A Dissection of Political Violence in Zambia

Suspected PF cadres advancing towards UPND members at a rally in Kabwata

Suspected PF cadres advancing towards UPND members at a rally in Kabwata

By Hope Nyambe

Zambia in the very recent past has been plagued with politically motivated violence, with the worst scenarios resulting in the loss of people’s lives.

From the inception of Multi party democracy in 1991, political violence appears to be increasingly becoming a part and parcel of Zambian politics. This has led me to question, what really constitutes political violence, propagates it, and the best way of resolving it.

I realised from the onset of writing this article, that a general delineation of the scope and enormity of political violence would pose a great challenge. By and large, arguably any action that is against a political authority’s objectives could be construed as political violence. There are many acts that would fall under this general definition, such as anti government demonstration, worker strikes corruption, to mention but a few.

For conceptual purposes, I will refer to political violence as any use of unlawful force or violence against persons in order to intimidate or coerce the government or civilian population in pursuance and furtherance of political or social objectives. In this case, we are looking at actions such a physical violence against political opponents, the use of the state apparatus to deprive persons of their fundamental rights such as the rights to information and association.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to discuss with both the perpetrators and victims of political violence, and in almost all the cases, there appears to be more or less the same factors at play. These include factors like social and economical structural imbalances, failures in the justice system and the behaviour of the political elite.

Although Zambia over the years has made great strides towards both political and economical development, there are still high levels of poverty. Over 64% of the population are thought to be living below the poverty datum line, with over 80% of the entire Zambian population living on less than $2 a day. This has manifested itself in high levels of corruption, unemployment and crime.

Empirical evidence has shown that political violence will rise as income per capita, education, and economic growth stagnate or decline. Unfortunately, our politicians have tended to use these social and economical structural imbalances to further their own ambitions. A few drums of the local brew ‘Chibuku’ will buy you a crowd of hundred cadres that are willing to dance to any tune that sponsor plays. These are cadres that are mainly uneducated, unemployed and with very little to aspire for.

Another aspect that causes political violence in Zambia directly relates to the systematic failures in the justice system. The justice system in Zambia attests to being grounded in the values of rehabilitation, redemption, and fairness. It is one thing to advocate for these values and something totally else to access them.

The application of the rule of Law in Zambia is highly politicised. From the time of independence, it always appears that those in the ruling regime are cushioned when it come to the application of the rule of Law. It is common knowledge that law enforcement agencies such as the police force, anti corruption commission, the drug enforcement agencies and the courts of law are reluctant to pursue individuals that are in the ruling regime for any alleged shortcomings.

Such docility by those entrusted in applying the rule of law is like a ‘Viagra’ for violence. We have political cadres that will match without police permits because they know that the police won’t do anything. We have a police force that will act with impunity against the opposition knowing that the chance of any complainant having fair access to the justice system is almost zero percent. Such are the failures of the justice system that it’s also a breeding ground for political violence.

The final aspect to political violence in Zambia has to definitely do with the behaviour of the political elite. Over the years, we have seen inter party violence solely caused by the failure of the political elite to act as authorities.

It’s disheartening to see politicians ‘encourage’ political cadres to ‘fix’ or disrupt the activities of other parties even when such actions fall beyond the confinements of the law. Furthermore the political elites need to hold on and control political structures, even when such involvement is at the detriment of the entire nation, means that in most cases views that are outside their own cognitive areas are wholesomely dismissed.

Are there are any perceptible solutions to curbing the political violence in Zambia? Of course there are! Politicians in Zambia need to be objective and impartial on dealing with the inveterate challenge of tackling political violence, dealt jointly with the problem of treating perpetrators of political violence as if where above the law. There are many other solutions, but I guess I will save that for another discussion.