Zambia: Presidency of Mwanawasa (2002-2005)

Reviewed April 2021

The December 2001 elections proved to be controversial, with allegations of irregularities and rigging. The results were eventually endorsed, with a good deal of criticism, by the Supreme Court (Columbia Encyclopaedia 2005a). The voters of Zambia severely punished the ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD). Its presidential candidate, Levy Mwanawasa won the election with less than 30% of the vote, with his nearest rival Anderson Mazoka of the United Party for National Development (UPND) taking 27%. The MMD further saw its proportion of parliamentary seats slashed from 61% to 44%, with the UPND taking 33%, the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) 9% and the United National Independence Party (UNIP) 8%. By co-opting key members of the opposition into government, Mwanawasa avoided entering into a formal coalition with other parties and consolidated his position with an alliance with UNIP in May 2003 (Erdmann & Simutanyi 2003).

Failure to achieve poverty reduction targets in 2002 and 2003, due in part to lack of capacity to utilize allocated resources and implement programmes and in part to poor fiscal discipline, meant that Zambia was not able to reach the completion point for the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative at the end of 2003 as anticipated. The government was forced to embark on a painful and unpopular fiscal reform programme in 2004 which involved rationalizing staff, reducing employment benefits for public servants and implementing new controls on state spending (OECD 2005). As a result, in April 2005, Zambia was able to reach the completion point and, according to the World Bank (2005), became eligible for debt relief to the value of US$3.9 billion. However, though this has greatly reduced Zambia's indebtedness, a great deal of debt remains to be serviced and rigid spending controls are necessary to ensure that the situation does not deteriorate once more (Burnell & Randall 2005).

The government has continued with the privatization strategy inherited from Chiluba's presidency in the financial, communications, utilities and mining sectors, while restructuring and rationalizing remaining parastatal firms (OECD 2005). Despite recurring droughts that have threatened famine, the volatility of copper prices which have bedeviled privatization and threatened foreign exchange earnings and oil price increases, growth rates have continued to rise. Zambia posted 4.2% on average between 2000-03, and 5.1% in 2004 (OECD 2005). Diversification has been limited, with tourism development showing great promise, but the economy is still overwhelmingly dependent on mining and to a lesser extent agriculture. Moreover poverty reduction programmes and economic growth have not yet led to an improvement in living standards for the bulk of the population. Basic healthcare coverage remains inadequate and HIV/AIDS remains a challenge. The abolition of school fees at primary level has resulted in a sharp rise in primary school enrollment and completion rates (OECD 2005).

Mwanawasa placed the fight against corruption at the centre of his presidential campaign and charges were made against Chiluba and other members of the previous MMD government (at the time of writing the trial of Chiluba was still ongoing). He later dismissed the Vice-President and Finance Minister alleging evidence of corruption against them. The failure of the judicial system to complete investigations and produce convictions has undermined the credibility of Mwanawasa's commitment, while opponents have charged that the corruption cases investigated are groundless and are mere maneuverings on Mwanawasa's part to serve political ends (OECD 2005, Burnell & Randall 2005, Columbia Encyclopaedia 2005a).

There has been strong pressure on the government of Mwanawasa, from civil society structures, the media and the opposition, to engage in constitutional reform to reduce the powers of the presidency, to include a requirement that presidents be elected on an absolute majority rather than a plurality and to provide for greater access to government held information that could reduce corruption by subjecting the actions of state officials to public scrutiny (OECD 2005). Mwanawasa responded by appointing a Constitution Review Commission (CRC). In a June 2005 interim report the CRC recommended that a new constitution embracing these reforms be adopted by a constituent assembly. Mwanawasa was of the view that the proposed reforms should be made by parliament and that such amendments could not be made before the parliamentary and presidential election due in 2006. In January 2006 the president bowed to pressure and announced that a constituent assembly would be convened to adopt the new constitution before the 2006 elections (Burnell & Randall 2005, IRIN 2006).


BURNELL & RANDALL 2005 "Postscript: recent developments in Zambia up to mid-2005 Institutions as objects of political contestation" IN Politics in the Developing World, Oxford University Press, [www] resources/01casestudies/zambia_postscript.pdf (offline 29 Apr 2021).

COLUMBIA ENCYCLOPEDIA 2005a, "Zambia", Sixth Edition, [www] (accessed 29 Apr 2021).

ERDMANN, G & SIMUTANYI, N 2003 "Transition in Zambia: The Hybridisation of the Third Republic", Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, [www] (accessed 29 Apr 2021).

IRIN 2006 "Mwanawasa Agrees to New Constitution After Sustained Pressure", UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, [www] SelectCountry=ZAMBIA (accessed 29 Apr 2021).

OECD 2005 "Zambia" IN African Economic Outlook, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 475-488, [www] (accessed 28 Apr 2021).

INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND 2005 "Zambia: World Bank And IMF Support US$3.9 Billion In Debt Service Relief For Zambia", April 8, [www] (accessed 29 Apr 2021).