Zambians sound alarm for eroding democracy, Afrobarometer survey shows

19 Jul 2017 - 11:45
Satisfaction with democracy and freedom of speech, 2012-2017

In the face of mounting government repression, ordinary Zambians stand by their firm commitment to democratic ideals, reiterate solid support for institutional checks and balances, and strongly reject one-man rule.

In results of a nationally representative survey in April, Zambians express worry that their democracy is eroding and political space is closing as President Edgar Lungu’s administration has clamped down on dissent.
While popular support for democracy is strong, especially among respondents with higher education, attitudes toward emergency measures are more mixed, reflecting some willingness to accept restrictions on freedoms of the media and of movement.


Perceived freedom to criticize and popular resistance to emergency measures, April 2017
Key findings
  • Although Zambians have long been committed to the ideals of democracy, their satisfaction with the way democracy actually works in their country has sunk from a majority 68% in 2012 to a minority 49% in 2017 (Figure 1).
  • People sense a decline in freedom of speech. The proportion expressing a need to “be careful what they say about politics” has risen by 10 percentage points, from 62% to 72%, between 2012 and 2017 (Figure 2).
  • Only about one-third (36%) of Zambians feel comfortable offering criticism of President Edgar Lungu (Figure 3).
  • Yet most Zambians favour checks on the president’s executive powers. More than six in 10 (64%) think the president should be monitored by Parliament, and seven in 10 (71%) say he should always obey the laws and courts.
  • More than eight in 10 Zambians (84%) favour a limit of two five-year terms for the presidency.
  • Attitudes toward emergency measures are mixed. Zambians oppose governmental violations of the right to privacy (e.g. monitoring phone communications) and the right to political association (e.g. banning organizations). But, at least before the imposition of emergency measures in July 2017, citizens were less robust in defending freedom of the press and freedom of movement (Figure 4).
  • Education is the best predictor of popular commitment to democracy in Zambia. Even small amounts of primary or secondary education strengthen an individual’s predisposition to defend democracy. To counteract democratic backsliding in Zambia, however, the key opinion leaders are those with post-secondary education.