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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Zambia 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy Lusaka. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Zambia. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Zambia-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Zambia at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats  

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Lusaka as being a HIGH-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Criminality continues to affect ordinary citizens, diplomats, and visitors alike. The use of firearms and edged weapons during the commission of many crimes is common; do not resist if confronted. Street gangs operate in certain parts of Lusaka, Livingstone, and Copperbelt Province. These gangs engage in a variety of criminal activities to include vehicle theft, mugging, burglary, vandalism, and assault. According to 2019 Zambia Police Crime Statistics, Lusaka and Copperbelt province have higher rates of violent crime compared to the rest of Zambia.  

The most commonly reported crimes against Westerners in Lusaka are non-violent confrontations best characterized as crimes of opportunity (e.g. theft of unattended possessions in public places or hotel rooms, confidence scams). Pickpockets operate in crowded markets and on public transportation. Visitors have reported snatch attacks of bags and smartphones on busy city streets, as well as smash-and-grabs of valuables from vehicles idling in traffic or parked insecurely. Other crimes, including thefts, violent attacks, home invasions/robberies, and sexual assaults occur with frequency. Criminals often follow their intended victims from banks, nightclubs, and ATMs, robbing them at gunpoint on the street or upon arrival at their residence. Avoid walking alone in downtown areas, high-density residential neighborhoods referred to locally as a “compound,” public parks, and other poorly illuminated areas, especially at night.  Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

In Lusaka’s high-density residential neighborhoods or compounds (e.g. Chalala, Bauleni, Kalingalinga, Kanyama, Chibolya, and Chainda), groups of criminals commit crimes that go uninvestigated due to a lack of police resources. Criminal gangs do not limit their crimes to the compounds; they often victimize residents, including foreigners, in wealthier neighborhoods. While Zambian citizens are more often the victims of residential crimes, burglary and theft also affect foreigners, despite countermeasures. Thieves view Westerners and other foreigners as especially lucrative targets, often for no other reason than their perceived wealth. Thefts often involve guards, gardeners, or other domestic staff with access to residences.  

Crime is not confined to late-night hours. Robberies involving the use of deadly weapons does occur in Lusaka during daylight hours and in populated areas; for example, there was a fatal knife attack in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in 2017. Carjackings are uncommon.  

U.S. citizens occasionally report theft of money and property from locked hotel rooms. This type of crime is usually an inside job perpetrated by hotel employees and housekeeping staff. No hotel in Zambia – even upscale establishments – is immune. Even the small safes provided by the hotel are vulnerable; do not rely on them for the security of your high-value items.  Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

The occurrence of credit card theft and fraud is low in comparison to the United States and South Africa. Zambia is generally a cash economy; however, credit card terminals exist in major shops, hotels, most supermarkets, and some restaurants. Travelers should enable PINs for all transactions, and check statements shortly after transactions occur. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Money laundering is present to facilitate other criminal activities throughout Zambia. 

Cybersecurity Issues  

Cybercrime is an increasing problem in Zambia, according to various media reports. Although the rate of personal computer ownership is about 50%, many Zambians have smartphones and regularly access social media, where online scams are prevalent. Advance-fee fraud schemes are prevalent throughout Africa, including in Zambia, and pose a danger of grave financial loss. These scams begin with unsolicited communication (usually e-mails, texts, or WhatsApp messages) from strangers who promise quick financial gain, often by transferring large sums of money or valuables out of the country, but then require payment of a series of "advance fees," such as fees for legal documents or taxes. The final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is simply to collect the advance fees.  

A common variation is the scammer’s claim to be a refugee or émigré of a prominent family or a relative of a present or former political leader who needs assistance in transferring large sums of cash.  Still other variations appear as legitimate business deals that require advance payments on contracts. Sometimes scammers convince victims to provide bank account data, credit card information, and financial authorization they then use to drain their accounts; as a result, they incur large debts against their credit and lose their savings. 

Another common scam in Zambia is the “black money” or “wash wash” scam, in which con artists attempt to obtain money from a victim by persuading them that piles of banknote-sized paper in a trunk or a safe are actually U.S. currency notes that have been dyed to avoid detection by authorities. The fraudster then persuades the victim to pay fees and purchase chemicals to remove the dye, with the promise of a share in the proceeds. 

The best way to avoid becoming a victim of any scheme is by using common sense. Research any unsolicited business proposal thoroughly before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel. It is virtually impossible to recover money lost through these scams. 

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Road safety is an even more significant threat to persons residing in or visiting Zambia than crime. Vehicle travel is extremely hazardous under normal conditions, but particularly at night and during inclement weather. Zambia has an average of 50 fatalities per 100,000 residents (by comparison, the highest metropolitan rate in the U.S. is 17.8 fatalities per 100,000 residents). The most recently available annual Zambia Police Service statistics reported approximately 1,400 annual traffic deaths. However, evidence collected by the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests underreporting of Zambia’s road deaths by almost 200%. Approximately 55% of fatal accidents occur during hours of darkness, according to the Zambia Road Transport and Safety Agency. These statistics are likely to decrease within Lusaka’s city limits and along other primary transit routes with the installation of new speed cameras and the imposition of costly speeding fines (~$30 USD per incident) that may discourage poor driving behavior.  

Defensive driving is a must. Local drivers often exhibit little regard for pedestrians, other motorist rights-of-way, bicycle traffic, speed limits, or general safe driving practices. Many local drivers routinely ignore traffic laws. Pedestrian deaths are a major problem, given that virtually all streets and roads lack sidewalks or overhead lighting. Traffic moves on the left side, so it is essential to look right before crossing the street on foot or pulling on to a road in a vehicle. Stop signs and other traffic signage are not present, so approach all intersections with caution. Drunk driving is a major concern. There are no emergency services for stranded or injured drivers; auto accident victims are vulnerable to theft by those pretending to be helpful. Road conditions are even worse in outlying or rural areas. This is especially true during the rainy season (December-April) when roads deteriorate at a rapid rate, causing extensive potholes and other road hazards. 

Local security forces commonly set up impromptu roadblocks that may or may not be officially sanctioned. Drivers stopped at these roadblocks may be subjected to a road permit, insurance, and/or safety inspection of their vehicles. Police may check for required road safety equipment (e.g. reflective triangles, fire extinguisher, working seat belts, and first aid kit) and test the vehicle’s lights and brakes. Those who do not have the required equipment or otherwise fail the inspection may receive fines. Drivers have reported that road traffic police will often conduct extensive searches of vehicles and documents until they find a fineable violation. The inspecting officer may also attempt to enter the vehicle and prevent the driver from proceeding unless the “fine” is paid on the spot to them directly. Do not pay bribes, comply with requests for a “gift,” or pay on-the-spot fines. If an officer persists, comply with instructions, identify yourself as a U.S. citizen, obtain the officer’s name and badge number, and politely ask to speak with a supervisor and/or request further processing occur at police headquarters. Police will issue an official receipt for all legitimate fines.  

A visitor may drive with a valid foreign driver’s license unless they are in Zambia for more than 90 days. Visitors must have their passport and any immigration permit present along with their foreign driver’s license. Any visitor found driving in Zambia for longer than 90 days without a local license may receive a fine or have their vehicle impounded. Rental car companies are increasingly common; most vehicle rates include a driver.

Do not drive off-road or in remote areas near the borders with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Angola because of the danger of undetected land mines and unexploded ordnance. If you must travel to these areas, drive in convoys and carry satellite telephones. Parts of the DRC border area can be plagued with unrest and/or armed criminal elements.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions 

Operators of many small passenger vans drive aggressively, passing dangerously on shoulders or in opposing traffic lanes. Avoid public minibuses, which are normally overcrowded and poorly maintained. Many vehicles are in poor mechanical condition, with worn tires and broken/missing tail, brake, and headlights. Official taxicabs are generally safe, but some lack seat belts. Cabs found at the major hotels tend to be more reliable. To avoid confrontation or fleecing, negotiate rates with the driver prior to embarkation. Do not share taxis with strangers. If you are going to be in Zambia for a few days, it is possible to work out an arrangement with most taxi drivers for daily transportation for the duration of your visit. Ensure that you obtain the driver’s name, telephone number, national registration card number, and license plate. Ride share services have become a popular alternative to taxis in Lusaka. 

Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Lusaka as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The Government of Zambia is sensitive to the threat of terrorism, engaging with international partners to combat this issue. However, carefully consider attendance at any large public gatherings that could become attractive targets for terrorists. Zambia is not a state sponsor of terrorist activities, and does not permit foreign fighters to transit the country. However, transnational terrorism is a concern throughout Africa, as increased law enforcement and anti-terrorism activities in the Horn of Africa have the potential to force terrorist organizations to seek targets in areas outside their traditional sphere of operations.  

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Lusaka as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. General elections in 2016 saw President Edgar Lungu win re-election to a second five-year term, narrowly defeating his rival. Although the results were credible, media coverage, police actions, and legal restrictions heavily favored the ruling party and prevented the election from being genuinely fair. The pre-election and post-election periods featured limits on press freedom and political party intolerance resulting in sporadic violence across the country. In the campaign period preceding the election, police frequently harassed opposition supporters and denied free assembly. Police regularly arrested opposition supporters indiscriminately, dispersed public gatherings with lethal force, allowed ruling party gatherings to proceed, and failed to interdict supporters aiming to disrupt opposition rallies. Tensions between the ruling and main opposition party remain, amid efforts by international and domestic actors to bring about dialogue and necessary reforms.   

In July 2018, one U.S. Embassy vehicle received damage while local staff were near a polling station monitoring Lusaka’s mayoral elections. According to eyewitnesses, a drunken cadre gathered outside a political campaign center threw an empty bottle of liquor and broke the rear windshield in what appeared to be a non-specific attack against U.S. interests. There was no police investigation.  

As Zambia prepares for another closely watched and anticipated close presidential election in August 2021, there has been an increase in both the intensity and occurrence of electoral related violence, as witnessed in numerous local by-elections. Members of the media, Zambian citizens, and human rights observers have already been threatened and/or harassed. Avoid areas where elections will soon be held or are underway. 

Civil Unrest 

Spontaneous demonstrations take place throughout the country. Police often exacerbate tense situations. One local student died in a non-violent student demonstration at the University of Zambia in October 2018 when police responded by firing tear gas canisters into student residence halls, reportedly creating a fire in the student’s dorm room; an inquest confirmed that the action by the police led to the student’s death, although authorities held no police officer liable. More recently, the South African High Commission and several South Africa-based businesses were damaged after protests broke out in September 2019 in response to xenophobic attacks in South Africa that had resulted in the death of several Zambians. Police have continued the trend of supporting ruling party events and attempting to thwart opposition or civil society events critical of the government. Avoid any large crowds, demonstrations, or political activities. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Post-specific Concerns 

Critical Infrastructure Concerns 

Only 31% of the country connects to the national power grid. Water resource mismanagement and deteriorating infrastructure have had negative impacts on Zambia’s hydropower-dependent electricity generation and transmission, causing daily blackouts lasting 15 or more hours each day.  

Zambia’s telecommunications and internet infrastructure is substandard and of limited availability outside of urban areas and large towns. Approximately 75% of the Zambian population has access to cell phones, but less than 1% has a landline. This makes telephonic communication difficult, dependent upon coverage areas, and prone to cell tower or system overloading.   

Personal Identity Concerns

Gender-based violence continues to be a significant problem in Zambia. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Zambia. Although there have been no incidents involving LGBTI+ members of the U.S. citizen community, police have arrested openly gay citizens and foreigners. A Zambian court recently sentenced two gay men in a consensual relationship to 15 years in prison for “crimes against the order of nature.”  A lesser charge of “gross indecency” carries penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment. LGBTI+ persons in particular are at risk of societal violence due to prevailing prejudices, misperceptions of the law, lack of legal protections, and inability to access health services. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Zambia presents a challenging environment for individuals with physical disabilities.  Zambian law prohibits discrimination in general, but no law specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. The Zambian government has not mandated accessibility to public buildings and services for persons with disabilities; public buildings, schools, and hospitals generally do not accommodate persons with disabilities. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Drug-related Crime

Possession of more than 0.5 grams of an illegal substance can constitute drug trafficking in Zambia. The Zambian Drug Enforcement Commission has detained a number of U.S. citizens for possession of antihistamines, such as Benadryl and other over-the-counter medications containing small quantities of diphenhydramine, which is on Zambia’s controlled substance list. Authorities have charged travelers in possession of such medications with drug trafficking, confiscated their passports, and fined/jailed them. Consider leaving such medications behind and carry prescribed medications in their original bottles with a doctor’s prescription.

Kidnapping Threat

Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

It is illegal to purchase tortoise shells, rhinoceros horns, elephant ivory, or any items made out of these materials. Only purchase other wildlife products, such as hippo teeth, crocodile teeth or skins, flat skins, horns, or animal bones from animal product vendors licensed with Zambia’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife, which provide certification of purchase. Travelers must present the items and certification of purchase in person to Department of National Parks and Wildlife officials within 45 days of departure to obtain an export permit. Permits for items derived from CITES regulated species, such as hippo or crocodile, may take time to obtain, may include additional fees, and may require an import permit from a destination country. Authorities will confiscate wildlife products with no export permit upon departure, and prosecute offenders to the fullest extent of the law, with penalties ranging from large fines to minimum five-year prison sentences. It is illegal to export game meat in any form, whether dried, processed, or raw. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The emergency line in Zambia is 991 (or 112 on local phones). Zambian police units do not perform at the level of a U.S. police force in terms of capability, responsiveness, discipline, or professionalism. The Zambia Police Service is almost solely a reactive force and demonstrates rather poor proactive law enforcement techniques and initiative to deter or investigate crime. Police often lack equipment, resources, training, and personnel to respond to calls for assistance or other emergencies. Police response times can be long, if they respond at all. Police often cite a lack of adequate transportation as an excuse for slow/no response.  

Most crimes go unreported and/or uninvestigated. The police have a poor record of solving serious crimes. According to Zambia Police crime statistics for the third quarter of 2019, the nationwide arrest rate from crimes averages 50%. Inadequate legislation and investigation results in the lack of prosecution or large numbers of acquittals. Corruption occurs at all levels, resulting in an ineffective legal and justice system. Vigilantism is present as a result.  Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Low pay and morale create an environment in which bribes of even a few dollars can make allegations or charges disappear. Attempt to cooperate and follow the instructions of police at checkpoints to avoid problems. Do not pay bribes, comply with requests for a “gift,” or pay on-the-spot fines. If an officer persists, comply with instructions, identify yourself as a U.S. citizen, obtain the officer’s name and badge number, and politely ask to speak with a supervisor and/or request further processing occur at police headquarters. Police will issue an official receipt for all legitimate fines.  

The major law enforcement agencies are the Zambia Police Service (a nationwide police force responsible for traditional policing and investigations), Immigration, Customs, the Drug Enforcement Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission, and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife. There is no dedicated “Border Patrol.” Border security alternates between whichever law enforcement agency may have a presence at a border post at any given time. 

Zambian police officers must notify the U.S. Embassy when arresting a U.S. citizen; however, they consistently fail to do so. If arrested, be certain to assert this right and demand to speak with a representative from the U.S. Embassy by calling +260 (0) 211-357-000.   

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities fall critically short of U.S. standards in terms of cleanliness, capacity, and quality of treatment, with limited screening and testing capabilities. Most hospitals lack adequate equipment and staff lack proper training. Misdiagnosis, unreliable treatment, and improper use of drugs are commonplace. Trauma care is extremely limited.  The nearest trauma center is in South Africa. Only use local hospitals in the event of an extreme medical emergency.  Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

Many medications are in short supply, of inferior quality, or fraudulent. When traveling with prescription medications, carry a doctor’s prescription and ensure that the medication is in its original bottle. Bring your own supply of medications because you cannot always procure U.S. equivalents. In the event you need over-the-counter medication, antibiotics, allergy remedies, or malaria prophylaxis, contact the U.S. Embassy's American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit to receive general information about reliable pharmacies.  

Visitors with serious health concerns, and those who are on blood thinners (with the exception of aspirin), should not travel to Zambia.  

Healthcare facilities require patients to pay prior to admission or treatment and require them to settle the bill in full prior to discharge. Most medical facilities accept debit/credit cards, but some only accept cash. Providers commonly charge foreigners a higher rate than local residents for most medical services. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

The following diseases are prevalent: Malaria; Rabies; African trypanosomiasis; Cholera; Typhoid; HIV; Hepatitis A; African Tick-Bite Fever; Chikungunya; Dengue; and Tuberculosis. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Zambia.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information 

For information on U.S. private-sector security engagement in Zambia, contact OSAC’s Africa team.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information 

The U.S. Embassy is located at the eastern end of Kabulonga Road, on Ibex Hill.   

Monday-Thursday: 0730-1700; Friday: 0730-1200  

Embassy Contact Number: +260 (0) 211-357-000   

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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