Department of Government
new publication

Legal autocratisation ahead of the 2021 Zambian elections

As part of the Breaking Bad Understanding Backlash to Democracy in Africa, Lise Rakner with Marja Hinfelaar , Sishuwa Sishuwa and Nic van de Walle (2023) published the following article in a special issue of Journal of Eastern African Studies focusing on Zambia's most recent elections.

Main content

Zambia experienced an episode of distinct democratic backsliding between 2011 and 2021. Autocratisation resulted from the deliberate use of legal mechanisms to enhance executive power. Tracing key legal changes through legal documents, press reports and informant interviews, the article examines this recent episode of autocratisation as a consequence of a poorly institutionalised party system in a fledgling and unconsolidated presidential democracy. We show that under PF rule, autocratisation resulted from the deliberate use of legal mechanisms to enhance executive power, stifle the opposition, muzzle the press and undermine civil society forces.

The election of opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema in August 2021 may have ended this episode of backsliding as for the third time in the country´s history, power changed peacefully through the ballot box. But, to what extent the 2021 elections will move Zambia away from this authoritarian trend is uncertain as the state of the country’s political institutions, hereunder a poorly institutionalised party system in an unconsolidated presidential democracy, may leave it vulnerable to further episodes of backsliding. The main contribution of this paper is the documentation of the role of lawfare in processes of autocratisation, and how integral it has been to the decline of democracy in Zambia.


Open access here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17531055.2022.2235658