Many in the international community held high hopes that the 2016 elections in Zambia would signal yet another win for democracy in Africa.
But the run-up to the elections, as well as the post-election environment, were marred by violence, intimidation, and an environment that tilted the playing field unfairly in favor of the ruling party. This included the closure of the country’s most popular and one of its few independent newspapers.
The Post Newspaper was shut down by the government revenue service on claims of $6 million worth of unpaid taxes, while government news outlets and other entities that reportedly also owed substantial amounts to the government revenue service remained open.
After the election, Zambia’s broadcasting regulation entity, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, suspended the licenses of an additional three private media outlets, citing un-professional conduct and unspecified national security grounds. The closure of independent media outlets, without warning, on ill-defined national security grounds carries with it the potential to muzzle all non-government controlled media outlets and creates a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
This is not the way a multiparty democracy operates; it is not the way to help the country unify after a close election; is not the way to give confidence to the international community and outside investors that the rule of law is respected and carried out in a consistent manner in Zambia.
“The United States is disappointed that politically motivated violence and constraints on media freedom have continued after Zambia’s August 11 general election,” said State Department Spokesperson John Kirby in a written statement.
“We are especially concerned about the Independent Broadcaster Association’s August 22 suspension of three broadcasting licenses, which is a continuation of a troubling pre-electoral trend of restrictions on independent media voices and freedom of peaceful assembly. Zambia’s proud democratic traditions are not enhanced by such restrictions, nor will they help the country to unite and move forward.”
Zambia’s election is over, and judicial authorities have carried out their constitutional duties to rule on the challenge to the election results. The United States Government urges the Government of the Republic of Zambia to work with the Zambian Revenue Authority and the Independent Broadcasting Authority to find a way forward that allows all media outlets to freely report.
The free flow of information is an essential element of a democracy. The United States calls on all political actors to meet and seek reconciliation in a display of leadership.