Will the detaining of Zambia’s opposition leader put Zambia at risk of losing development funding?

Zambia as a democracy often attracts minimal attention from the development sphere, because it is not necessarily successful as a democracy but is also not an authoritarian state. However, in the last few months following a series of events Zambia has attracted negative international attention. In April 2017, the opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was arrested on treason charges for obstructing the presidential motorcade. This was followed by condemnation from catholic bishops who criticised the charge of treason for being illegal. For the bishops, the violent way Hichilema was arrested and the failure of the judicial system to recognise political manipulation and corruption makes Zambia a dictatorship and authoritarian state.

On 25th May 2017 Mmusi Maimane, the leader of South Africa’s main opposition party, Democratic Alliance (DA) was barred from entering Zambia to attend the opposition leaders trial in an aggressive confrontation with the police. This is not the first time a Zambian president has used intimidation, manipulated national institutions and arrested an opposition leader.

President Jacob Zuma with President of Zambia Edgar Lungu at the Union Buildings during a State Visit in 2016 | GovernmentZA

Since 2015, Zambia’s economy has experienced severe strain due to a range of external and domestic factors including a slowdown in regional growth, low copper prices (Zambia’s main export) and an intensification of power outages that have affected key economic sectors. Additionally, concurrent fiscal deficits have reduced investor confidence and poor rainfall from severe weather changes has reduced agricultural income and led to an increase in food prices. To aid the economic strain, Zambia began talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in March 2016 about a potential aid package. Zambia’s recent political events lead one to question whether the IMF may reconsider their development funding to the country.

The arrest of Zambia’s opposition leader on a charge of treason which carries a maximum sentence of the death penalty for blocking a presidential motorcade has attracted condemnation from domestic and international actors. In a tweet, the British High Commissioner to Zambia, Fergus Cochrane-Dyet OBE stated that during consultations in London, Whitehall departments and UK investors expressed concerns about the Hichilema’s treason trial and that he was hoping for IMF progress. The countries Centre for Trade Policy and Development (CTPD) has also expressed concern that the negative publicity Zambia is attracting may impact the countries credit rating and economic ranking. Isaac Mwaipopo, the CTPD’s acting executive director emphasised his sincere hope that these negative political developments will not affect the Zambian governments ability to borrow funds from partners such as the IMF.

In May 2017, the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) expressed concern over the arrest of Hichilema, insisted on the need for the law to be applied fairly and urged the Zambian government to prevent political violence and to guarantee complete media freedom. On 14 April 2017, Amnesty International issued an appeal for the immediate release of Hichilema and urged Zambian authorities to refrain from using all forms of torture or harassment on Hichilema or his workers. With this reaction from various groups, it goes without saying that many disagree with the actions of the Zambian government and view them as extreme and a violation of Hichilema’s human rights.

Zambia election workers during the January 20th, 2015 Presidential Elections | USAID U.S. Agency for International Development

For years, multi-lateral institutions have championed the importance of good governance as a positive driver of development. In a 1992 report titled “governance and development, the World Bank defined good governance as “the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development.” Good governance for the World Bank is therefore synonymous with development as it is a key compliment solid economic policies that help to create a sustaining environment which fosters strong and equal development for. Like the World Bank, the IMF places importance on good governance.

The IMF has for a long time provided advice and technical assistance that promotes good governance. The IMF contributed towards promoting good governance through providing policy advice, helping member states to enhance their capacity to design and implement economic policies and promoting transparency in financial transactions of governments. In its role of providing policy advice, the IMF monitors the economic and financial policies of its member states. Through this process, the IMF identifies potential risks to stability and recommends measures necessary for the sustenance of economic growth and the promotion of financial and economic stability. Through The World Economic Outlook, the IMF carries out detailed analysis of the global economy and its potential for growth to address issues such as global financial turmoil. Emphasis is put on issues that may result from the economic, fiscal, and monetary policies of large, globally central economies such as the United States and China.

With the strong importance, international financial institutions place on good governance being a prerequisite for development, Zambia’s bad publicity may lead

to a loss of confidence from lenders. To maintain and grow its support from lenders, Zambia needs to provide proof that’s its countries leaders are committed to democracy. The increasing inability of Zambian leaders to respect democratic principles is worrying sign for a country that needs international aid to sustain its various institutions.

Feature Image: Exchange Photos | Flickr


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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