Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu has issued a special operational order to the security services to restore law and order in some parts of the capital, Lusaka.
This, the government says, is to stop the recent spate of ritual murders, which resulted in riots in some townships.
The administration also says the riots led to rumors that were responsible for xenophobic attacks on foreigners, their businesses and property. Some Zambian youth attacked foreigners and their shops following rumors that the shop owners had been engaging in ritual murders, which enabled their businesses to flourish.
Information Minister Chishimba Kambwili says the special presidential order to the security agencies could be reversed after review on Thursday.
“It would be reviewed tomorrow around 9 o’clock [local time]. But I can confirm to you that all the towns are now calm and business has gone back to usual, and I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt the president will certainly reverse this order that he has given because the situation has calmed down,” said Kambwili.
He says Lungu has the constitutional mandate as the commander in chief of the country’s armed forces to protect Zambian citizens as well as foreign nationals.
“What transpired in the last four days in Zambia was unprecedented where there was this rumor that foreign shop owners were perpetuating ritual killing and some criminals took advantage of that to start looting their shops and threatening their lives. … We tried to use the police, but the situation was not getting under control,” said Kambwili.
“The problem that we are faced with is a problem that needs quick action. … If we do not control this situation where Zambians are beating up or looting shops belonging to investors, we may end up going back to a situation where the kwacha [local currency] loses its strength and then the economy would be on its knees," he said. "So the president took this decision to try and protect the integrity of the country and of course protect the life and property of the so-called foreign nationals that were being targeted by unruly and unscrupulous Zambians.”
So far the Zambian police have been able to arrest some of the alleged perpetrators behind the attacks and looting of foreign shops in parts of Lusaka.
Some Zambians say it appears political party supporters are using the riots to score cheap political points. Kambwili says there is a possibility of political parties using the riots to attack each other, but added there hasn’t been any evidence to back the assertion.
“So far there have been two types of arrests. Police have arrested 249 people in connection with the rioting and looting, and they have also apprehended 11 suspects who are helping police with investigations leading to the ritual killings that have rocked Lusaka,” said Kambwili. “We do not have tangible evidence to back up that allegation. But we have received this information that some opposition political parties have taken advantage to sponsor some youths to try and cause chaos so that the gains that the kwacha has recorded against the major international currencies can be eroded.
"But, I think by and large you only issue certain statements to certain things when you have got empirical evidence to back up your claims. But I can say that it is a possibility and there is information to that effect.," he said.