Editor's Note

… when words take on a huge significance

The court must stay away from politics. Elections are not won in court. It is in their interest to stay away from politics. Justice must be seen to be done!

In normal circumstances, those words would be praiseworthy. However, they become extremely disturbing in the context of this week’s controversy, when they were laced with a threat of a purge, uttered by President Lungu’s spokesman, Amos Chanda, after the nullification of two PF ministers’ seats in parliament.

Lungu tried to make light of Chanda’s words by suggesting that he had been misunderstood or misquoted. However, the above quote did not in fact appear in a government-critical publication. It appeared word-for-word in both of government’s own newspapers, the Times of Zambia (28 November, page 1) and the Daily Mail (28 November, page 3).

The interesting thing is that Chanda seemingly never said this. In the interview on ZNBC TV, he says a whole lot of equally disturbing things, but never uses the exact words above. One gets the suspicion that Chanda – before realising his blunder – released a statement to the public media after the interview, taking the opportunity to sharpen some of his points. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand how the two newspapers end up publishing the exact same quote, as they normally edit quotes with a liberal hand.

In most democracies a blunder of this magnitude would result in Chanda getting fired. Right now we are all awaiting Lungu’s reaction. However, Chanda made it very clear in the same interview that he was representing Lungu, so maybe all this will simply be swept under the carpet.

Camilla Hebo Buus, Editor Zambia Weekly
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This Week’s Exchange

Nic Cheeseman, professor of democracy and international development, Birmingham University, UK, stated:

“Until now, Zambia’s progress under multi-party politics has been quietly impressive. Over the last year, though, things have changed. (…) According to the Conference of Catholic Bishops – one of the most influential bodies in the country – Zambia doesn’t deserve to be called a democracy (…) it has become a dictatorship – or getting there. Many Catholic leaders were seen to be sympathetic to the PF, when it won power under Michael Sata in 2011, so what has changed? This is not the first time that a Zambian president has sought to consolidate his authority by manipulating state institutions. Nor is it the first time that opposition leaders have been arrested, or civil society groups intimidated. In the recent past, these moments of high political tension have often been resolved peacefully, (…) but it’s unlikely that Lungu will cede his quest to remain in office. First, key civil society groups such as the trade unions have been weakened by privatisation, informalisation and unemployment. Second, the Constitutional Court, that’s responsible for interpreting the constitution, was handpicked by Lungu. Third, Lungu’s case is more complicated than Chiluba’s. In 2001, the second president had served two full terms in office and wanted one more. Today, Lungu is arguing that he should be allowed to have a third term because his first period in office did not count, as he was just serving out the final year of Sata’s term. All of this means that Lungu is likely to get his way. (…) Opposition protests are inevitable, as is some civil society criticism. If past form is anything to go by, Lungu’s government will respond with threats and intimidation.”

Ruling PF party deputy secretary general Mumbi Phiri reacted:

Cheeseman is nothing but an attention-seeking professor, who thinks he can lecture us about democracy. The people of Zambia spoke through the vote, and their wishes must be respected by all, including Cheeseman. Cheeseman creates the impression that there was a letter authored by all Catholic bishops, which labelled Zambia as a dictatorship. For the record, that was an opinion expressed by the archbishop. (…) It is irresponsible for Cheeseman to compare ours with late President Frederick Chiluba’s third-term bid. The view that the current constitution allows President Lungu to seek re-election (…) is before the courts of law. (…) the PF will respect the outcome of the court system. President Lungu’s good governance record remains solid. It was President Lungu’s administration that took the referendum on the proposed Bill of Rights to the people. (…) it was UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema who campaigned against it. It is President Lungu’s administration, which allowed for the 50%+1 clause in the constitution, the running mate clause, and reduction of presidential powers. President Lungu believes in an independent judiciary. (…) Today, Zambia has a Constitutional Court, something that was unheard of in the history of our nation. While the opposition petitioned the Constitutional Court, President Lungu remained calm until the matter expired. We wish to correct the view that human rights of politicians in trouble with the law are being violated. Citizens, who are also politicians, and on trial, have appeared in court within a week of being charged, and (…) for continued trial. The due process of the law is clearly being followed to the letter. Professor Cheeseman‘s daydream, that Zambia is falling from grace because of HH’s arrest, is a lie. Zambia remains a shining example of democracy not only on the African continent but world over.”