“If you want people to obey the laws, the laws must be good,” our esteemed head of state President Michael Sata once said. “If the laws are bad, people will disobey those laws. Today, the police have no direction. Zambia Police have no direction.”
Back when he was in the opposition, this is what the Patriotic Front candidate said on Nov. 7, 2004, as he addressed a public rally in Lusaka’s Mtendere township. Sata was referring to the Public Order Act, POA, which he so viciously condemned at that time. Yes, although today he is President of the Republic of Zambia, he has completed flipped positions to maintain the Public Order Act, and worse still, apply it with regularity to prevent the opposition from exercising its rights to assemble. In short, it is a good law now because he is president?
Just today there are reports that a joint rally by five opposition was forced to be cancelled due to the continued denial of permits by the police. This flagrant abuse of the Public Order Act has been widely condemned, but so far, the PF has shown little remorse for their willful destruction of democracy in Zambia.
Back when Sata made his infamous statement, things were much different. November 7, 2004 was three years into Levy Mwanawasa’s first term of office, and two years before the scheduled elections in 2006. At the time, Sata and the PF were by all means allowed to hold public meetings with no restrictions whatsoever. For a man who believed in the rule of law and who ran under the slogan “My government will be a government of laws and not a government of men,” Mwanawasa was true to his word, because all Sata had to do was notify the Zambia Police of a public rally. He was given the opportunity to hold rallies anywhere in the country and all his rallies were in densely populated areas – Kanyama, Chawama, Mandevu – places where every politician is guaranteed an audience. Any politician in his right frame of mind would not want to hold a political rally in Kabulonga in Lusaka, Parklands in Kitwe or Itawa in Ndola.
If the Zambia Police “had no direction” on November 7, 2004, then clearly things are much worse today because the police, acting under orders from President Sata, have repeatedly refused the right of the opposition to hold their rallies wherever they choose. As a pretext, Stella Libongani’s Zambia Police have cited non-specific “security concerns” as grounds for denying permits. Apparently, the Zambian police are so concerned about your security, that they are rubbing out democracy just for your safety!
Back when Hakainde Hichilema and the United Party for National Development (UPND) wanted to hold their rally at Kanyama, then-Deputy Inspector General for Police Solomon Jere came up with all kinds of ridiculous excuses as to why the rally could not be allowed, for example saying that the officers were committed to providing security to a football match. But, low and behold, when UPND decided to go forward with the rally, hundreds of cops were readily available at Kanyama to beat up the peaceful demonstrators with unrestrained brutality.
Can we really continue calling Zambia “a model” of African democracy when our elected government has no tolerance for the rights of the opposition?
You may wish to know that a few weeks after losing the 2006 elections to Mwanawasa, Sata was already addressing a series of rallies in Lusaka like the one he held in Kanyama on November 11, 2006. Apart from thanking people for supporting him, in the usual fashion he condemned Mwanawasa and his ministers like Ng’andu Magande. Sata even mocked the Zambia Police officers who were there to provide security that they had not been paid their salaries.
The “directionless” Zambian Police are not acting alone when they enforce the POA to block the opposition parties, and to say that there is an invisible hand at play would be insulting the people of Zambia. The hand is quite visible, and it belongs to President Sata. Fifteen months down the line, opposition parties have not been allowed to hold public rallies to not only thank their supporters but to also talk about various issues affecting the country.
So why is Sata so terrified of the opposition? Why has he become so intolerant of basic civil rights and competition? Having been in opposition for ten solid years, Sata knows that at the opposition rallies his style of governance will be put to question. He is also alive to that fact that there are many unfulfilled campaign promises and that quite a lot of those who voted for him are disenchanted. He knows that the parties will use their rallies to expose his horrible record, from skyrocketing mealie meal prices to unpunished corruption to the near total lack of economic policy.
So of course the Public Order Act is now a “good law” to Sata – it’s the only thing keeping his disastrous administration in power.