Zambia has long been seen as a resilient democracy in southern Africa following the defeat of Kenneth Kanuda in the 1991 democratic elections after 27 years in power. After multiple peaceful transitions of power, a multitude of challenges demonstrated the vulnerability of the country’s democratic system. In this context, IFES partnered with the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) to ensure the independence of the institution and strength the resiliency of Zambia democratic institutions.
Since 2015, IFES’ programming in Zambia has focused on building the capacity of the ECZ through a series of trainings, evaluations and technical assistance. IFES had worked in Zambia with the support of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) as part of the Consortium for Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS).
Zambia’s traditionally peaceful political environment and relatively open democratic space have been challenged in recent years by democratic backsliding coupled with increased political polarization and violence. The country held general elections in August 2021 to elect the president, members of the National Assembly, mayors and local councilors. In the pre-electoral period, the government undertook actions that were seen as benefiting incumbent President Edgar Lungu, including the creation of a new voters’ roll and amending the constitution to allow for a presidential candidate that did not obtain a simple majority of voters to enter into a coalition government. These actions prompted concern among Zambian civil society and the international community about the integrity of the upcoming elections. Fears were compounded by pre-election violence between political party cadres and the deployment of the military to opposition strongholds.
Despite these concerns, long-time opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development defeated incumbent Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front with 59.02 percent of votes. Lungu conceded defeat shortly after the ECZ declared the results, and Hichilema was inaugurated as the seventh President of Zambia Aug. 24, 2021. The conduct of the August 2021 general elections underscored the importance of independent electoral institutions that are able to conduct the electoral process in a credible manner.
IFES works in Zambia under the USAID-funded Zambia Political Participation and Leadership Activity (ZPPLA). Through ZPPLA, IFES provides targeted technical assistance to the ECZ focused on conflict and risk mitigation and capacity building. Following a training needs assessment, IFES designed and implemented a training on conflict mitigation and electoral leadership for temporary Provincial and District Election Officers. IFES also worked with the ECZ to roll out Election Support Centres at the national and provincial levels to support logistical and security coordination. A post-election evaluation is reviewing the impact of assistance activities and how resources developed can benefit the commission during future elections.