Police in Zambia have recently taken delivery of new riot-control equipment that includes, for the first time, rubber bullets and bulletproof vests.
Receipt of the equipment, particularly rubber bullets, has raised hopes that the security services will no longer have reason to resort to live ammunition to quell civil disorders.
Fatal police shootings of unarmed civilians have been recurrent and of late there has been quite a few of them.
Two people were shot dead in Mazabuka, south of Lusaka, as police used live ammunition to quell a riot that followed the death of two others in a police-induced stampede.
Then, on March 24, a seven-year-old boy was killed and a 16-year-old girl injured after Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) officers opened fire to disperse a crowd that stoned them in a Lusaka township after they had seized a huge quantity of dagga.
The use of live ammunition was becoming a trend – to the embarrassment of the authorities. To a large extent these shootings only underlined a growing problem with crowd control as police were without the “tools” to quell civil disorders. For the first time, they are now equipped to do so without killing people.
Home Affairs Minister Mkondo Lungu said the equipment upgrade was meant to end the loss of life. He reiterated government’s strong condemnation of the killings saying it was “irrational” for police officers to use live ammunition on unarmed civilians they were meant to protect.