EXCLUSIVE: Tension, uncertainty grip Zambia under Lungu's leadership

2017-07-07 12:20
President Edgar Lungu (AFP)

President Edgar Lungu (AFP)

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Lusaka - Long before President Edgar Lungu graced the screens on national television on the evening of July 5 to announce what his critics quickly labelled a state of emergency, there had been a build of tension in the country.

Occasional fires were set on public property, with courts, electricity supply lines, and markets among popular targets in the aftermath of the August 11 2017 general elections.

Law enforcement officers had never come up with any answers or suspects, while politicians had been quick to lay the problem on opponents.

Not a single suspect had been brought to book since August last year, with opposition leaders accusing the ruling Patriotic Front of burning down buildings to find an excuse to punish the opposition, while the ruling party laid the blame on the opposition.

The now incarcerated opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) leader, Hakainde Hichilema, had repeatedly warned before his detention that he was aware of a scheme by ruling party supporters to torch public buildings and blame it on the opposition.

This was not surprising, as the elections of August 11, 2017 had left almost half of the country angry about the outcome that they believed represented an opposition victory.

Constitutional right 

With a difference of less than 100 000 between President Lungu and Hichilema, there was always going to be tension.

President Lungu got 1 860 877, while Hichilema got 1 760 347.

The opposition had sought recourse in the courts of law but their petition was thrown out on a technicality that the 14 days requisite time had lapsed. Lawyers had spent the bulk of the 14 days arguing on preliminary issues, with the hope that the main matter would be tabled, but were shown the door even before the petition could be heard.

Desperate to be heard, the opposition took the matter to another court to assert their constitutional right to be heard but to date, they have been subjected to incessant adjournments under a judiciary they have repeatedly argued is corrupt.

Hundreds of opposition supporters were currently appearing in courts across the country for election related offences mostly attributed to violence. Some were even slapped with the non-bailable offences of aggravated robbery and had been in prison from August last year.

Former Lusaka provincial minister and Kafue Member of Parliament (2011 to 2016) Obvious Mwaliteta has been behind bars at the notorious Lusaka Central Prison after he led a group of opposition supporters to search an Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) vehicle that was suspected to have been carrying rigged ballot papers.

The case, like many others, has been dragging before the courts of law for close to a year.

Edgar Lungu
Edgar Lungu gives a press briefing at the Zambian State House in Lusaka. (AFP) 

Opposition supporters have been denied the right to hold public meetings with any such attempts ending up in bloody clashes with the police.

The police have been using the controversial Public Order Act to stop any public meetings by the opposition.

By far the greatest statement of President Lungu seeking to eliminate any form of opposition has been the incarceration of his chief opponent (Hichilema), whom he has thrown in jail on treason charges over a traffic offence.

In April, whilst attending a traditional ceremony in western Zambia, Hichilema and President Lungu’s motorcades clashed, with the opposition convoy refusing to give way, forcing the presidential fleet to bump them off the road.

A few days later, heavily armed police officers raided Hichilema’s home, tear-gassing everyone and beating up employees before forcing him out in an operation that lasted more than six hours.

In the face of all this apparent degeneration of Zambia’s democratic credentials President Lungu maintained that he was presiding over a stable government with only a few disgruntled trouble makers.

But the picture hardly suggested Zambia had remained as democratic as the world was meant to believe. The country’s largest and fiercely independent newspaper, The Post Newspapers was closed under the pretext of tax evasion, with its owner Fred M’membe forced to flee the country under continuous political harassment.

Hakainde Hichilema
Hakainde Hichilema (File: AFP)

Nobody summed the situation better than the Council of Catholic Bishops in Zambia that stated: "Our democratic credentials … have all but vanished in this nation that loudly claims to be God-fearing, peace-loving and Christian. As a result of brutalising the people through the police, Zambians are reduced to fear so that the order of the day is corruption and misuse of public funds."

The Bishops further said: "There is fear and trembling among the people, shown in the way they are afraid to speak out against injustices."

Perhaps the most stinging remark was when they stated: "Zambia is now, all except in designation, a dictatorship and if it is not yet, then we are not far from it".

Even the declaration of a situation that may lead to a state public emergency was anchored in the ruling party’s supported belief that the fires were an act of arson while in one breath there were claims of investigations commencing.

The proclamation has been largely viewed as an opportunity to clamp down on suspected opposition supporters.

It will be up for review by parliament within seven days but inevitably, it will just be rubber stamped in a parliament that has opposition members serving a 30 day suspension for boycotting President Lungu’s address in March.

On Wednesday President Lungu announced that under his recent proclamation the police had been given wide ranging powers to stop, search and detain anyone at anytime, and detain them without bringing them to court within 48 hours.

Read more on:    hakainde hichilema  |  edgar lungu  |  zambia  |  southern africa

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