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PESA Editorial - Zambia - 3Q2018/19

History of Conflict and its Impact on Zambian Development

Zambia has been a relatively stable country since its independence in 1964. This is in contrast to several neighbouring countries, which have experienced civil war (Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and Zimbabwe). However, Zambia has had its fair share of conflict and instability, even though less violent conflict than its neighbours have. The past presidential elections (2015 and 2016) have witnessed many incidents that have threatened the country’s democracy[1]. These include uncontrolled violence, hate speech based on tribe and corrupt behaviour by political contestants.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, Zambia’s attempts to isolate South Africa’s apartheid regime and the decline in world copper prices from June 1970 caused instability and economic crises. This left the country with high debt levels which increased from USD 875.7 million in 1973 to USD 2.5 billion in 1983, and increased further to USD 6.8 billion by 1990[2]. Annual GDP growth decreased from a peak of 17.0% in 1965, to 2.0% in 1985[3]. Political stability deteriorated along with the economic decline, which affected Zambia’s ability to attract investment to boost resuscitate growth.

Zambia has had three coup attempts staged between 1980 and 2000. A small group of Zambia’s elites, largely intellectuals and influential business people, spearheaded the first coup attempt of 16 October 1980[4]. This group clashed with politicians from the United National Independence Party (UNIP) over plans for radical Africanisation of the state and its subordination to the ruling party. Although the majority of conspirators were Bemba-speaking, the government and army remained opposed to ethnically-based mobilisation[5]. A brief gun battle was waged between state forces and the insurgents, which resulted in one casualty. The elite coup attempt failed the perpetrators were arrested by Zambian security forces[6].

The second coup of 30 June 1990 divided the ruling UNIP party. The perpetrators of this coup were a group of civilians, intelligence officers and military troops under Lieutenant Luchembe’s leadership. This group sought to forcibly assume control of the state following protracted economic decline in the 1970s and 1980s which resulted in food riots[7]. The group also demanded the abolishment of the one-party state and re-introduction of multi-party politics[8]. The military coup attempt failed as truckloads of military policemen and armoured personnel carriers rescued the situation[9].

The last coup of 28 October 1997 lasted a mere 3 hours. The coup was an attempt to overthrow President Frederick Chiluba and his government due to perceptions of widespread corruption. Captain Steven Lungu together with 54 soldiers took over a radio station in Lusaka and announced that President Chiluba should step down[10]. Shortly after the announcement, gunfire was heard outside the radio and television complex, State House and the President’s residence. The military coup attempt failed and the perpetrators, who were mainly military officers, were promptly arrested[11].

 

PESA Editorial - Zambian Defence Force - 3Q2018/19
Zambian Defence Force

 

Despite the relative peace and stability, these attempted coups have discouraged investment and disrupted economic growth in Zambia. The coup attempts have dampened investor confidence due to the risks associated with the environment of political instability which undermined economic recovery[12]. In addition, export performance declined resulting in slow economic growth during the 1980s and 90s. As a result, gross-fixed capital formation declined by 35.5% from an annual average of USD 1.6 billion from 1980 to 1990, to USD 1.0 billion from 1990 to 2000[13]. Hence real GDP growth continued declining to annual average of -0.4% from 1990 to 2000 (1980-1990: 2.1%)[14].

Zambia is a country of 73 ethnic groups and 7 officially recognised languages. The Bemba, Tonga, Lozi and Nyanja were recognised as having the greatest political clout in the post-independence period[15]. Zambia’s re-introduction of multi-party democracy in 1991 was characterised by significant fragmentation along ethnic lines. The main contested areas included electoral rules, regulations and administration. This gave rise to further social and political tensions and conflict[16]. There were several incidents of egregious violence, damage to property, unlawful gathering and rise in the number of riots. By June 1990, over 30 lives were lost in Lusaka, the capital, when the authorities used force to disperse rioters and looters who were showing their discontent on the inauguration of multiparty democracy[17].

Copper mining is the central economic activity concentrated in the Copperbelt Province. From 2005 to 2015, copper contributed an annual average of 12.6% of GDP and 68.4% of exports, which increased to 12.1% of GDP and 68.6% of exports in 2016[18]. However, nearly half of the workers in the copper belt originate from the predominantly Bemba-speaking north of the country[19].  The Bembas are regarded by other major ethnic groups as illegitimately dominating government and unduly diverting resources to their regional stronghold, the Northern Province[20].

PESA Editorial - Zambian Defence Force - 3Q2018/19
Zambian Defence Force Emblem

The Lozi predominately live in the Western Province and they are disproportionately represented in the Movement for Multiparty Democracy[21]. The Tonga live in the Southern Province and they are the dominant group in the Zambia African National Congress[22]. Ethnic factionalism, particularly in the dominant parties, has contributed to political instability and poor governance which undermines nation-building prospects in Zambia[23].

The Lunda, Luvale and Kaonde tribes live predominantly in the North Western Province and enjoy less political significance due to their smaller numbers.  Hence, these smaller groups have been historically marginalised in Zambian politics and they have little or no parliamentary representation[24]. This improved somewhat with the establishment of the Zambia Democratic Congress (ZADECO) in 1995; which is increasingly popular in the North Western province. However, ZADECO is less significant due to its size and the sparseness of its constituency24.

The appointment of parliamentary representatives in 2015 following President Edgar Lungu appointment was marred by violence.  President Lungu consolidated his rule by disproportionately favouring candidates belonging to his ethnic group (Ngoni), placing them on his cabinet and in all major government ministries and other important public service roles[25]. Riots broke out in various parts of the country after the announcement of President Lungu’s ministerial and parliamentary appointments. The riot violence included hate speech, public intimidation of Ngoni civilians, looting of shops, burning of tyres and general arson, and shootings. Six deaths were reported with dozens more hospitalised due to the riots and the military was called in to assist the police in restoring order[26].

The effect of the 2015 ethnic conflict and political instability on the Zambian economy was dramatic. Mining production declined from an average of 13.1% of GDP from 2012 to 2014, to 12.1% of GDP in 2015[27]. As a result, export earnings from copper also declined from an annual average of USD 6.6 billion over the same period, USD 4.7 billion in 2015[28]. Consequently, the Zambian Kwacha depreciated by 72.0% in 2015 to ZMK 11.0 per USD in 2015 (2014: ZMK 6.4 per USD)[29]. This exacerbated the negative economic impact of the lower global copper prices and the daily load-shedding which become the norm at the end of 2015. Hence, many small-scale businesses closed and thousands of mineworkers were laid off26.

In a multi-ethnic country like Zambia, incorporating an affirmative action system is required to accomplish ‘ethnic balancing’ in representative politics and encourage political stability. The Zambian government therefore needs to make a concerted effort to ensure inclusive politics and economic growth founded on a common national vision rather than along tribal lines. Ethnic balancing will ensure inclusion of marginalised groups and allows for consultations to result in a common national vision which also strengthens the legitimacy of the state.

 


[1] Habasonda, L.M. 2018. Corruption, Ethnicity and Violence as a Triple Political Strategy, French Institute of International Relations: Paris. Available At: https://www.ifri.org/  [Last Accessed: 28 January 2019].
[2] GoZ 2006. Vision 2030: A Prosperous Middle-Income Nation by 2030, Government of Zambia: Lusaka. Available At: http://unpan1.un.org/ [Last Accessed: 30 January 2019].
[3] GoZ 2006. Vision 2030: A Prosperous Middle-Income Nation by 2030, ibid.
[4] van Donge, J.K. 2000.  ‘Kaunda and Chiluba: Enduring Patterns of Political Culture’, in J.A. Wiseman (ed.), Democracy and Political Change in Sub-Saharan Africa, Routledge: London and New York, pp.: 193-219.
[5] Mainza, M. 2016. ‘The Patriotic Front (PF) Government under a Competitive Political Environment: Implications for Political Instability in Zambia’, Southern African Peace and Security Studies, Vol. 4, No. 1, pp.: 41-56. Available At: http://www.saccps.org/ [Last Accessed: 29 January 2019].
[6] Kareem, A. 2015. October 27, 1980: Zambia Smashes Plot to Overthrow Government, on the Gulf News Website, viewed on 6 February 2019, from https://gulfnews.com/.
[7] NYT 1986. Around the World; Food Riots in Zambia; Borders Are Closed, on the New York Times Website, viewed on 5 February 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/.
[8] Lindemann, S. 2011. ‘The Ethnic Politics of Coup Avoidance: Evidence from Zambia and Uganda’, Africa Spectrum, Vol. 46, No. 2, pp.: 3-41. Available At: https://journals.sub.uni-hamburg.de/ [Last Accessed: 5 February 2019].
[9] Perlez, J. 1990. Failed Zambia Coup Weakens Leader, on the New York Times Website, viewed on 6 February 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/.
[10] ZO 2018. 1997 Coup by Captain Solo, on the Zambian Observer Website, viewed on 29 January 2019, from https://www.zambianobserver.com/.
[11] ZO 2018. 1997 Coup by Captain Solo, on the Zambian Observer Website, ibid.
[12] BoZ 2017. Bank of Zambia Annual Report 2017, ibid.
[13] UNCTAD 2019. UNCTADStat Database, United National Conference on Trade and Development: Geneva. Available At: https://unctadstat.unctad.org/ [Last Accessed: 1 February 2019].
[14] UNCTAD 2019. UNCTADStat Database, ibid.
[15] Smith-Höhn, J. 2009. A Strategic Conflict Assessment of Zambia, Institute of Security Studies: Pretoria. Available At: https://issafrica.org/ [Last Accessed: 29 January 2019].
[16] Smith-Höhn, J. 2009. A Strategic Conflict Assessment of Zambia, ibid.
[17] Perlez, J. 1990. Failed Zambia Coup Weakens Leader, ibid.
[18] UNCTAD 2019. UNCTADStat Database, ibid.
[19] Posner, D.N. 2005. Institutions and Ethnic Politics in Zambia, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
[20] Posner, D.N. 2005. Institutions and Ethnic Politics in Zambia, ibid.
[21] Dresang, D.L. 1974. ‘Ethnic Politics, Representative Bureaucracy and Development Administration: The Zambian Case’, American Political Science Review, Vol. 68, Issue 4, pp.: 1605-1617. Available At: https://www.jstor.org/ [Last Accessed: 5 February 2019].
[22] Dresang, D.L. 1974. ‘Ethnic Politics, Representative Bureaucracy and Development Administration: The Zambian Case’, ibid.
[23] Posner, D.N. 2005. Institutions and Ethnic Politics in Zambia, ibid.
[24] Cottier, F. and Owen, S. 2016. Ethnic Power Relations in Zambia: A Critical Discussion, Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues for Development: Bern. Available At: https://www.ethz.ch/ [Last Accessed: 28 January 2019].
[25] Habasonda, L.M. 2018. Corruption, Ethnicity and Violence as a Triple Political Strategy, French Institute of International Relations: Paris. Available At: https://www.ifri.org/ [Last Accessed: 28 January 2019].
[26] Kapika, B.C. 2016. How Tribalism Stunts Zambian Democracy, on the Lusaka Times Website, viewed on 12 October 2018, from https://www.lusakatimes.com/.
[27] UNCTAD 2019. UNCTADStat Database, ibid.
[28] UNCTAD 2019. UNCTADStat Database, ibid.
[29] BoZ 2018. Bank of Zambia Annual Report 2015, Bank of Zambia: Lusaka. Available At: http://www.boz.zm/ [Last Accessed: 5 February 2019].

 

 

 


Sylvia Olawumi Israel-Akinbo

Role: Regional Analyst
Contact: sylvia@politicaleconomy.org.za
Sylvia is an Economist specialising in environmental and natural resource management...

Nokukhanya Mncwabe

Former Editing and Research Specialist

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