The ruling PF party has been busy defending the arrest of opposition UPND president Hakainde Hichilema (HH) on treason. This week it attacked Transparency International Zambia (TIZ).

We’ll start the discourse with an older quote, for reasons that will become obvious below, from TIZ president Lee Habasonda (21 April), who is currently on leave of absence. Habasonda pointed out that first President Kenneth Kaunda (KK) had himself been incarcerated on treason:

“I wish to earnestly appeal to our surviving founding fathers, particularly KK and RB [Rupiah Banda], who have been presidents in the past, to help our government appreciate what is at stake. They may not like HH as a person, but they are duty-bound to play their role as statesmen. Their loud silence has reverberated throughout the country. Yes, he may irritate those charging him, but he is still human, and must be given humane, just and fair treatment. It is not an opportunity for the state to prove that he is a nobody, and, therefore, should be subjected to humiliation. After all, even those in authority must be aware that political fortunes are not permanent.”

The tone sharpened last week, when UPND announced its official stand on the HH’s arrest in a statement by UPND spokesman Charles Kakoma (3 May). The ruling PF party was quick to respond with a statement from its spokesman Sunday Chanda (4 May). We bring a ping-pong extract:

UPND: “HH should be released immediately and without conditions.”

PF: “His Excellency President Edgar Lungu will not commit an illegality by interfering with a matter before the courts.”

UPND: “HH’s incarceration is politically motivated to (a) eliminate HH politically by jailing him for more than 6 months so that he is disqualified from future presidential elections, (b) to cripple the UPND by arresting its leaders to remove serious competition, and/or (c) to kill HH.”

PF: “(a) Hakainde Hichilema is an individual, who has never been a threat to the PF. [He] has lost [elections] over and over again – a sheer display of incompetence. (b) Members of society must question how the detention of one man can arrest an entire party. (c) PF prides itself on upholding the rule of law, and this can be seen in our respect of the police as an institution.”

UPND: “The Kuomboka Ceremony incident cannot legally amount to treason. At best, it can only amount to a traffic offence, which HH did not personally commit.”

PF: “The UPND should desist from misleading the international community that what happened in Mongu does not constitute treason. The act by the UPND leader and his motorcade was preconceived, highly provocative and criminally engineered.”

UPND: “The UPND commends the international community for refusing to accept HH’s treason charge. We call on all institutions to take interest in the violation of human rights and installation of dictatorship in Zambia. We appeal to the international community to intervene in Zambia.”

PF: “In Zambia, treason may be committed in a number of ways including preparing or endeavouring to carry out by force any enterprise which usurps the executive power of the state. Section 43 (2) of the Penal Code tells us that “by force” means (…) to imperil or be likely to imperil the safety of the state, to cause or be likely to cause death or grievous harm or serious damage to property, or to arouse reasonable apprehension that force will be used. We wish to put it to the unsuspecting international audience UPND has been crying to that (…) even merely causing reasonable fear to the head of state that force would be used against him suffices under the law. While the international media has focused on HH’s arrest, we wish to invite them to imagine what could have happened had the presidential motorcade flipped, and the head of state lost his life or been seriously injured? Was there going to be any Zambia to talk about today? What would have happened had the VVIP protection acted to disable HH’s vessel and its occupants?”

This inspired TIZ acting executive director Wesley Chibamba to get involved (4 May):

“The statement by Sunday Chanda is a misguided statement. PF should be using qualified lawyers, not Sunday Chanda.”

This was all a bit much for the PF’s youth wing. Kennedy Kamba, the party’s provincial youth chairman in Lusaka, and a rising star in the party, accused Chibamba of issuing “a childish statement that had the UPND written all over it” (5 May):

“While as a party we continue to promote a free political dispensation, where people and various organisations are free to responsibly express their political opinions, Zambians have noticed the growing number of NGOs that are beginning to operate like political parties. It is evident that TIZ has been hijacked by UPND sympathisers. It is sad to note that while the TIZ of [its former executive director] Goodwell Lungu focused on the core mandate – governance and corruption, the TIZ of Lee Habasonda and Wesley Chibamba cherishes playing partisan politics. Long live relevant civil society!”

TIZ responded through Wesley Chibamba (9 May):

“TIZ is a professional organisation, whose responsibility is to provide checks and balances to government. It is rather shocking that simple advice can be taken with such venom and hostility. We find it interesting that when we say something that praises the PF, TIZ is labelled to be PF. When we say something they are not comfortable with, we are labelled to be UPND. TIZ has desisted from issuing statements on the arrest of the opposition leader. TIZ has indeed desisted from making political comments. The comment that has angered the PF was advice to use someone who is an authority in interpreting legal issues when making statements bordering on the subject.”

This angered the PF youth wing even more, here Moses Chilando, youth chairman in Central Province (11 May):

“The claims by the politically-inclined TIZ, that the PF is intolerant, are outrageous and unfounded. The accusations being channelled through politically compromised Wesley Chibamba cannot hold and have no basis, they only prove to show that he is bent on championing the political agenda of his known political belonging – the UPND. It is a fact that the PF remains committed to furthering the norms of democracy and freedom of speech. Every Zambian is at liberty to fully express their political opinions without fear or threat. The PF enjoys constructive criticism, and remains ready to engage stakeholders within the civil society space, who are genuine about their objectives.”

Both PF youth leaders compared TIZ with Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP), which was very outspoken against the PF until its executive director McDonald Chipenzi was forced to resign in February 2016, amidst rumours that he had applied to stand as an MP for UPND.