Zambian President to Impose State of Emergency After Unrest

  • Step planned after fire razed market in Lusaka on Tuesday
  • Opposition members suspended from parliament last month

Zambian President Edgar Lungu plans to impose a state of emergency in Africa’s second-biggest copper producer to quell unrest sparked by the arrest of an opposition leader.

Lungu will seek parliament’s backing for the proposal, after issuing a statutory instrument that proclaims “a situation exists which, if allowed to continue, may lead to a state of public emergency,” he said in a televised address in the capital, Lusaka, on Wednesday night. The announcement was made after a fire razed a market in the city on Tuesday.

Edgar Lungu

Photographer: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

“In order to preserve peace, tranquility, 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. “In the past few months, the country has experienced unexplained fire outbreaks and vandalism of strategic installations bordering on economic sabotage.”

“Within seven days parliament will have to debate the motion whether this should go on for seven days or three months,” Lungu told reporters in the capital, Lusaka, on Thursday. He said the police may get added powers to search and detain people.

Events in the country were not expected to affect talks with the International Monetary Fund, he said. The IMF continues “to support the authorities’ efforts to maintain macro-economic stability for all Zambians,” the lender’s resident representative in Lusaka, Alfredo Baldini, said in an emailed response to questions.

Fires have been reported at courthouses in Lusaka and the towns of Kabwe, Mongu and Monze, while markets have been burned in Lusaka and the southern town of Choma since United Party for National Development leader Hakainde Hichilema was arrested April 12 and charged with treason. Hichilema was detained after a convoy he was traveling in failed to pull off the road for Lungu’s motorcade.

Last month, Zambia’s parliament suspended 48 opposition lawmakers for 30 days, citing their absence during a March 17 speech by Lungu to the assembly. 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 June 19.

Elevated Risk

The yield on Zambia’s $1 billion of Eurobonds due in 2024 climbed for a seventh day, rising 26 basis points on Thursday to 8.11 percent, the highest since March 9, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Elevated political tensions pose a risk to economic growth in the southern African country, BMI Research said in an emailed note in May, which forecast expansion of 4.7 percent this year and 4.9 percent in 2018.

“Thus far, financial markets have shrugged off political developments as noise,” said Ronak Gopaldas, Africa strategist at Rand Merchant Bank in Johannesburg. “However, it remains to be seen how long the economics can operate independently of political developments.”

— With assistance by Matthew Hill

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