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Zambia 2017 Crime & Safety Report

Africa > Zambia; Africa > Zambia > Lusaka

Overall Crime and Safety Situation


U.S. Embassy Lusaka does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

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.

Please review OSAC’s Zambia-specific webpage for proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

A sluggish economy, decreased global demand for Zambia’s largest export (copper), increased unemployment, sustained electricity outages, significant government arrears to many domestic businesses, and persistent inflation have contributed to conditions that have increased opportunities for criminals. Further economic shocks – including continued increases in the costs of food staples (maize meal) and decreases/eliminations in subsidies –have the potential to inflame public tension.

Crime Threats

Crime is not confined to late night hours. Criminality continues to affect ordinary citizens, diplomats, and visitors alike. Americans and other foreigners are viewed as especially lucrative targets to thieves, often for no other reason than their perceived wealth. The most commonly reported crimes against Westerners in Lusaka are non-violent crimes of opportunity (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 smart phones on city streets and smash-and-grabs of valuables from idle vehicles in traffic and from parked cars.

In 2016, seven Americans reported theft of money/property from locked hotel rooms. It was determined that these crimes were inside jobs perpetrated by hotel employees and house-keeping staff. No hotel, even upscale establishments, is immune. Do not leave anything of value unlocked in your unoccupied hotel room. Even the safes provided by the hotel are vulnerable and should not be trusted for high-value items.

While there has been a decrease in the number of reported carjackings, other crimes (thefts, violent attacks (home invasions/robberies, sexual assaults)) have occurred on many occasions in 2016. The use of firearms and edged weapons is common, and visitors are advised not to resist if confronted. Robberies involving the use of firearms have occurred in Lusaka during daylight hours and in populated areas in 2016; strong-arm robberies, burglaries, and carjackings have occurred in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in 2015 and 2016. Victims are often followed from banks, nightclubs, and ATMs and robbed at gunpoint on the street or upon arrival at their residence. Walking alone is not advisable in the downtown areas, lower socio-economic/informal settlement areas, public parks, and other poorly illuminated areas—especially at night.

While Zambian citizens are most often the victims of residential crimes, burglary and theft also occur in the more affluent neighborhoods where Americans reside—despite countermeasures such as guards, walls, alarm systems, and lighting.

A common scam is the “black money” or “wash wash” scam in which con artists attempt to fraudulently obtain money from a victim by persuading him/her that piles of banknote-sized paper are actually U.S. currency notes that have been dyed to avoid detection by authorities. The victim is persuaded to pay fees and purchase chemicals to remove the dye, with the promise of a share in the proceeds.

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

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrime is not a major problem in Zambia most likely due to a relatively low rate of personal computer ownership and Internet penetration. The latter is estimated at 23%.

Similarly, the occurrence of credit card theft/fraud is low compared to the U.S. and South Africa. Travelers are reminded to enable PIN codes for all transactions and to check credit card statements shortly after the transaction occurs.

Advance-fee fraud schemes are prevalent in Zambia and pose a danger of financial loss. These scams begin with unsolicited communication (usually via e-mail) from strangers who promise quick financial gain, often by transferring large sums of money/valuables out of the country but require a series of advance fees (for legal documents or taxes) to be paid. The final payoff does not exist; the purpose of the scam is to collect the advance fees.

  • A common variation is the scammer’s claim to be a refugee/émigré of a prominent family or a relative of a present/former political leader who needs assistance in transferring large sums of cash.
  • Still other variations appear to be legitimate business deals that require advance payments on contracts.

    Sometimes victims are convinced to provide bank account and credit card information and financial authorization that is used to drain their accounts, incur large debts against their credit, and take their life savings. Any unsolicited business proposal should be thoroughly researched before committing any funds, providing any goods or services, or undertaking any travel. It is virtually impossible to recover money lost through these scams.

    Other Areas of Concern

    In Lusaka’s poorer neighborhoods (Chalala, Bauleni, Kalingalinga, Chibolya, Chainda), groups of criminals commit crimes that go uninvestigated due to a lack of police resources. These same criminal gangs often go on to victimize residents in wealthier neighborhoods, including foreigners.

    Vigilantism is present, as the critically under-funded and ill-equipped police have a poor rate of investigative closure and prosecution for crimes.

    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 so at night and during inclement weather. Zambia has an average of 50 fatalities per 100,000 residents (the highest metropolitan rate in the U.S. is 17.8/100,000). In 2016, more than 2,100 traffic deaths were recorded by the Zambia Police Service. However, evidence collected by the WHO suggests that Zambia’s road deaths are underreported by almost 200%. If true, this puts the highway death toll at more than 6,000. Approximately 55% of fatal accidents occur during hours of darkness, according to the Zambia Road Transport and Safety Agency. In an effort to reduce highway fatalities as a result of driver fatigue, a law was recently enacted that prohibits driving buses, taxis, and trucks between 2100-0500 hrs.

    Defensive driving is a must. Local drivers often exhibit little regard for pedestrians, other motorists’ right-of-way, bicycle traffic, speed limits, or general safe driving practices. Traffic laws are routinely ignored by many local drivers, who often possess poor driving skills/training. Stop signs are often stolen by individuals seeking to recycle the materials used to produce the sign and post, so approach intersections with caution.

    Pedestrian deaths are a major problem, given that virtually all roads lack sidewalks or overhead lighting. As such, American citizens should be extremely cautious when walking, jogging, or biking. Traffic in Zambia moves on the left, which can cause confusion to those unaccustomed to it. Drunk drivers are a major concern. There are no emergency services for stranded or injured drivers, and auto accident victims are vulnerable to theft by those pretending to be helpful.

    Road conditions are even worse in outlying/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.

    There are no self-driving issues provided that a visitor has a valid driver’s license and is in Zambia for less than 90 days. Rental car companies are becoming more common, and most vehicle rates come with a driver included. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices” or “Road Safety in Africa.”

    Impromptu roadblocks set up by local security forces are common and 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. During these inspections police may check for required road safety equipment (reflective triangles, fire extinguisher, 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 be fined.

    Public Transportation Conditions

    Operators of many of small passenger vans drive aggressively, dangerously passing on road shoulders or in opposing traffic lanes. Many vehicles are in poor mechanical condition with worn tires, broken/missing tail, brake, and/or headlights. Public mini-buses should be avoided as they are normally overcrowded and poorly maintained.

    Official taxi cabs are generally considered safe but some lack seat belts. Cabs found at the major hotels tend to be more reliable. To avoid confrontation or fleecing, rates should be negotiated 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.

    Terrorism Threat

    THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED LUSAKA AS BEING A LOW-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

    Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

    The government of the Republic of Zambia is sensitive to the threat of terrorism and is engaged with international partners. However, visitors should carefully consider attendance of any large public gatherings that could become attractive targets for terrorists. The government 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 African, 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.

    Zambia held a general election August 11, 2016, in which President Edgar Lungu won re-election to a five-year term by garnering more than 50% of votes cast, narrowly defeating rival Hakainde Hichilema by just under 3%. International observers deemed the overall result to have largely reflected votes cast but noted the contest took place in a media, security, and legal environment that disadvantaged opposition political parties in many instances. Subsequent to the announcement of Lungu’s win, there were widespread celebrations by Patriotic Front (PF) supporters, with reports of road closures and scattered incidents of small-scale violence. Several supporters of opposition political parties also caused small-scale disturbances. Police reacted much more strongly to halt perceived opposition upheaval than to stop PF celebrations, which resulted in several reported negligence-related deaths.

    Civil Unrest

    Spontaneous demonstrations take place throughout the country. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. Police often exacerbate already tense situations. In the campaign period preceding the August 2016 national election, police officers frequently harassed opposition supporters and denied free assembly. Police regularly arrested opposition candidate supporters indiscriminately and, at times, dispersed public gatherings with lethal force. They did, however, allow ruling party gatherings to proceed in general or failed to interdict PF supporters aiming to disrupt opposition rallies. American visitors are cautioned to avoid any large crowds, demonstrations, or political activities. Visitors should also stay current with local events.

    Religious/Ethnic Violence

    The country is 87% Christian, while the remainder consists of Muslim and other religious communities. Large Indian, Somali, and Chinese communities thrive, primarily in Lusaka and the Copperbelt, and are rarely the targets of violence.

    In April 2016, parts of Lusaka witnessed three days of upheaval pertaining to rumors of ritual killings, allegedly by foreign residents of Lusaka. This rumor circulated on social media, following a string of unsolved murders. A combination of anger at the authorities for not moving quickly enough to address perceived ritual killings, economic hardships, and opportunism led some Zambians to scapegoat and target businesses and shops owned by Rwandan, Burundian, Congolese, and other immigrants in several days of looting in high-density, lower socio-economic neighborhoods throughout Zambia. The police and military restored order through curfews and checkpoints that contained rioting elements. Media reported rioters damaged nearly 200 foreign-owned shops. Some outlets noted six Zambians died in the upheaval, largely due to fires and other riotous behavior. Following these events, the government reiterated its commitment to resettling African immigrants and refugees in secure areas.

    Post-specific Concerns

    Critical Infrastructure

    Zambia is generally a cash economy; however, credit card terminals exist in major shops, hotels, most supermarkets, and some restaurants.

    Only 28% of the country is connected to the national power grid. Poor rainfall and water resource mismanagement have had negative impacts on Zambia’s hydro power-dependent generation capacity. As a result, areas on the grid now experience frequent blackouts.

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

    Personal Identity Concerns

    Although Zambia is a conservative country that places emphasis on modesty and decorum, the population of 15.5 million is very tolerant of visitors, and generally there are no issues for travelers based on race, religion, or nationality.

    Zambia presents a challenging environment for individuals with disabilities pertaining to physical movement.

    Although there have been no incidents targeting LGBTQI members of the U.S. citizen community, police have attempted to arrest openly gay citizens, including foreigners. Traditional cultural norms and conservative tendencies permeate Zambian society and, as a result, there is often LGBTQI intolerance.

    Gender-based violence also continues to be a significant problem.

    Drug-related Crimes

    Possession of more than 0.5 grams of an illegal substance can constitute drug trafficking in Zambia.

    Police Response

    Prohibited wildlife products that require a Department of National Parks and Wildlife permit to be moved in/out of the country include: ivory bangles, ivory in its raw and carved form, fossils and protected plants, elephant hair products, reptile/wildlife skins, bird eggs/feathers, horns, teeth, tusks and claws and bush meat (popularly known as game meat). When in doubt, check local laws and declare these products to Customs authorities.

    The majority of Zambia’s police units do not compare to 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 or initiative to deter or investigate crime. Police often lack the equipment, resources, training, and personnel to respond to calls for assistance or other emergencies. Police response times can be long, if at all. Lack of adequate transportation is often cited as an excuse for slow response. Most crimes go unreported and/or are not investigated. The police have a poor record of solving serious crimes, and few criminals are ever brought to trial. Inadequate legislation results in the lack of prosecution or large numbers of acquittals.

    Corruption occurs at all levels, which results in an ineffective legal and justice system. Low pay and morale create an environment in which even bribes of a few dollars can make allegations disappear. All persons should attempt to cooperate and follow the instructions of police at checkpoints to avoid problems. An official receipt will be issued for all legitimate fines associated with traffic law violations.

    How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

    It is not recommended to 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 to be taken to police headquarters for further processing.

    Zambian police officers are required to notify the U.S. Embassy when an American citizen has been arrested; 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, +260-966-877-805, or if after normal business hours +260 (0) 966-864-030.

    Crime Victim Assistance

    Should an American citizen need to contact the Zambia Police Service in an emergency, they can be reached by dialing either 991 or 112 on local phones.

    Police/Security Agencies

    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 (similar to the U.S. DEA), the Anti-Corruption Commission (responsible for investigating and prosecuting official corruption cases), and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (responsible for protecting and preserving Zambia’s wildlife heritage). There is no dedicated border patrol, and border security is performed by whichever law enforcement agency may have a presence at the border at any given time.

    Medical Emergencies

    The Zambian Drug Enforcement Commission has detained a number of U.S. citizens for possession of antihistamines (Benadryl) and other over-the-counter medications, which contained small quantities of diphenhydramine, an ingredient that is on Zambia’s list of controlled substances. Although unaware of these restrictions, U.S. citizens have been charged with drug-trafficking offenses, had their passports confiscated, and have been fined/jailed. While government officials have told the Embassy that carrying over-the-counter medications with a doctor’s prescription is permitted, U.S. citizens should consider leaving such medications behind. When traveling with prescription medications, U.S. citizens should likewise carry a doctor’s prescription and ensure that the medication is in its original bottle. Visitors should bring their own supply of medications as the quality of medications in Zambia is inconsistent and counterfeit drugs are a problem. In the event medications are needed, such as over-the-counter medication, antibiotics, allergy remedies, or malaria prophylaxis, travelers may contact the U.S. Embassy's American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit to receive general information about reliable pharmacies. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

    Medical facilities in Zambia fall critically short of U.S. standards in terms of cleanliness and quality of treatment. Many lack adequate equipment or properly trained staff, and possess limited to non-existent screening and testing capabilities. Trauma care is extremely limited, and local hospitals should only be used in the event of an extreme medical emergency. Many medications are in short supply, of inferior quality, or are fraudulent. Misdiagnosis, unreliable treatment, and improper use of drugs are often reported.

    Visitors with serious health concerns (diabetes, heart disease, uncontrolled asthma, or who are on blood thinners (with the exception of aspirin)) are discouraged from traveling to Zambia.

    Most health care facilities require patients to pay money up front, before being admitted to a hospital or provided treatment, and require them to settle the bill in full with cash prior to discharge from the hospital. A majority of medical facilities accept debit and credit cards but some only accept cash. Foreigners are commonly charged a higher rate than local residents for most medical services.

    Ambulance/Medical Rescue Service

  • Lusaka Special Emergency Services P. O Box 31500, Lusaka Tel: +260 211 273 302 / 7 Emergency # 737 Cell: 0977 770 302 Radio Phone: +260 211 212 663 / 4 Emergency Control Centre: (01) 273 302-7 E-mail: med@zamnet.zm
  • Kitwe Special Emergency Services PO Box 20324, Kitwe Tel: +260 2 211 182 Cell: +260 977 770 306 / 7 E-mail: seskitwe@zamnet.zm
  • Livingstone Special Emergency Services Tel: +260 3 322330 Cell: +260 977 740 307 E-mail: seslivingstone@zamnet.zm


Contact Information for Available Medical Services

ACS maintains a list of physicians, clinics, and pharmacies as generated by the Embassy Health Unit.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Specialty Emergency Services is the only entity offering in-country air medevac services. Individuals without medevac insurance are required to pay cash up front for services. Current prices for an air ambulance range from $20,000 to $75,000 USD, or more depending upon destination and level of service, therefore adequate medical evacuation insurance is mandatory.

Specialty Emergency Services

Box 31500, Lusaka, Zambia

Tel: +260 211 273 302, or +260 977 770 305

http://ses-zambia.com

Insurance Guidance

All travelers are advised to purchase insurance to cover medical evacuation in case of a serious accident, injury, or illness. Medical evacuation can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the severity of the situation, so all travelers should ensure their policies provide sufficient coverage.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Travelers are advised to see a physician prior to travelling to ensure that appropriate immunizations and precautions are taken.

Extended stays outside of Lusaka require malaria prophylaxis. Visitors should begin taking malaria prophylaxis prior to arrival and hand-carry enough medication for the duration of their visit.

Zambia’s HIV rate is among the world’s highest.

Gastrointestinal diseases, tuberculosis, dengue fever, malaria, rabies, and yellow fever pose serious risk to travelers in Zambia.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Zambia.

OSAC Country Council Information

Embassy Lusaka has an Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) Country Council that meets as necessary and communicates regularly via a Google Group. The Regional Security Officer (RSO) is available to address security issues and answer the country specific questions of representatives of American businesses, non-governmental organizations, academia, and faith-based organizations as requested. However, one of the best sources for overseas security information such as travel advisories, country background notes, and links to other U.S. Government travel and security services is the OSAC website. Please contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions. To connect with OSAC Zambia members, please email osac-lusaka@googlegroups.com.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

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

Normal business hours: Mon-Thurs, 0730-1700, and Fri, 0730-1230

Embassy Contact Numbers

Main telephone number: +260 (0) 211-357-000

American Citizen Services: +260-966-877-805

Consular hours are Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 1:30pm to 3:30pm, and Friday 8:00am to 10:30am. Non-emergency American Citizen Services hours are Monday to Friday from 1400-1530 and require an appointment via the Embassy website (http://zambia.usembassy.gov/service2.html).

Consular Section: +260 (0) 211-357-000 x7260

Duty Officer: +260 (0) 966-864-030

Post One: +260 (0) 211-357-000 x7221

RSO Office: +260 (0) 211-357-000 x7266

Website: https://zm.usembassy.gov/

Embassy Guidance

The Embassy is available 24-hours a day to assist U.S. citizens in emergencies.

A passport and visa are required to enter Zambia. The passport must be valid for at least six months after the intended date of departure from Zambia and have at least two blank pages. A single-entry visa may be obtained at a port of entry for U.S.$50 and is valid for 90 days. For a three-year multiple entry visa, travelers must apply in advance at a Zambian Embassy/Consulate. The three-year multiple-entry visa fee is U.S.$80. Tourists visiting for the day from a neighboring country can obtain a U.S.$20 day-trip visa at the border. Tour organizers may arrange multiple-entry visas in advance for their clients. Bring exact change whenever practical as change may not be available. Travelers have the right to request a receipt and can report any concerns to Zambia Immigration Headquarters in Lusaka (near the Intercontinental Hotel).

All Americans should enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program when traveling to Zambia. U.S. citizens wishing to conduct business in Zambia should consult the Embassy Lusaka Economic Section website for guidance and reports. The U.S. Embassy maintains a liaison with local law enforcement officials and is available to assist American citizens during their stay in Zambia.

Additional Resources

Zambia Country Specific Information Sheet