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Key findings
  • As of late 2020, seven in 10 Zambians (71%) said the level of corruption in the country increased during the year preceding the survey, up from 55% in 2014.
  • Eight in 10 citizens (79%) said the government was handling the fight against corruption “fairly badly” or “very badly” – a significant increase from 66% recorded in 2014.
  • Among public institutions that the survey asked about, the police were most widely perceived as corrupt: 54% of Zambians said “most” or “all” police are corrupt.
  • More than half (53%) of respondents who sought police assistance during the preceding year said they had to pay a bribe.
  • The proportion of citizens who said that “most” or “all” officials in the Presidency are corrupt has increased steadily, from 18% in 2013 to 40% in 2020.
  • Eight in 10 Zambians (79%) said ordinary people risk retaliation if they report corruption to the authorities.

The damaging effects of corruption on countries, industries, and individuals are well documented, including its destructive drain on public trust and on the legitimacy of government institutions (Sullivan et al., 2012; Myint, 2000; Diamond, 2007).

In Zambia, corruption has made numerous media headlines in recent years, including reports on never-delivered fertilizer, a USD 42 million procurement of 42 fire trucks, a USD 17 million procurement of unsafe health kits, the disappearance of USD $1 million worth of medications donated by the Global Fund, and the theft of more than USD 4 million meant for a social assistance program for the country’s poor (Mofya, 2021; Nyambe, 2021; AFP, 2018; Papachristou, 2019). In Transparency International’s (2020) Corruption Perceptions Index, Zambia dropped from 96th place out of 180 countries in 2017 to 117th in 2020.

President Hakainde Hichilema, who was elected in August 2021, has described corruption levels as “horrifying” and vowed “zero tolerance” for graft (BBC, 2021; Africanews, 2021).

Findings from the latest Afrobarometer survey, which was conducted well before Hichilema took office, show that a growing number of Zambians saw corruption levels in the country as rising and rated the government poorly on its anti-corruption efforts. About half of citizens who had contact with the police said they had to pay a bribe to obtain assistance. An overwhelming majority of citizens said that ordinary people risk retaliation if they report corruption to the authorities.

Edward Chibwili

Edward Chibwili is a research fellow at the Institute of Economic and Social Research (INESOR), a research wing of the University of Zambia.