Zambia’s democracy very much alive
IN THE Star of Wednesday, July 12, former media trainer and consultant Clayson Hamasaka wrote a piece titled “Zambia’s Democracy in tatters”.
In the article he made various assertions, chief among them that Zambia’s democracy had deteriorated and members of the opposition, media personnel and those airing dissenting views are brutalised and systematically persecuted by the state police and, allegedly, have no legal recourse.
He also claimed that President Edgar Lungu, as minister of justice and minister of defence, rose to the party’s top position following the death of Michael Sata by using intimidation and violence, and allegedly excluding other candidates.
Clearly, although he is entitled to it, Hamasaka has abused the power of the pen by expressing a view devoid of balance, truth and objectivity.
For example, at the time of Sata’s death in 2015, (interesting to note the gracious praises showered on Sata, a man that Hamasaka has lampooned in many articles), Lungu handed over power to acting president Guy Lindsay Scott.
Scott organised and ran all processes, including his approved list of delegates attending the party convention in Kabwe.
Therefore the claim that Lungu became party president and party presidential candidate using threats, violence and candidate exclusion has no basis.
I, however, should hasten to say that any attempts by Scott to sneak in his personal agenda or his preferred candidate was prevented by the central committee and party members. Zambia’s Democracy, in tatters? The arguments being used to cast doubt about the democratic credentials of Zambia include the following, which I will discuss:
Media closures The Post closure can be attributed to utter mismanagement, poor business decisions and ambitious expansion ventures. A lawsuit brought by the Zambia Revenue Authority in 2009 and concluded in the Supreme Court in June 2016 forced the revenue service to seize and attempt to recover from The Post an outstanding accrued debt of $5 million. This excluded other current outstanding tax debts. It has since emerged from the provisional liquidator that the paper accumulated a total debt in excess of $35m.
From the above, it’s clear that its closure is not part of a government media clampdown but as a result of the weight of its own debts.
Zambia is a country that needs all its resources, including taxes from newspapers or media organisations.
The closures of Muvi TV, Komboni Radio and Itezhi Tezhi is self explanatory as the stations breached election and freedom of expression guidelines. The two radio stations apologised for their breaches, pledged to strengthen processes and mechanisms to avoid re-occurrence. The Independent Broadcasting Authority promptly restored their broadcast licences.
It should be noted that Zambia has more than 80 independent radio stations, 15 television stations and more than 10 newspapers. The country also has new media and online platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, supporting a vibrant online newspaper environment and public debates. The August 2016 elections
Although the opposition disputed the outcome, the election and its outcome was affirmed to have been held in a free, credible and fair manner by an international observer mission from SADC, the AU and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.
The reports also recognised that although there had been concerns about pre-election violence and some irregularities, the election and its outcome reflected the will of Zambians that voted.
The petition against President Lungu’s re-election was filed, heard and included by the Constitutional Court in accordance with constitution.
Any further demands to force such a matter back into courts would be clearly outside the law.
The matter of the arrest of opposition UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema is before the court of law in Zambia and our appeal is to urge all involved to allow the process to unfold.
Our judiciary has always demonstrated independence and autonomy and it has demonstrated over the years that it does not serve at the behest or direction of politicians.
It is easy to show many cases that have resulted in court acquittals or dismissals that involved members of the opposition or where the state showed keen interest.
Such cases attest to the independence of the judiciary.
With the proclamation of public safety on July 5, President Lungu invoked article 31 of Zambia’s constitution.
Seven days later, parliament voted and approved to uphold the proclamation for a further 90 days.
This is not a state of emergency but an ordinary security measure designed to give the police powers to speedily investigate recent reported acts of arson and vandalism to public buildings. There is also no curfew or public restrictions.
This is a normal security action undertaken in many democracies if a situation exists that could lead to public insecurity and, if left unchecked, could lead to a state of emergency.
We hold that Zambia’s democracy and its rule of law remain on course and it’s something that we as a people constantly aspire to grow.
We have lived under colonialism and a partial dictatorship. Therefore, the peace we enjoy and democratic gains we have made are highly cherished and, as a people, we cannot sacrifice these values at the altar of politics.
The democratic gains we have made are highly cherished
Mwamba is Zambia’s High Commissioner to South Africa based in Pretoria and also enjoys extra-accreditation to Lesotho and Madagascar