Zambia’s Protests a Sign of What’s to Come

There is a popular saying in Zambia that the best way to defeat or show a nagging fly that you are superior is by defecating in many places so that it is spoiled for choice.

The reasoning in this analogy is simple. Flies are always naughty for wanting something to spoil their glands.

When the excreta is too spread out within a certain radius, flies will exhaust themselves by jumping from one hip to the other only to find that it is the same thing, and presumably from the same source, that they are feasting on.

The scenario is pretty much the same in the context of Zambian politics: for 10 years, the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) members were in the opposition and owing to their populist campaigns, Zambians voted for them last September en mass.  The hope for PF zealots was change for the better.

Political change that would carry with it social and economic benefits and of equal importance, the freedom and ability by Zambians (irrespective of political affiliation) to express themselves on matters of national interest.

That the police on Wednesday brutally beat up people and quelled a peaceful march past to protest against government’s interference in the judiciary, confirms fears that the country is degenerating into a one party state where holding divergent views is inimical to those in power.

Sadly, members of the opposition political party, United Party for National Development (UPND), were feasted upon by the police.

Media reports indicate that over 100 UPND youths assembled at the party secretariat earlier in the morning to get blessings from senior party leaders to demonstrate against what they described as judicial interference by the Executive following the suspension of Supreme Court judge Philip Musonda and High Court judges Charles Kajimanga and Nigel Mutuna.

The police had earlier denied the opposition a permit allowing them to assemble and protest at the Lusaka High Court to also press for the resignation of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mutembo Nchito. But just last week, the same police allowed students suspected to have been paid by the PF, to march High Court grounds to show their solidarity with president Michael Sata’s decision to appoint the tribunal.

To the uninitiated, the case of the three judges emanated after President Michael Sata suspended the trio and appointed a tribunal to investigate alleged corruption in the judiciary with the three being at the centre of the controversy.

The tribunal, which was going to be chaired by a handpicked judge imported from Malawi, had come under severe criticism from the opposition and civil society, as it was seen as directed towards helping the president’s personal allies – Fred M’Membe of The Post and Mutembo Nchito, the president’s director of public prosecutions – to steal 14 billion kwacha from the Zambian taxpayers through non-payment of a debt to the Development Bank of Zambia.

The tribunal is yet to start sitting because the three judges have challenged its legality.

Yet when the UPND members gathered to protest, they were met with the full force of the police who beat and arrested them. Those that were arrested have been denied police bond and have not been allowed to seek medical attention as they grapple with the winter cold in police cells.

Ironically, the group did not abrogate any law.

“The Zambian Constitution guarantees every citizen the right to expression. It is not debatable in all progressive democracies that peaceful demonstrations are an acceptable mode of expression,” explained Jane Mkalipi, the acting spokesperson for the Zambia Centre for Inter-Party Dialogue. “The police in this case must not make it a habit to stifle people’s rights with impunity and arrogance.”

Another watch group, the Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD) has condemned the action by police. SACCORD is particularly unhappy with Lusaka Province police commissioner Charity Katanga who has declared “war” against such protests and warned people behind demonstrations that the police will meet them in the “battlefield.”

“Ms. Katanga must realize that police brutality is wrong and human rights violators will not be allowed to go scot free in this country,” SACCORD information officer Obby Chibuluma warned. “If she thinks she has protection now, let her wait until tables turn for her to realize how inhuman and illegal her actions were. Her orders to her officers to brutally attack youths yesterday is a clear violation of human rights and takes away from some of the progress the country had made to reduce police brutality.”

Maybe it will help for the PF government to quickly accept that they are in power and their task is to lead all Zambia and fulfill campaign promises–inspite of the citizen’s different political affiliations.  After all, if the PF really wanted power and they should not behave like a nagging fly.

Nevertheless, the general feeling in Lusaka is that this violent dispersal of protests and the state’s intolerance for dissent is a sign of things to come.

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