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Key findings
  • Almost half of Zambians say they felt unsafe while walking in their neighbourhoods (48%) and feared crime in their homes (47%) at least once during the previous year. These experiences of insecurity decreased compared to 2020 after rising over several survey rounds.
  • Poor citizens and urban residents are far more likely to be affected by such insecurity than better-off respondents and rural residents.
  • About one in eight citizens (13%) say they requested police assistance during the previous year. Nearly twice as many (24%) encountered the police in other situations, such as at checkpoints, during identity checks or traffic stops, or during an investigation.
  • Among citizens who asked for help from the police, 54% say it was difficult to get the assistance they needed, and 45% say they had to pay a bribe.
  • Among those who encountered the police in other situations, 46% say they had to pay a bribe to avoid problems.

In late June, the Law Association of Zambia issued a statement condemning brutality and abuse of citizens, particularly members of the political opposition, by Zambia’s police (Lusaka Times, 2023a).

It was hardly the first high-level expression of concern about abuses by members of the Zambia Police Service. In December, the country’s Human Rights Commission voiced alarm about continued complaints of police brutality, prolonged detention, and extra-judicial killings (Muchinshi, 2022). Recent criticism by civil society groups has highlighted the extended detention without formal charges of a former state house special adviser (Tembo, 2023; Lusaka Times, 2023b). The Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops condemned police brutality after the deaths of two protesters (Okoth, 2021). The 2022 Zambia Bribe Payers Index cites high levels of corruption among the police (Anti-Corruption Commission, 2023). And Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema has called on the police to rebuild public trust through professionalism and integrity (Zambia Daily Mail, 2021).

How do ordinary Zambians see their police?

This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2023) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and assessments of police professionalism.

In Zambia, citizens express significant levels of personal insecurity but give the government a positive rating on its performance in reducing crime.

However, the police are widely seen as corrupt, and among citizens who encountered the police during the previous year, almost half say they had to pay a bribe. Many say that officers routinely use excessive force with suspected criminals and protesters and stop drivers without good reason, and few think the police usually act in a professional manner and respect all citizens’ rights.

Edward Chibwili

Edward Chibwili is the national investigator for Zambia.