State of emergency in Zambia

President invokes powers after 'arson and sabotage'

07 July 2017 - 06:39 By Reuters and Bloomberg
Zambian President Edgar Lungu.
Zambian President Edgar Lungu.

Zambian President Edgar Lungu yesterday invoked emergency powers to deal with "acts of sabotage" for which he is blaming the political opposition.

Fire gutted the country's biggest market on Tuesday.

Lungu said the measure would safeguard investments.

But if the International Monetary Fund found the emergency powers to be ill-advised, he said, it was free to terminate talks about financial assistance for Zambia.

"This [state of emergency] power I have invoked is only for seven days," Lungu said, a day after declaring that the fire in the capital was politically motivated arson.

"Parliament will within the next seven days determine whether it will be there for one week, one month, three months or six months."

Lungu said the measure would not disrupt normal life but was aimed at those who posed a danger to public security.

Under state-of-emergency laws the police can prohibit public meetings, close roads, impose curfews and restrict movements.

"In order to preserve peace, tranquillity, safety of our citizens and national security we had no choice but to take this decision, given the events that have occurred in the recent past," Lungu said.

Sabotage is cited for the felling of electricity pylons on a high-voltage line a week ago, leading to a power blackout in some mining areas.

Fires have also been reported at courts in Lusaka and in the towns of Kabwe, Mongu and Monze. Markets have been burned in both Lusaka and the southern town of Choma since United Party for National Development leader Hakainde Hichilema was arrested on April 12 and charged with treason.

Hichilema was detained after a convoy he was travelling in failed to pull off the road and make way for Lungu's motorcade.

Last month Zambia's parliament suspended 48 opposition MPs for 30 days because of their absence during a March 17 speech by Lungu in parliament.

Their suspension was "credit-negative" because it raised the risk of domestic political turmoil that would discourage foreign investment and external support, Moody's Investors Service said last month.

Elevated political tensions pose a risk to economic growth in Zambia, BMI Research said in May, forecasting economic growth of 4.7% this year and 4.9% in 2018.