In response to the rapidly deteriorating situation in Zambia marked by repeated arrests of opposition figures, intervention in the judiciary, and violations of the constitution, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) must intervene, argues an opinion editorial published in BusinessDay.
According to BusinessDay, a South African newspaper, “Mr Sata now appears to be stepping back from the democratic ideal.”
Unlike the freedom he enjoyed as an opposition figure, opposition leaders and civil society groups are being prevented from holding party or interparty meetings inside Zambia; they can no longer even hold media events, the newspaper writes.
The editorial continues:
Critics claim the Zambian executive is interfering with the judiciary, has moved to muzzle parliament and is ignoring the doctrine of the separation of powers.
Mr Banda, opposition leader Nevers Mumba and others in the opposition and civil society want the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group — the nine-member team of ministers that acts against persistent violations of Commonwealth principles and values — to investigate Zambia and stem a further decline in democratic governance and respect for human rights.
The problem is that the action group does not have a great track record when it comes to situations such as the one that is evolving in Zambia. Violations in the Gambia and Swaziland went by without action and little comment, while objections to the situation in Sri Lanka have been timid at best. The group can claim some successes in dealing with countries such as Fiji and Pakistan, but it is no longer the reliable guardian of fundamental human rights and democratic values that it was during the struggle against apartheid.
It therefore falls upon Sadc to put pressure on Mr Sata to respect the rule of law in Zambia.
Cynics will point out that it failed to do so when the delinquent party was Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who also paid lip service to democracy before being corrupted by power.
They have a point; on the other hand, failing to act early in the case of Mr Mugabe has not ended well for anybody, including Sadc, and there should be a lesson in that.