civil society, and GEARS Initiative in particular, advocated for the abolition of the death penalty?

    We found the basis to anchor our advocacy work for the abolition of the death penalty in the decades-long practice by Zambian presidents of refusing to sign death warrants against convicts sentenced to death. This made the death sentence clause of the constitution redundant and strengthened the position of human rights and pro-life CSOs.

    Advocacy took the form of submissions to Constitutional Review Commissions and the African Union’s African Peer Review Mechanism as well as position papers presented at local and international meetings such as the UPR sessions where the Zambian government was present. CSOs also made presentations and submissions at international forums and had one-on-one meetings with foreign missions of countries that had abolished the death penalty and with those of states concerned with human rights, such as the European Union, the UK and the USA.

    UPR sessions and pre-sessions and parallel events, including a recent one that GEARS Initiative was able to attend with support from CIVICUS, were used as a platform to advocate for the repeal of the death penalty. The creation of a critical mass of human rights CSOs synergised partnerships for joint and consistent advocacy activities that helped build momentum and compelled the government to act. It was also very crucial to build working synergies with local and international media to disseminate advocacy initiatives.

    What are the next steps in your work?

    There are a number of remaining repressive or archaic laws that should be repealed, reviewed or amended. These include the Public Order Act (1955), the NGO Act (2009), the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act (2021) and the Contempt of Court Law, which is part of the Penal Code, among others. Except for the latter, the rest are already under review, with draft bills ready to be presented before the National Assembly. The Public Order Act, for instance, is being replaced with a Public Gatherings Bill.

    Our next steps are to continue advocating for a speedy legal review process of these repressive laws by undertaking public engagement and media activities, auditing obnoxious sections of these laws and submitting our reports to state authorities and other stakeholders, including the media, CSOs, donor communities and parliamentarians. This may entail hiring legal consultants to do desk reviews, identify the sections that need to be replaced and recommend alternatives that are justifiable from the perspective of a democratic society. This, will of course, require the investment of more technical and financial resources.

    What kind of support do you need to continue doing this work?

    Last year, GEARS Initiative received short-term financial and technical support from CIVICUS and two US-based organisations – the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law and the National Democratic Institute – to conduct legal analyses of the NGO Act, the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act and the Public Order Act and report back on what and why they needed to be repealed or replaced. The negative impact of the continued existence of these laws was analysed and shared, not only with media and civil society, but also with citizens, including in local and rural communities.

    But for 2023, GEARS Initiative has not yet secured any support for its advocacy work towards the repeal of repressive laws. All our projects had short-term funding that ended in 2022, and had visible positive impact: they kept the government on its toes and pushed it to close the year with draft bills that it promised to table before the National Assembly in its first session starting in February 2023. GEARS Initiative was included in the Technical Committee on repeal and replacement of the Public Order Act and was further requested to make submissions on the review of the NGO Act and the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act.

    GEARS Initiative will need financial and technical support to be able to sustain the advocacy activities it embarked on in 2022. In collaboration with like-minded CSOs, GEARS Initiative wants to continue reviewing the various repressive laws that restrict civic and democratic space in Zambia, conducting community, stakeholders’, media and government engagement around the findings of those reviews, and advocating for the replacement of obsolete or repressive legislation.

    Civic space inZambia is rated ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with GEARS Initiative through itsFacebook page.


  • ZAMBIA: "Las prácticas electorales observadas hasta ahora no indican buenas lecciones para la región"

    McDonald ChipenziCIVICUS conversa con McDonald Chipenzi, Director Ejecutivo de la iniciativa Servicios de Gobernanza, Elecciones, Incidencia e Investigación (GEARS, Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services) y presidente del Consejo de ONG de Zambia, acerca del estado del espacio cívico en vísperas de las cruciales elecciones generales que se celebrarán el 12 de agosto de 2021.

    ¿Cuál es la situación del espacio cívico y las libertades de los medios de comunicación antes de las elecciones?

    El espacio cívico y mediático en Zambia sigue siendo frágil y se ha ido reduciendo a causa de restricciones legales. Esto se ha visto agravado por el estallido de la pandemia de COVID-19 y la imposición de nuevas normas y directrices que han aumentado las restricciones a la libertad de movimiento y a las libertades de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión de la ciudadanía. Esto ha resultado en una ineficaz participación de la ciudadanía en los asuntos públicos nacionales.

    Las normas y directrices relativas al COVID-19 han agravado el ya delicado y restringido estado del espacio cívico, mediático y político en Zambia. Estas restricciones son el resultado de la aplicación selectiva de leyes arcaicas, como la Ley de Orden Público de 1955, y de leyes recientemente promulgadas, como la Ley de Ciberseguridad y Ciberdelitos de 2021, cuyo objetivo es interceptar, vigilar e interferir en las conversaciones, la correspondencia y las comunicaciones de la ciudadanía, incluso sin orden judicial. Esta nueva ley, que se considera destinada a reducir el espacio cívico virtual, ha infundido temor en la ciudadanía, disuadiéndola de participar efectivamente en forma virtual. Como resultado, muchas personas han optado por permanecer en silencio o han abandonado plataformas virtuales como WhatsApp y Facebook.

    El espacio de los medios de comunicación también sigue marcado por la intimidación y el acoso como resultado de leyes restrictivas y de las acciones de las élites gobernantes. El cierre de Prime TV, una cadena de televisión privada, en marzo de 2021, tuvo un efecto paralizador en la comunidad de los medios de comunicación. La mayoría de ellos temen ahora acoger voces críticas y líderes de la oposición. Temen perder la publicidad del gobierno y otras oportunidades de negocios. Los actores más cercanos a los poderes fácticos también se distancian de los medios de comunicación que dan cabida a las voces críticas.

    ¿Cuáles son las principales preocupaciones de la sociedad civil de cara a las elecciones?

    La principal preocupación de la sociedad civil es la seguridad de todos los involucrados, ya que la policía no se compromete a proporcionar seguridad a todos por igual. La policía se ha mostrado reacia a hacer frente a la violencia perpetuada por las élites del partido gobernante, e incluso ha contribuido a ella. Se teme que el día de las elecciones, cuando algunos partidos sientan que están perdiendo en algunos distritos electorales, realicen acciones disruptivas para obligar a repetir la votación, lo cual podría beneficiarles.

    Otra preocupación es la posibilidad de que se produzca un corte de internet, de los servicios de telefonía móvil y de las redes sociales, especialmente después de la votación, para tratar de ocultar los resultados.

    Una tercera preocupación es la pandemia de COVID-19, que se temió que se extendería si los partidos políticos celebraban mítines. Según el Ministerio de Salud y la Comisión Electoral de Zambia (CEZ), los mítines fueron considerados potenciales eventos de superdifusión de la COVID-19, por lo que se recomendó su prohibición. Esto afectó sobre todo a la oposición, ya que los funcionarios del partido gobernante continuaron utilizando las inauguraciones e inspecciones de proyectos de desarrollo como excusa para hacer campaña.

    Hay que tener en cuenta que el grupo de trabajo sobre COVID-19 formado por la CEZ para desarrollar las directrices estuvo dominado por las instituciones gubernamentales. De las 14 instituciones representadas, nueve eran gubernamentales, y hubo apenas tres espacios para los medios de comunicación y dos para organizaciones de la sociedad civil que trabajan en temas de género y agua y saneamiento.

    Para prevenir la violencia y mantenerla bajo control en caso de que se produzca, la sociedad civil trabaja con la policía, alentándola a ser más profesional y ética, y con los partidos políticos, para que proporcionen orientación a sus cuadros. También está haciendo un llamamiento al presidente de la República para que libere a la policía para que pueda enfrentarse a los delincuentes independientemente de su filiación partidaria.

    En cuanto a la posibilidad de un corte de los medios de comunicación y de internet, las organizaciones de la sociedad civil han enviado peticiones al presidente de la República para que se abstenga de interrumpir el servicio de internet o las redes sociales durante y después de las elecciones.

    Para estas elecciones, la Iniciativa GEARS desarrolló la llamada “estrategia Ing'ombe Ilede”, que permitirá recolectar los resultados electorales en caso de un corte de internet. Se ha designado un lugar común para que los coordinadores de circunscripción y de provincia que participan en las elecciones compartan sus documentos sin necesidad de reunirse. Esta estrategia está inspirada en las antiguas tácticas comerciales utilizadas en un lugar llamado Ing'ombe Ilede, situado en el valle de Gwembe, en una provincia del sur de Zambia. Creemos que esta estrategia ayudará a sortear un posible corte de internet, sobre el cual ya ha advertido el gobierno.

    ¿Está aumentando la polarización en vísperas de las elecciones? ¿Qué efectos tendrán las elecciones sobre la división social y política?

    Las elecciones han polarizado al país, ya que los políticos del partido gobernante están utilizando el regionalismo y el tribalismo para ganar votos en sus supuestos bastiones. El impacto de esto será una profunda división después de las elecciones, especialmente si el partido gobernante gana las elecciones, ya que marginará a quienes considere que no lo apoyaron en las elecciones. Los grupos o regiones percibidos como baluartes del principal partido de oposición ya han sido marginados y discriminados en términos de oportunidades económicas y de desarrollo, incluido el reparto de cargos políticos en el gobierno.

    Las oportunidades de empleo y negocios también son un coto de quienes son percibidos como partidarios del partido gobernante. Los mercados y las estaciones de autobuses están en manos de partidarios del partido gobernante y no de los ayuntamientos. Esto ha reducido el espacio cívico de muchos ciudadanos que sobreviven gracias al comercio en los mercados y las estaciones de autobús, ya que les ha llevado a adoptar la llamada “estrategia de la sandía”, así designada porque dicha fruta es verde (el color del partido gobernante) por fuera y roja (el color de la oposición) por dentro. Esto les permite sobrevivir en esos mercados, paradas de autobús y estaciones y paradas de taxi. Esta situación puede agravarse si el partido gobernante mantiene el poder.

    ¿Cuál es la situación de la economía, y cómo influirá en las decisiones de los votantes?

    El estado de la economía zambiana no es bueno, sino que afecta a muchos ciudadanos de a pie. La moneda local, el kwacha, ha seguido depreciándose frente a las principales divisas convertibles. El costo de vida se ha cuadruplicado y los precios de los productos básicos se han disparado. Los pobres apenas consiguen vivir mientras las élites políticas gobernantes duermen encima del dinero debido a la excesiva corrupción y al abuso de los recursos del Estado en ausencia de controles y rendición de cuentas. Los pobres comen para vivir, no viven para comer. Esto tendrá un fuerte impacto en las zonas periurbanas de las principales ciudades, como Lusaka y los pueblos de Copperbelt.

    La población rural, por su parte, puede que no se vea tan afectada por la situación de la economía, ya que la mayoría recogió buenas cosechas en las últimas temporadas de lluvias y también se benefició de un plan de transferencias sociales en efectivo dirigido a las personas mayores y e sectores vulnerables, que ahora se ha convertido en una herramienta de campaña. Además, los votantes rurales tienden a ser conservadores y a votar por los partidos políticos tradicionales preferidos por sus antepasados.

    Zambia ha sido conocida como un bastión de la democracia en la región. ¿Qué impacto tendrán estas elecciones sobre la democracia, tanto en Zambia como en la región?

    Esta elección es clave para el desarrollo de una tendencia regional sobre el manejo electoral. Si se gestiona muy mal y desemboca en el caos, puede influir negativamente en la región, ya que los líderes de la mayoría de los países de la Comunidad para el Desarrollo del África Meridional (SADC) suelen copiarse unos a otros. Al tratarse de una de las pocas elecciones celebradas en la región durante la pandemia de COVID-19 tras las históricas elecciones de Malawi, Zambia tiene la oportunidad de demostrar que sigue siendo el bastión de la democracia en la SADC.

    Sin embargo, las prácticas observadas hasta ahora no indican buenas lecciones para la región. Por ejemplo, la cancelación de mítines y otras actividades de campaña, principalmente dirigidas contra la oposición, mientras el partido gobernante y los funcionarios públicos siguen realizando sus campañas, es una muy mala lección para la democracia, la competencia justa y la credibilidad de las elecciones. La aplicación selectiva del código de conducta electoral por parte de la autoridad electoral es también un muy mal ejemplo para la región. Por lo tanto, la región tendrá que separar las buenas prácticas de las malas. Sin embargo, la mayoría de las instituciones electorales y los líderes políticos se inclinan más por las malas prácticas y dejan de lado las buenas, ya que aquellas benefician a los titulares del poder.

    ¿Qué pueden hacer los grupos regionales y globales de la sociedad civil para apoyar a la sociedad civil zambiana durante este periodo de elecciones y tras ellas?

    La sociedad civil regional y global tiene un rol importante que desempeñar para garantizar que en Zambia prevalezca la paz y que después de las elecciones no se produzcan intimidaciones y acosos dirigidos contra el movimiento de la sociedad civil. Es necesario vigilar los acontecimientos postelectorales, especialmente en lo que respecta a las maniobras para reducir el espacio cívico. A pocos días de las elecciones, el 9 de agosto, el Secretario Permanente del Ministerio de Información y Radiodifusión, Amos Malupenga, emitió un comunicado en el que advertía a la ciudadanía que el gobierno podría cortar internet antes de las elecciones, lo cual supone una amenaza directa para el disfrute de las libertades de asociación, reunión pacífica y expresión en línea de la ciudadanía durante y después de las elecciones.

    El ejército y otras fuerzas de defensa, además de la policía, se han desplegado en las calles de todo el país con el pretexto de sofocar cualquier posible acto de violencia política y electoral. Esto puede dar lugar a abusos que socaven el espacio cívico físico. Por lo tanto, el espacio cívico y político tanto físico como virtual continuarán constantemente bajo amenaza del establishment durante y después de las elecciones, como lo han estado antes.

    La sociedad civil y los medios de comunicación críticos son blancos potenciales de intimidación y acoso tras las elecciones; de ahí la necesidad de que la sociedad civil global y regional apoye a la sociedad civil de Zambia con estrategias para contrarrestar las represalias que tras las elecciones pueda imponerles la maquinaria estatal. Si el gobierno actual gana, su categorización, marginación y discriminación de las organizaciones de la sociedad civil según su filiación partidaria real o percibida empeorará tras las elecciones.

    Dado que el proceso de derogación de la Ley de ONG sigue en curso, el periodo postelectoral podría ser testigo de la adopción de un nuevo enfoque para completarlo.

    Se necesitarán estrategias de solidaridad y fondos legales para ayudar a quienes puedan ser incriminados y acusados bajo leyes arcaicas. Es necesario seguir desafiando la Ley de Ciberseguridad y Ciberdelitos, la Ley de Orden Público y la Ley de ONG. Para ello, es necesario que la sociedad civil regional y global apoye, defienda, promueva y proteja el espacio cívico y mediático en Zambia antes, durante y después de las elecciones.

    El espacio cívico en Zambia es calificado como “obstruido” por el CIVICUS Monitor.

    Póngase en contacto con GEARS a través de su página de Facebook y siga a @GearsZambia en Twitter.


  • Zambia: Immediate drop-off trumped-up charges on Journalist Eric Chiyuka

    CIVICUS calls on the Zambian authorities to immediately drop all the charges against journalist and activist Eric Chiyuka.


  • Zambia: New government must lift restrictions on civil liberties

    Global civil society alliance CIVICUS congratulates President Hakainde Hichilema on his election as the new President of Zambia and commends the millions of people of Zambia for participating in the electoral process that has seen the transition of power from former President Edgar Lungu to a new government. The people of Zambia braved the Covid-19 pandemic, concerns of violence, and internet restrictions ahead of the elections to exercise their civic duty.

    “Zambians have demonstrated to the world a resolve to chart their own democratic path in a constitutional way; to return to a space where human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, promoted, and protected. We urge the government of President Hichilema to promote and protect human rights principles and good governance for a better Zambia.” Said Dr Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS.

    Over the last five years in Zambia civil liberties deteriorated as Zambian authorities arrested journalists, suspended independent media platforms and subjected human rights activists to judicial persecution. Several activists have been targeted particularly for calling for accountability in the management of state finances and for protesting against corruption.

    President Hichilema’s government has a responsibility to initiate broad consultations with civil society, reverse civic space restrictions imposed by his predecessor and respect fundamental freedoms in line with Zambia’s constitution and international human rights obligation.

    We urge the new government to:

    • Carry out an independent investigation into the violence ahead of the elections and bring the perpetrators to justice. Lift the ban on all independent media outlets, particularly Prime TV, and lift all restrictions on online freedoms and create an enabling environment for independent media, journalists, and activists to freely express their views without fear of intimidation and harassment.
    • Adhere to and respect the provision of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, including not restricting access to internet as a standard practice in future elections.
    • Honour its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and all other human rights obligations and commitments.
    • Fulfil the promises made during the electoral processes including building a better Zambia, based on democratic principles.

    The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society in countries across the globe, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Zambia as Obstructed.


  • Zambia: State of Emergency signifies worrying signs for civic space

    The declaration of State of Public Threatened Emergency in Zambia is a glaring indication of plans by the government to increase restrictions on civic space in an effort to consolidate the regime of President Edgar C Lungu, global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Zambian Council for Social Development (ZCSD) noted today.


  • Zambia’s media under siege

    Following reported violations on the press in Zambia that have included the closing of a newspaper and two radio stations, CIVICUS speaks to Wilson Pondamali a Zambian freelance investigative journalist and media activist to detail the situation

    1. Describe Zambia’s media landscape?
    Zambia is home to a plural media since the reintroduction of a political multiparty system in 1991 when veteran trade unionist Fredrick Chiluba’s Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) ousted the liberation leader Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP).

    2. Please explain recent violations of the press in Zambia?
    The PostThe Post newspaper of late has been facing severe harassment. The Post newspaper, a forerunner to the Weekly Post, was one of the first independent newspapers and continued to champion democracy and good governance by holding government accountable. Incidentally, the harassment of The Post newspaper started way back but the previous leaders between 1990 and 2008 – Kaunda, Chiluba and Levy Mwanawasa were tolerant of it.

    Mwanawasa succeeded Chiluba in 2001 but died in office in 2008, being succeeded by Rupiah Banda who was later defeated by Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front (PF) in 2011. The suffocation of The Post newspaper which manifested in 2016 during the reign of Michael Sata’s successor and incumbent Edgar Lungu could have started under President Banda apparently because the tabloid showed open support for Sata from the first day Banda was nominated to contest the 2008 election, in which he narrowly defeated Sata.

    The Post newspaper continued to be critical in the three-year reign of Banda while projecting Sata in the limelight. It is undisputable that the tabloid played a pivotal role in the PF’s 2011 victory. This can be supported by the large number of its staff who were offered jobs in the civil service thereafter. The managing editor, and Editor in Chief Fred M’membe’s right hand man Amos Malupenga, was appointed as permanent secretary, while M’membe’s deputy Sam Mujuda was appointed into foreign service as high commissioner. The news editor George Chellah became press aide at State house while many other journalists were appointed press attaches to Zambia’s foreign missions. Sata died after only three years in office and was succeeded by Edgar Lungu in a tight 2015 election, defeating closest rival UPND’s Hakainde Hichilema mainly with support from former President Banda. Lungu himself received fair criticism from The Post during and before the 2015 and 2016 elections.

    It would be correct to speculate that Banda was still vindictive of The Post and wanted it closed as evidenced by his threatening statement made when he was still in office. Being a close ally of Lungu, the newspaper company is now being pursued over a disputed tax claim by the Zambia Revenue Authority, leading to the tax authority threatening to seize the company’s fleet of vehicles and the premises on 21 June 2016 leaving the newspapers workers and owners to operate outside.

    But then that was not enough, some workers who claimed not to have been paid applied to the High court to have the newspaper liquidated and a long-time foe of M’membe, Lusaka lawyer Lewis Mosho was appointed liquidator on 1 September 2016. Mosho, of Lewis Nathan and partners immediately after assuming the liquidator role ‘fired’ M’membe and lawyers Mutembo and Nchima Nchito.

    After The Post was closed down, the only media that remained as the strongest force was the privately owned Muvi TV with its sister company Komboni radio, both based in Lusaka but broadcasting to many parts of the country.

    Zambian broadcast media, except the national broadcaster Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation – ZNBC are all regulated by the ‘not so independent’ Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) which was created by an Act of parliament. The IBA board and director general are appointed by the minister of information and its offices are located at the government owned mass media complex, housing ZNBC and another government media agency Zambia news and Information Services.

    The IBA suspended the broadcasting licenses of Muvi TV, Komboni and Itezhitezhi radio stations a few days after the disputed re-election of Lungu in the August general election. They were accused of allegedly broadcasting statements that were a danger to national security. The three media outlets were never charged nor given a chance to be heard but were just served with suspension notices and switched off. Their premises were taken over by heavily armed police who denied workers any entry to the premises. The stations were then reinstated in an apparent ‘diluted’ form weeks after the election petition hearing had commenced and Lungu was sworn into office. In the process, Komboni executive director Lesa Kasoma Nyirenda was assaulted by police as she tried to gain entry into her premises after being reinstated.

    3. Why are we witnessing a clamp down on media?
    The Edgar Lungu led PF regime seems to be in a mode of not tolerating divergent views as can be witnessed by continued threats on any dissenting views. Some of the threats are in the party while others are external. He has kept a strong grip on the PF, as witnessed by the harsh treatment of past PF members who resigned and sought to rejoin. One such member is Miles Sampa who was given some conditions before he could be readmitted. Another possible challenger Chishimba Kambwili, was relieved of his influential position of youth chairman in the central committee and later stripped of his position as information minister.

    To ensure he is in a safe haven, most media houses that have hosted people critic to his administration have been victimised by state machinery or even party cadres. In principle, the President seems not to tolerate criticism hence the clamp-down of critical media and journalists.

    4. What was the situation of freedom of expression during last year’s election?
    There was a serious and visible clamp-down on freedom of expression in the run up to the elections as evidenced by countless refusals by the authorities for the opposition to organise party meetings. The main victims were UPND cadres who also had their meetings disrupted by unruly PF cadres.

    Radio stations that hosted the opposition members were also victimised by police or cadres themselves with impunity and no arrests were made. The scenario has continued as evidenced by the detention of and threats to journalists hosting opposition. Prime TV, Chipata TV, Mkushi radio and Radio Mano, to mention but a few have been victims.

    The ongoing harassment of The Mast newspaper owned by Fred’s wife Mutinta Mazoka M’membe is yet another example of a clampdown on freedom of expression. This is what led me to stage a one-man protest at the M’membe’s residence on Sunday, 19 February 2017.

    5. What is the way forward for media in Zambia
    There is need for a very strong force of media rights activism in the nation, which must be backed by legal instruments to ensure that journalists are protected from both economic and professional manipulation. Most private media houses are paying about K1 000 (US$100) per month salaries and this exposes journalists to temptations of unethical conduct.

    There is also need for effective retraining as some media houses are manned by unprofessional journalists, especially the community radio stations who form the majority of plural media. To date, the Media Institute for Southern Africa Zambia chapter is the only organisation that seems to champion media violations but over some time it has also not shown enough stamina hence receiving resentment and criticism from media practitioners. Today Zambian media is very highly polarised and there is a need to resolve this.

    6. How can international CSOs assist in the situation?
    As local CSOs remain threatened, international CSOs can help mitigate the situation by lobbying both the Zambian government and other governments to allow for freedom of expression. This could be done through interventions at international meetings that are being attended by Zambia’s leadership. There is also need for capacity building among the Zambian media practitioners and activists and lobbying for legal reforms such as the long-awaited but elusive Access to Information law. Exchange programmes and attachments of Zambians to other media outlets outside the country would help as well.

    Wilson Pondamali is a freelance investigative journalist and media activist who has worked in print and electronic media, both in government and privately owned media. He is the founding editor of a community newspaper Kabwe Bulletin and currently sits on the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zambia chapter) board as membership committee chairperson. He is also chairing this year’s MISA Zambia media awards to be hosted in May. He holds various qualifications from the University of Zambia, Zambia Institute of Mass Communication, Institute for Advancement of Journalism (South Africa), Cavendish University Zambia and Fojo Media Institute of Sweden.