Zambia’s Uncertain Future

Political Rifts and Economic Challenges in Lusaka

The new Zambian head of state President Edgar Lungu attends the opening ceremony of the 24th Ordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) at the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 30, 2015. Tiksa Negeri / Courtesy Reuters

Last January, Zambian President Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front (PF) party was elected to replace late President Michael Sata by a small margin of 28,000 votes over his opponent, United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema. With only 32 percent of registered voters casting ballots for either candidate, and given that the victor will only hold office for 20 months, the election could be seen as insignificant. In fact, it signifies a change in party politics ahead of what may well be uncertain times for Zambia. The nation is navigating the complexities of a copper mining boom, upcoming loan repayments, and crumbling infrastructure. In that context, January’s by-election represented a dramatic repositioning of party politics and factional interests that could undermine progress, inhibit growth, and imperil Zambia’s otherwise promising long-term economic outlook.


The story begins with Sata’s 2011 victory, which marked a radical break from Zambia’s neoliberal,

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