Calm Returns to Zambian Capital After Two Burned Alive in Riots

  • Two people were burned alive amid shop lootings in the capital
  • Police and army have quelled riots targeting mainly Rwandans

Calm returned to Zambia’s capital following two days of riots and looting targeting mainly Rwandan shop-owners that left two people dead, the government said.

The authorities sent in the army to support the more than 1,000 police officers deployed to prevent further unrest, Home Affairs Minister Davies Mwila told lawmakers in Lusaka Wednesday. While the attacks initially targeted foreigners, Zambians also fell victim to the violence, with two of them burned to death on Monday, police said.

“The situation is currently calm,” Mwila said. “Looters dented the reputation of our country as a haven and sanctuary of those who leave their countries on account of their security and persecution.”

Looting started Monday in a densely populated low-income area in the west of the city of 2.5 million after crowds accused a Rwandan shop-owner of being involved in suspected ritual murders that took place nearby since last month. They quickly spread to nearby poor neighborhoods where grocery stores owned mainly by Rwandans were ransacked. By Tuesday, riots erupted in slums across the city.

Stagnating Economy

The attacks occurred against the backdrop of economic growth that’s slowed to the lowest level in 17 years and inflation that’s soared to more than 20 percent. Prices for the staple corn-meal rose by more than a fifth in March compared with a year ago, eating into disposable income in the nation where the World Bank says about 64 percent of its 15.7 million people live on less than $1.90 a day.

Frustration over falling living standards may have fueled the violence, Gary van Staden, an analyst at NKC African Economics, said in an e-mailed note from Paarl, near Cape Town in South Africa.

“The fact that the violence occurred in generally poor and marginalized communities provides a clue as to the real underlying causes of the outbreak of conflict,” he said. “When the root causes of this week’s violence are examined, it will suggest that the attacks on foreigners were more likely prompted by the fact they were easy targets and the victims more of frustration and desperation than xenophobia.”

The ruling Patriotic Front party said on Tuesday that as many as five people may have died in the riots. Police Wednesday put the death toll at two, identifying the victims as Zambians.

Before the looting began, at least six Zambians had been found murdered in compounds around the Zingalume area in the west of the city. The bodies were missing parts including hearts, ears and genitals, leading to suspicions they were the victims of ritual killings. Mwila said police have arrested 11 people in connection with the murders.

Police detained 256 suspected looters, according to Mwila. Shops owned by Zambians were also among the more than 60 that have been attacked.

Rwandans, many of whom are former refugees, sought protection at police stations around Lusaka, Mwila said in comments broadcast on state-owned ZNBC television Tuesday.

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