Is there a populist threat in Zambia

Nicholas Cheeseman, Robert Ford, Neo Simutani

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Michael Sata’s remarkable victory in the 2011 presidential elections raised hopes and fears in equal measure. His supporters hoped for more jobs, more money in their pocket, and greater government control over the economy. Foreign investors feared that the new “populist” president would make it more difficult, and more costly, for them to do business. Some donors and opposition parties also expressed concerns about a potential “populist threat” to Zambia’s fragile democracy. To date, it has been difficult to judge the plausibility of these fears because the debate on Zambia has paid insufficient attention to the composition of Sata’s support base and what they want. This chapter reviews the available evidence from nationally representative surveys. It finds that Sata’s support base is both “ethnic” and “populist”. But while Sata’s supporters do favour higher levels of government in the economy, they do not blame China for the country’s ills and are generally positive about the role that foreign governments have played in their country. Moreover, there is no evidence that ordinary PF voters are more authoritarian, or more willing to support the personalization of power, than the average Zambian. Given this, President Sata will not be driven to reject democracy or international assistance by his own supporters – if this occurs, it will come from the President himself.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationZambia:
Subtitle of host publicationBuilding Prosperity from Resource Wealth
EditorsChristopher Adam, Paul Collier, Michael Gondwe
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780199660605
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014


  • Zambia
  • populism
  • ethnicity
  • political parties
  • development
  • elections


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