The latest report by the Economist Group shows that Zambia will face unprecedented threats to political stability tthroughout 2017 to 2021. The most recent general election, in August 2016, highlighted the divided nature of the country, with the vote clearly split across ethno-geographic lines.
Many of the causes of this division link back to what is, for Zambia, an unusual degree of political intolerance under the presidency of Edgar Lungu and among his supporters. Hakainde Hichilema, the leader of Zambia’s main opposition party, hasbeen arraigned on charges of treason without bail. His advocates claim that the accusations are baseless and politically motivated. Whatever the outcome of the trial, the fact that it is happening at all is an unforgivable outrage for many opposition supporters—leaving tensions at fever pitch.
There are other upcoming flashpoints for major unrest. Most prominently,Mr Lungu is awaiting a judicial decision on whether he can stand for another term in 2021—something that he has declared he intends to do but that his critics have decried as unlawful. Should his eligibility to stand for office again be approved, which is likely as judges are appointed by the president, this would feed into growing perceptions that the judiciary is prejudiced in favour of the ruling Patriotic Front. With formal channels of opposition having been delegitimised following Mr Hichilema’s arrest, anger is likely to be expressed on the streets.
Demonstrations may easily result in violence, as highlighted by fatal clashes between police officers and protesters in April. Such protests would be an ideal provocation for the government to declare a state of emergency, as Mr Lungu has openly threatened to do. Given increasingly deep sociopolitical schisms, extraordinary security measures could lead to serious human rights abuses and create a vicious cycle of resentment, violence and instability.
More generally, looming fiscal austerity, as well as slow or stagnant real wage growth and what is widely seen as a political class out of touch with the hardships facing most Zambians, will fuel popular discontent. Resentment over the lack of progress on reducing unemployment, combating corruption—despite Mr Lungu’s promises to do so—and raising living standards will remain a source of discontent over the forecast period.
The ongoing repression, combined with underlying grievances, has generated a small but distinct downside risk to overall political stability caused by mass opposition unrest.
The next presidential and legislative elections are due in August 2021. The most recent presidential and legislative polls, held in August 2016, were marred by violence—primarily between security forces and opposition supporters—as well as
intimidation of media outlets and voices critical of the government. The violence and intimidation have dented Zambia’s image as one of Africa’s stronger democracies.
International relations Strong relations with China will be underlined by a string of infrastructure and manufacturing investment deals agreed with Chinese firms over the past few years, but not all of which will materialise given an expected economic slow down in China. Relations with Western donors will be strained by concerns over widespread official corruption and the regime’s intensifying efforts to stifle opposition voices.