Cape Town – Zambia has slid into dictatorship under the leadership of President Edgar Lungu, an expert on Africa said on Wednesday, adding that "something is definitely wrong" in that country.
In an interview with News24, Greg Mills said that Zambia was now "virtually a dictatorship", as critics of president Lungu were "systematically being silenced".
Mills said the situation was worrying, as it had negative effects on the southern African country's economy.
"Zambia is now virtually a dictatorship due to the ongoing unstable political situation. The current administration has been systematically silencing its critics, starting off with the silencing of a newspaper [The Post], which was critical to Lungu, and now the opposition leader [Hakainde Hichilema] is also being persecuted on unclear grounds. So definitely there is something wrong in that country," said Mills.
Hichilema, a wealthy business, who was also the leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND), was recently charged with treason.
Maximum security prison
Authorities alleged that he blocked Lungu's motorcade with his own convoy of vehicles during a traditional ceremony in the country's western province in April. They said that Hichilema's motorcade did not yield after presidential security guards signalled for it to get out of the way.
He was moved to a maximum security prison last week and it was unclear when he would be back in court.
In the meantime, the authorities have kept up pressure on his supporters, including blocking the Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane from attending his trial last month.
Hichilema, who lost an August election to Lungu, alleged polling irregularities after the vote. His UPND unsuccessfully tried to contest what it called a stolen election.
Hichilema has refused to recognise Lungu as president, arguing that his party still has a case pending and could only recognise him once that is dealt with.
Mills said the treason charges against Hichilema were going to have an impact on the way the country's democratic institutions were perceived.
"I do not know much about the charges against Hichilema, but to me it does seem like a huge leap – from a road incident to a treason charge - that does seem a little far-fetched.
"This trial is going to have a huge impact on how the country is going to move forward. It is clear that state resources are being used for certain political agendas, thus, this is going to be a very difficult issue going forward," said Mills.
Mills also said that the country's political instability could be traced back to the time when the late president Michael Sata was still in office.
Sata was regarded as a "no-nonsense man of action". He came into power after winning a crunch election in 2011. His critics, however, viewed the former policeman, trade unionist and taxidermist as an authoritarian populist. He died in 2014.
"The country has been going down this trajectory since the early 2000s. When the late president Sata took over in 2011, the country's unstable situation continued to go down - meaning that there is something wrong in how the country is being governed," said Mills.
Mills said that the present government inherited a "poisoned chalice" from Sata, adding, however, that Lungu escalated the "already volatile" situation.
"Zambia's current president inherited a somewhat poisoned chalice from his predecessor. Lungu was also part of that government as a defence minister, and since he took over he has done little to improve the country’s situation. He has instead escalated it," said Mills.
Mills said that the country had since become highly unequal due to the government’s economic policies, adding that this was "very bad for the country’s development."
"Zambia did not have any foreign debt before both these administrations, but it has become one of the most unequal countries in the world with a huge foreign deficit," said Mills.