Zambia calls state of emergency
Lungu reacts to suspected arson
THE BURNING of Zambia’s biggest market – the latest in a series of infernos – along with apparent celebrations of the tragedy, and a subsequent state of emergency have driven a further wedge between the national government and opposition parties, as well as civil society groups.
Early on Tuesday, a fire ravaged Lusaka City Market in the capital, destroying property worth millions of kwachas in what is believed to be an act by arsonists whom the government suspects are supporters of the main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND).
The party has been protesting against the months-long detention of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema on allegations of treason after he allegedly blocked the convoy of President Edgar Lungu.
No sooner had the smoke settled on the market than a Britain-based adviser of the UPND, Larry Mweetwa, added fuel to the fire by praising the alleged arsonists for a “job well done”.
“Let us intensify such acts! Zambia is on fire as I speak due to the arrest of HH (Hakainde Hichilema),” Mweetwa posted on his Facebook page.
Police have issued a reward of K500 000 (about R740 000) to help the arrest of the culprits, none of whom had been arrested at the time of going to print.
On Wednesday, much to the concern of civil society organisations, Lungu declared a state of emergency in the country, which is still reeling from tense elections that kept him in power last in August, but which have been rejected by government critics and opposition as flawed.
Lungu threatened “drastic actions”.
“If it means taking measures which are unprecedented we will do just that.
“Some people will have to lose their rights. So, if I become a dictator for once, bear with me,” Lungu said.
“My government has decided to invoke Article 31 (leading) to a state of public emergency.”
However, Civil Society Constitutional Agenda chairperson, John Mambo, denounced the state of emergency.
He said it was a “totally misplaced and knee-jerk reaction to an incident that has not even been investigated”.
Mambo expressed sympathy with affected traders at the market where 3 000 stalls were destroyed.
“We do not, however, accept that the incident at the city market is enough justification for the declaration of a public emergency or declaration relating to a threatened emergency,” he said.
“We therefore strongly urge the president not to use his constitutional powers under articles 30, and 31… loosely.”
Mambo criticised the declaration of an emergency, suspending some rights enjoyed by citizens.
“The full protection of these rights, which cannot be suspended, is impossible to implement in a state of emergency.
“It will infringe on them because human rights are interrelated, interdependent and indivisible,” said Mambo.
The president of the Law Association of Zambia, Linda Kasonde, also urged the government to exercise restraint until the matter was fully and thoroughly investigated.
The burning of the market follows the recent torching of a Lusaka court, also by unknown arsonists who are believed to be pro-Hichilema.
In May, South Africa’s opposition DA leader, Mmusi Maimane, was barred from entering Zambia to attend Hichilema’s trial.
Zambian President Edgar Lungu walks through a guard of honour in the capital Lusaka.