President Edgar Lungu issued a statement on Wednesday, July 5, announcing he had invoked Article 31 of Zambia’s constitution to seek parliament’s approval to implement measures similar to a state of emergency for seven days. The declaration was prompted by what the government claims was a politically-motivated fire that destroyed a large part of Lusaka’s City Market on July 4. In a televised address, Lungu said that the alleged perpetrators intended to make the country ungovernable and cause chaos. Police have indicated they have arrested one person for trying to set fire to a bus station and allege that others intended to vandalize bridges and power stations after the market fire. Early reports falsely indicated that Lungu had unilaterally imposed a state of emergency.
While parliament is expected to approve the president’s request, it is unclear when a vote will occur. Some sources have reported that the broadened powers granted under the constitution would be comparable to a state of emergency, including the ability to prohibit or restrict movement and gatherings, impose curfews, and stop and detain people for longer periods of time.
The country’s last state of emergency was declared in 1997 after an attempted coup d’état. It was lifted in 1998.
The announcement comes amid increasing political tensions in Zambia after a magistrate ruled on June 9 that opposition leader Hakainde "HH" Hichilema, head of the United Party for National Development (UPND), should be tried in a high court on charges of treason following his arrest on April 11.
Hichilema was initially arrested on April 11 on charges of treason after his motorcade allegedly refused to allow President Edgar Lungu's convoy to pass on a roadway between Limulunga and Mongu while traveling to a ceremony. This charge was reduced to disobeying instructions from a police officer. Hichilema, who was already out on bail for an October 2016 arrest, was later arrested near Lusaka after police raided his home.
Hichilema has continued to protest against the re-election of President Lungu following the vote on August 15, 2016. The UPND petitioned the Constitutional Court to annul the election results, but the appeal was rejected on September 5. Zambian police arrested 133 people across the country for taking part in demonstrations against Lungu in the months after the August election.
Individuals present in the area are advised to avoid all gatherings, political events, and political party offices as violence may flare up without warning. Localized transportation disruptions are likely in the event of protests. Monitor developments to the situation, adhere to instructions issued by local authorities, and carry appropriate identification at all times.