Zambia : Civil Military Relations and Democratic Control in Zambia

Vice-President Inonge Wina arrives for the official opening of the 3rd Session of the 12th National Assembly

By Stephen Nyoni.

The concept of Democratic Control culminates from the need for a clear distinction between the politics and the military of a democratic state. Zambia, being a democracy, is expected to adhere to these principles in the way it manages its security policy as well as its governance systems. It is important to inquire the ways in which Zambia has upheld this principle and the areas in which improvement is vital.

Institutionalising Democratic Control

Institutionalisation of democratic control has been made possible in Zambia through the establishment of defence structures through the peoples will expressed in the constitution. The Constitution demonstrates how exactly the defence forces must be constituted, must function, and indeed, how they must be controlled – particularly by the President of the Republic. The Defence Act stipulates that “The Defence Force shall be charged with the defence of Zambia and with such other duties as may from time to time be determined by the President.” (Government of the Republic of Zambia, n.d.). In the fulfilment of Objective Civilian Control, the political elements in the state can only participate in issues of the defence forces through a parliamentary portfolio that comprises individuals with the necessary experience to shape the nations’ defence agenda. This committee is intertwined with that of the nations’ foreign affairs. As such, the Defence forces as a traditional security wing must uphold the nations’ foreign policy and must function in line with its stipulations. “Discussion of the military in a democracy presupposes a variety of notions, including the extent to which the defence and security forces have been able to exist in an era of high political activity.” (Lungu & Ngoma, 2005) One period was when the country’s leadership pursued a liberation agenda for neighbouring states that involved the commitment of Zambian forces fighting along other troops in the region.
The National Assembly Committee on National Security and Foreign Affairs is tasked with the responsibility, among others, to;
“Study, report and make recommendations to the Government through the House on the mandate, management and operations of the Ministries of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs, department and/or agencies under its portfolio.
Carry out detailed scrutiny of certain activities being undertaken by the Ministries of Defence, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, departments and/or agencies under its portfolio and make appropriate recommendations to the House for ultimate consideration by the Government.” (National Assembly of Zambia, n.d.)

Professional Troops

Various groups and individuals have hailed the Zambia Defence Force for maintaining professionalism in its relations with the civilian society. Among others, former President Kenneth Kaunda (Kaunda, 2017) as well as the current Commander in Chief, Edgar Lungu (Lungu, 2019) has noted the “professionalism” of the Zambian troops. This factor has largely contributed to the management of healthy democratic control by civilian authorities over the military. “During the difficult period from the 1970s to the early 1990s, the good military performance was largely the result of the highly professional way in which the defence force carried out its tasks, despite it being severely under resourced.” (Lungu & Ngoma, 2005).
(Chewe, 2014) shows that the professionalism of the Zambia troops also has a lot to do with their exposure to high quality military training on CMR.
“Officers have the necessary knowledge gained from Zambia Military Academy, Defence Services Command and Staff College and other institutions of higher learning, from both local and abroad.” (Chewe, 2014)

Trying Times

Zambia’s civil military relations have however, not always been positive. On two occasions the structures of the defence forces and those of the executive have come into compromising situations with the country facing two attempted coup d’etats between 1990 and 1997. “On 30 June 1990, Lt Luchembe Mwamba with others organized a coup d’etat to seize governmental power by military force while President Kaunda was on the Copperbelt to open the International Trade Fair in Ndola… After midday, an announcement was made on Radio Zambia by Grey Zulu, Secretary General of UNIP, that Luchembe Mwamba and the other plotters had been arrested. We concluded that the military takeover had been thwarted.” (Magande, 2018) Some have argued that this attempt was prompted by the political and economic circumstances that where in the country at the time. The few rogue elements sought to take control by undermining existing systems of governance. The second attempt was allegedly much more politically oriented with blame being placed largely on opposition elements which included former President Kenneth Kaunda. In this instance, the plotters seemed to represent less of the people as a whole and more of sectors of society that had been alienated by the new democratic dispensation and its methods of governance.
“The Zambian Government announced … that a coup attempt that lasted a mere three hours had been suppressed without bloodshed and that a handful of military officers had been arrested… Zambian journalists said they knew of no particular animosity between Mr. Chiluba, a former trade unionist, and the military.” (McNeil, 1997)

Theory in Practice

Some scholars like (Chewe, 2014)have argued that Zambia has, in its early years experimented with two contentious systems of CMR. They argue that the early one party state system demanded that the loyalty of the military, as like that of any other sector, be solely to the regime. The appointment of these military personnel to governance positions eliminated the distinguishing element between the two structures. This is typical of the Janowitz theory which states that “officers can still participate in the politics of the nation as military and political tasks are difficult to separate. (Janowitz, 1964).
However, with the introduction of multi-party politics in 1991, the involvement of the military in politics, just like the involvement of politics in the operations of the military, is frowned upon. Several instances where such has taken place have been responded to with a heavy hand from the various state institutions that seek to protect democratic control in politics as well as in the military. “In the Zambia Army, officers are urged to keep away from politics if they are to be called professional officers.” (Chewe, 2014) This view is the one advocated for by (Huntington, 1957).


Zambia can be summarised as a state that has tasted both extremes and has consciously come up with a conclusion on one that works best. It has gone further to put in place structures and institutions that make sure that democratic control is kept enforced and has been made possible by a defence system that is well equipped with the necessary knowledge and training.

Both best practices and learning curves can be adopted from Zambia. “It is interesting to discover that a young country like Zambia has experimented with opposing theories in civil-military relations. What is more fascinating about the Zambian system is that, despite the changing political systems, the Zambia Army remained steadfast and maintained a high level of professionalism.” (Lungu & Ngoma, 2005)

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