Zambia’s democracy in tatters
The untimely death of one of the country’s most revered presidents has led to its early death as a beacon and something far more draconian, writes
SEEMINGLY unnoticed by regional and continental political and economic bodies, there is a sustained erosion of the rule of law, deterioration of political tolerance and rise in human rights abuse playing out in Zambia.
The southern African country, once hailed as a beacon of peace and democracy in Africa, is fast becoming a country in which the media, opposition political party leaders and any form of dissent are systematically persecuted and brutalised by state police, with no recourse for protection from the judiciary.
This sad situation finds its roots shortly after the death of Michael Chilufya Sata. The veteran politician had led the Patriotic Front (PF) to victory against the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy, which had lost touch with the people of Zambia.
When Sata died, a messy succession battle ensued, which saw 11 candidates in the PF jockeying to succeed the flamboyant Sata.
The then defence minister, who also doubled as minister of justice and party secretary-general, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, muscled his way to the presidency of the ruling party by ensuring none of his opponents attended the convention meant to elect the new party president.
Using intimidation and violence, he made certain only those delegates supporting his candidacy attended the convention. In the end he was elected by “popular” acclaim without any voting taking place. This was to become the blueprint for use of violence and intimidation in the political arena in Zambia.
Lungu used his influence within the judiciary to frustrate any legal challenge to his election. This was the genesis of the collapse of judicial independence in Zambia.
Intimidation and violence, coupled with a compromised Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) and Zambian Constitutional Court, characterised the period before, during and after last August’s presidential, parliamentary and local government elections.
The period saw unprecedented political violence meted out by the ruling PF’s thugs (untouchable by a compromised police force), political killings, a clampdown on opposition party campaigning, gagging of the private media, and the use of state institutions to stem opposition activities.
Blatant irregularities and disregard for constitutional prescripts marked the election period, with the ECZ refusing and deliberately not making available form G12, an integral instrument for ensuring free and fair vote-counting and tallying. As a result, votes could not be verified by political parties, and the ECZ found itself caught in pronouncing incorrect results and often inflated figures in favour of the ruling party.
A petition by Hakainde Hichilema, the presidential candidate of the main opposition party, the United Party for National Development (UPND), and his running mate, Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba, was submitted to the Constitutional Court, in line with the provisions of the constitution.
The constitution further provided that when such a petition is accepted by the court, the incumbent president must hand over power to the Speaker of parliament, who would then be in charge of the country during the period of the petition.
Lungu blatantly disregarded this constitutional provision, and the court refused to make a ruling on the matter when the petitioners brought it up as a preliminary matter.
The Constitutional Court continued to behave strangely throughout the petition period, which culminated in the court throwing out the petition because the 14 days within which the petition had to be heard had elapsed. This was despite the court’s own earlier ruling that the 14 days excluded weekends, so effectively the petition was terminated with four days still remaining.
The post-election era has seen continued intimidation and violence against the media, the opposition leadership and supporters and any manner of dissent.
The UPND, through its leader Hichilema and his running mate Mwamba, like many other Zambians, refused to recognise Lungu as president of Zambia, precisely because the election petition was never heard.
This has not gone down well with Lungu.
It is this refusal to recognise Lungu until such time that the petition is heard, and not the famous traffic incident that is behind the incarceration of Hichilema and five of his co-accused for treason – a non-bailable offence in Zambia.
On April 10 this year, more than 500 heavily armed police officers broke into and fired teargas into the residence of the UPND leader, who has been held in detention – and subject to torture and humiliation – since April 11.
He was transferred from Lusaka to a maximum prison in Kabwe – almost 200km away – chained like a dog amid brutal beatings.
Hichilema is being held in the most despicable conditions.
A court order to have him transferred back to Lusaka has been ignored.
More than 2 000 UPND members are in police detention. Police brutality continues unabated, with those in power turning a blind eye.
In the aftermath of last year’s elections, the world-renown Carter Center stated it was “deeply concerned about key aspects of Zambia’s electoral process in both the pre- and post-electoral period, especially the failure of Zambia’s institutions to provide a level playing field prior to election day and adequate due process to ensure a fair hearing and effective remedy for electoral petitions filed following the polls. Unfortunately, this represents a significant step backward for Zambia.”
Similarly, the EU election observer mission noted in its final report that “the electoral campaign was marred by systematic bias in state media, which failed to provide fair and equitable coverage of the campaigns of all parties, and by restrictions on private media, notably The Post newspaper.
“The Constitutional Court failed to provide clear, timely and authoritative directions to parties regarding the timeline for the opposition challenge of the presidential election results, which undermined public confidence in the election complaints process.”
In the wake of the incarceration of Hichilema, the European Parliament on May 16 reached a resolution on Zambia, particularly in regard to the case of the opposition leader. This was the single most significant reaction by an international body.
Other attempts to help steer Zambia in the right direction included efforts by South Africa’s DA leader, Mmusi Maimane, who was thrown out of Zambia when he tried to attend Hichilema’s treason hearing. The National Union of Metalworkers of SA has numerous times highlighted the atrocities happening in Zambia.
However, there has been deafening silence from the Southern African Development Community, the Community for East and Southern Africa and the AU.
None of them have uttered a single word about the situation in Zambia Clayson Hamasaka holds a Master’s in Journalism and Media Studies from Rhodes University and is a media consultant and former head of media studies at Evelyn Hone College