Zambia has seen unprecedented levels of politically instigated violence in recent times resulting in loss of lives, injuries, disability and destruction of property. Since the Patriotic Front came to power in 2011, the levels of political intolerance have been consistently rising and frictions between political leaders and their supporters with rival camps have become frequent and intense.

It is quite evident that the political violence is mainly orchestrated by members and supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front against supporters and actual or perceived members or sympathisers of the main opposition political party the United Party for National Development (UPND).

In the run-up to the 12 August 2021 polls this violence has escalated to the tearing and destruction of billboards and posters of the UPND by elements believed to be sponsored by the ruling party in direct contravention of the Electoral Code of Conduct. The violence promoted by the ruling party has nauseated many voters and may cost the ruling party heavily in the upcoming election.

In realising this, President Edgar Lungu’s running mate, Nkandu Luo, “advised PF members throughout the country to explain the contents of ruling party’s five-year manifesto instead of engaging in political violence.” Luo counselled that “rather than focusing on Political violence PF members throughout the country need to concentrate on explaining contents of the new manifesto”, which she said, “is the developmental agenda by the PF for the people.”

The Electoral Commission of Zambia has had to ban all manner of political campaigns for the Patriotic Front and United Party for National Development in Lusaka, Mpulungu, Namwala and Nakonde Districts due to escalating violence and the UPND was later alone banned from campaigning in Lusaka’s Kanyama area on allegations that its supporters killed two ruling party cadres.

Under the leadership and watch of the PF, violence has escalated against those who oppose the ruling party and its government. The political violence is not only targeted at opposition members but intra-party violence is also registered within the ruling Patriotic Front.

Action movie-like scenes were seen on the day of 1st May 2021 at the National Secretariat for the Patriotic Front when ruling party supporters fought when two rival party militia wings fought during a ceremony to receive a former PF member Chishimba Kambwili back into the party. Innocent Kalimanshi who leads a sect he calls “Ama Americans” at a self-declared barrack in Chawama compound an area where Lungu stayed before he became President, was assaulted and had his motor vehicle extensively damaged. Kalimanshi is notorious for violence and the PF has sometimes refused that he is their member. A member of the PF structures in Chawama informed this author that Innocent commanded a following of over 4, 000 young people in the Chawama compound.

The suspects in the beating of Kalimanshi were nabbed by police but the parties reconciled and the matter went silent.  Following this incident, President Lungu gave a final ultimatum to Police Inspector General Kakoma Kaganja to arrest political violence but some experts and analysts believe Kanganja is merely a sacrificial lamb.

Kanganja recently warned political party leaders at various levels to desist from shielding criminals committing offences under the guise of politicking and directed officers to conduct thorough investigations and arrest all those that have a tendency of shielding thugs. This was in reaction to the recent wounding of Lusaka’s Chalala resident named Richard Sinkala, aged 38 years old a UPND member who was putting up campaign posters when armed ruling party cadres attacked him.

The attack on Sinkala happened along the ring road in Lusaka on 28th June 2021 when he was wounded using a machete by suspected political cadres for wearing a T-Shirt of an opposing political party and sustained a deep cut at the back of the head and two deep cuts on both legs.

The Patriotic Front has a long history with violence dating back to its formative years. One news publication once wrote: “President Sata is known to be commander of violence throughout his political career. He commandeered the infamous Chawama violence in 2001. This time around, he is watching his own cadres hacking each other. More than five PF cadres have died as a result of political violence since President Sata assumed office.”

The crescendo of PF’s internal violence was the forming of rival factions, akin to gangs, spearheaded by then Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba and his defence counterpart Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (GBM). On a number of occasions, the Kabimba and GBM factions engaged in fierce battles, the cause of which was the struggle to succeed Michael Sata. On 10th September 2013, for instance, the two factions waged running battles that resulted in the death of more than one person and several injuries. The week earlier, the two factions had “bloodied each other in an intraparty fracas that saw the property at Northmead Basic School damaged while some individuals were severely wounded.”

Political activist Nason Missoni called for the arrest of Kabimba and Mwamba “for the recent intraparty bloodbath that has engulfed the country.” The call fell on deaf ears. This phase of fierce factionalism seems to have ended only after Kabimba was elbowed out of the PF.

On 2nd December 2013, New Africa Magazine went to editorialise that: “Zambia’s ruling party, the Patriotic Front (PF), is at war with itself over who should succeed President Michael Sata in 2016. While it was an open secret that the fight for succession would arise, what took many by surprise was how soon it came and how ugly it has turned out to be.”

On February 18, 2020, PF cadres disrupted a panel discussion and harassed participants at Intercontinental Hotel in Lusaka in full view of armed police officers who did nothing. This was a meeting to discuss the Constitutional Amendment Bill Number 10 sponsored by the Law Association of Zambia. PF cadres stormed the offices of the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) in Rhodes Park and threatened violence against its then President. PF cadres led by its Eastern Province Youth Chairman stormed the Lusaka Central Police Station and assaulted police officers in uniform and continue to enjoy their freedom today. Emmanuel Jay Jay Banda, the man who led this assault was a leading contender for the Petauke seat under PF which he is still pursuing as an independent candidate supporting President Edgar Lungu.

Patriots for Economic Progress (PeP) President Sean Tembo one of the contenders in this year’s election recently decried what he described as the PF Government’s policy of using the Zambia Police Service to protect and in some cases facilitate the lawlessness of its cadres in harassing and assaulting innocent citizens.

“Most citizens do not even report incidents of lawlessness and violence by PF cadres because there simply is no point in doing so, as no action is ever taken by either the Zambia Police Service or the Government,” Tembo said.

In what the UPND describes as self-defence they have begun to repel attacks from the ruling party such that for the first time the UPND supporters in PF strongholds like the Copperbelt are now able to wear their party regalia something that was not possible in previous elections without receiving heavy beatings from ruling party violent supporters commonly referred to as ‘party cadres’ in Zambia.

Muna Ndulo, Professor of Law, Cornell University Law School, and Director Cornell Institute for African Development in his paper titled political violence in Zambia and state responsibility argues that the tyranny taking root in Zambia deprives the people of the capacity to resist bad governance because of the pervasive atmosphere of terror, fear and insecurity created in them by repeated arrests, police harassment and unwarranted prosecutions. It intimidates them and induces in them a mood of cautiousness so as not to risk their lives or liberty, resulting in an attitude of resignation, submissiveness and timidity.

“Zambia has been rocked in recent times by unacceptable levels of political violence perpetrated against those expressing views contrary to those held by the Patriotic Front Party government. Those perceived to be opponents of the Government are attacked, assaulted, their meetings disrupted while a highly compromised police force unashamedly looks on. Perpetrators of the violence openly carry weapons (most commonly pangas) and state publicly in the presence of the police their intent to harm their opponents,” Ndulo reflects.

The application of the Electoral Code of Conduct and the Public Order Act in covid-19 times

At the height of preparations for the 2021 general elections, Zambia’s electoral commission issued guidelines on how elections were to be conducted including regulations for campaigns. All political rallies were banned and political parties were advised to find alternative means of campaigns and door to door campaigns were restricted to only three people per household at any given time.

The enforcement of the code of conduct by law enforcement agencies including the state police has been less than fair as opposition parties were stopped from undertaking activities whilst the ruling party president crisscrossed the country in campaigns and party mobilisation activities under the guise of inspecting development projects.

Following huge crowds that characterised the roadshows by UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema in Lusaka, the commission suspended all political party roadshows across the country on the premise that the roadshows were not only in breach of COVID-19 protocols but also the Electoral Code of Conduct. Commission Chief Executive Office Patrick Nshindano accused political parties of merely converting the roadshows into mobile rallies.

Following the banning of roadshows, Hichilema commenced the distribution of face masks countrywide. Lungu also launched also embarked on a similar exercise with the support of the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit under the office of the Vice President.

The peace pact signed by political parties

The Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) initiated a process to ensure a peaceful and non-violent environment among political parties, their supporters and the general citizenry before, during and after the 12th August 2021 General Elections.

A coalition called The Coalition for Peaceful Elections in Zambia (CPEZ) co-convened by the Zambia Centre for Inter-party Dialogue (ZCID) and the Church Mother Bodies (CMB) was also launched resulting in the signing of a peaceful election pact by all political parties.

“This morning my party, together with leaders of the opposition political parties, signed a peace pledge ahead of the August 12 general elections,” Lungu stated on his Facebook page. “As the leader of the ruling party, the Patriotic Front, and as republican President, this is a commitment I do not take lightly,” Lungu commented on the development.

The effort has brought together strategic organisations whose main goal is to prevent electoral violence that was witnessed in past elections and recently in some parts of the country.

The PF had earlier refused to sign the LAZ pact charging the party was not answerable to the LAZ.

Cover image courtesy of  Zambia Accurate Information Facebook Page