An Open Letter to Citizens of Zambia from Henry Banda

9th August 2012

An Open Letter to Citizens of Zambia from Henry Banda

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

There comes a point when any reasonable and honorable person must break their silence and speak out, even when in doing so they will most certainly face retaliatory consequences.  Given recent events in Zambia, for me, that time is now.

We have found ourselves under the rule of a government that has little regard for the constitution, rule of law, or the rights of citizens.  People have been jailed for insulting the president, journalists have been hounded and threatened, our economy ravaged by nepotism and incompetence, and many opponents falsely accused as part of the Patriotic Front’s witch hunt to wipe out political competition.  The intolerance has been extended even to the clergy as only last week a Catholic priest was deported for daring to merely speak for the poor. His deportation was executed in a manner similar to a rendition of a terrorist suspect, as no one knew his whereabouts after being picked up by the Special Branch Intelligence until he resurfaced in Rwanda

Although I am one of those who have been falsely accused, this is not the reason for me to break my silence.  Instead I wish to raise urgent concerns regarding the toxic brew of tribalism that is being stirred by leading members of the Patriotic Front.

As a person born of a Bemba mother, and whose father proudly married a Bemba woman and named my daughter Mwansa, a Bemba name, I am disgusted and outraged by these crude attempts to manipulate the Zambian people by exploiting ethnic divisions.  On the 20th of July, the Post Newspaper published a blatantly fictitious article quoting an “anonymous source” who claimed that my father sought to deprive the Bemba people of political power.  One can only assume that this bogus news article was planted by the PF, because the newspaper declined to interview any other parties and was immediately followed by a hostile statement from the government that aimed to stir up ethnic tensions.

And now, after slandering my father and placing him in danger, the PF government is once again attempting to tamper with his security which he is entitled to as a former Head of State.

Playing political games with tribalism is unspeakably dangerous and irresponsible.  Zambia is a nation of no fewer than 73 different tribal groupings.  Among prominent groups such as the Bemba, Ngoni, Tonga, Luvale, Lunda,  and Lozi, there are decades-long grievances that must be carefully and peacefully managed.  Unlike many neighbors, we have largely avoided ethnic violence and civil war thanks to representative democracy and leadership that respects diversity.  Unfortunately, that too is under threat today.

My father has resolutely stood up for unity in Zambia, in both words and action.  His cabinet was comprised of members hailing from all the provinces of Zambia, building on a tradition set by our founding President Kenneth Kaunda and observed by both Frederick Chiluba and Levy Mwanawasa.  The currently Patriotic Front cabinet, however, is particularly lopsided, dominated by at least 10 people from Northern Province.  Many of these officials appointed by Sata are familial relatives, which is the source of much unnecessary resentment and suspicion.

Pastor Nevers Mumba, the new Bemba leader of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) party, has rejected the Patriotic Front’s attempt to exploit tribalism.  Furthermore, Dr. Mumba has wisely observed that “it is important that this government should respect the fact that wisdom or intelligence comes from all areas of the country.”

Tribalism represents a zero-sum game.  If you appeal to tribalism, there are only winners and losers, and there is no compromise or negotiation.  This is something that my father worked against his whole career.

My friends, we cannot allow the Patriotic Front to use ethnic tensions as a smokescreen for their misconduct and fear of accountability.  One only has to speak to fellow Zambians to understand that this is not how most people feel, and you will see how far the PF have strayed from both their principles and promises.

Some people have asked why I have remained in South Africa while the new government slanders my family in the media with false statements.  I understand the government of Zambia wishes to speak to me about certain unknown allegations which they have declined to define.  Since the government has threatened me, sued and threatened my attorney, and improperly influenced the prosecutor and judiciary within Zambia, I will not return to Zambia when my basic human rights will not be honored, as there is no indication that the investigation is nothing more than a witch hunt.

However, in order to be responsible to the rule of law, I have advised the government that I am presently in South Africa and am willing to assist in any lawful investigation and answer questions in this neutral environment.  But despite having notified the Zambian authorities of my whereabouts in a letter dated 9 March 2012, the Zambian government has neglected to respond, failed to ask questions, and declined to take any action whatsoever, leading to the conclusion that their accusations are not credible and cannot be considered anything more than a politically motivated smear campaign.

It’s one thing for a politician to attack opponents, but it’s another thing to play games risking the stability and peace of the entire nation for the sake of power.  It is time for us to restore dignity, law, and respect for all citizens of Zambia.  The government should attend to its business, not engage in the business of persecution, defamation, and appealing to the base instincts of man.  If we do not demand these improvements, I fear for what may come next.

As Zambians, we are better than this, and we deserve better than this.

Henry Banda

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