Uncertain Future for Zambian NGO's

August 31, 2009

President Ruplah Banda signed new legislation today regulating the activities of all Zambian NGO’s.  This is the Zambian government’s second attempt to pass such legislation after the first was withdrawn in 2007 following widespread protests. Coming on the heels of the arrest and trial of The Post editor Chansa Kabwela, the NGO bill is seen as yet another mechanism to suppress government critics.

NGOs are now required to register with the government every five years, reporting on organizational funding, activities and the personal holdings of their officials.  A newly established authorizing board will be responsible for instituting a “code of conduct” to ensure that all NGO activities are in accordance with Zambia’s national development plan.  Non compliance can result in cancellation or suspension of registration.

The five-year registration period will potentially foster instability among NGOs with ongoing projects as well as discourage outside donors who may not want the hassle of obtaining and renewing a license.  Further, competent professionals may be driven away from working in a sector that requires them to reveal their personal assets to a board of government officials. The impact of this provision on international NGOs as well as domestic NGOs is unclear.

This legislation may take up to a few weeks to go into effect as it must be gazetted before it comes into force.  In the meantime, a peaceful demonstration by civil society members is set for September 4th and the possibility of filing an injunction in the courts is being considered.

Written by Jamie Skaluba, Zambia Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA