In recent weeks, there have been a lot of discussions over rights and freedoms in Zambia. The right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the opposition’s blocked attempts to hold rallies, and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty before a court of law. These are all important rights that we can debate endlessly. But in Zambia today, under President Michael Sata and the Patriotic Front, there are even more basic rights which have come under attack: our right to freedom of movement.
In a normal free democracy, citizens can travel as they please, while foreigners are allowed the opportunity to apply for residency permits to live in the country to conduct business. It’s a part of the basic libertarian ideal: the free flow of commerce, people, and ideas across borders. It’s quite a bit harder for citizens of countries like Cuba and North Korea to come and go, for example.
But under the PF, we see a government that is actually deporting people who want to stay, while allegedly attempting to abduct citizens who have chosen to live abroad.
A report published by Zambian Watchdog yesterday revealed that the Zambian police had allegedly sent a special team of commandos to South Africa to attempt to abduct a Zambian citizen, Henry Banda, the son of the former president. For about a year, the government and the Banda family have traded dramatic accusations and counter-accusations, but no matter where you come down on that dispute, the idea that the Zambian government actually considered conducting a criminal rendition operation on foreign soil is very worrying indeed. Even more remarkable, apparently this is the second time that Zambia has attempted to send agents to kidnap Mr. Banda, while on another occasion, the PF prompted an angry response from the Indian government when they sent police officers to the country in an attempt to effectuate an arrest of Andrew Banda, another son of the former president.
And then, of course, there is the trend of repeated deportations that some say are politically motivated.
Most recently, the PF government deported Dr. Shafik Mohammed, the owner of a private hospital in Livingstone who has lived in Zambia for the past 21 years. The reason for his deportation? His wife had refused to join the ruling party.
Then there was the infamous deportation of a Rwandese catholic priest, who was ejected from the country without any opportunity to present his case for having made critical comments regarding the government’s handling of social injustice in his district. After a deafening outcry from the Christian community, Reverend Viateur Banyangadora was eventually allowed to return, but the lesson was clear: if you speak out against this government you face banishment.
Then there was the deportation of the foreign-born citizen Abdul Simwaya, who has lived in Zambia for 25 years. Then were also the deportations of executives of Zambezi Portland Cement, the Ventriglias, allegedly because they were in a lawsuit with the multi-millionaire PF financier Rajan Mahtani. The Zambian government also deported the former CFO of the re-nationalised Zamtel who was due to appear in court, possibly with evidence that the government’s seizure of the company was unlawful. They even deported Mr. Samrat Datta, an Indian national who served as the General Manager of the Taj Pamodzi Hotel in Lusaka. The reason? Mr. Datta allegedly reprimanded some misbehaving employees who were related to the first family.
It is tempting to place the blame of these unlawful deportations squarely on the shoulders of Home Affairs Minister Edward Lungu. But the problem is obviously systemic. Some of these people are deported for expressing an opinion against the government. Others are deported at the request of economic competitors. And lastly, sometimes it is purely personal – but in all cases, it represents an abuse of power and a denial of due process.
If the services of the Ministry of Home Affairs are available to the highest bidder, then what other Ministries can be penetrated by this kind of indirect corruption? If the PF has been reduced to having to use ‘black-ops’ style commandos in foreign countries instead of going through normal diplomatic procedures, then what does that say about the competency of Zambia’s investigative wings?
Think of the high costs of these attempted abductions and deportations. In order to advance their agenda, the PF is damaging Zambia’s relations with so many crucial partners, from Egypt to India to Italy to South Africa. Both Zambians and foreigners are coming to realize that under this government you cannot be guaranteed of freedom of movement, while foreign investors are likely to take their money to a country where an independent judicial system offers better protections from the vagaries.
It’s wrong, it’s illegal, and most importantly, it’s unnecessary. None of these people they deported posed any existential threat to the PF’s rule. And neither do the millions of Zambians who live in the diaspora, toward whom, for some reason, the PF hold a grudge (as evidenced by their consistent position against dual nationality in the new constitution – diaspora Zambians tend to be better educated, which is not the PF’s key demographic).
For the good of the public and for the good of Zambia’s international image, the PF would do well to just let people come and go without arbitrary interference. After all, it’s the most basic freedom we have, and this liberty is a shared value among us all, regardless of political affiliation.