By professor Michelo Hansungule
My friend Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba has once again completely missed the point when he venormonously attacked General Miyanda for questioning the stay in office of Acting Chief Justice Lombe Chibesakunda. I believe most of those that have questioned this appointment have nothing against the person of the Hon Chief Justice but are only interested in questions of principle.
Justice Minister Kabimba explained government position on this controversy but instead of resting the matter there went on unjustified tirades against General Miyanda questioning his qualifications to comment on the Constitution alluding that this is only a privilege of lawyers of which General Miyanda is not. He suggested that this is the problem the country faces [and not the controversy surrounding the acting CJ’s appointment and stay in office after the appointment was rebuffed by Parliament] of many people not schooled in matters like the Constitution masquerading as constitutional commentators or even ‘experts’.
I am extremely disappointed with Minister Kabimba as for all others in government who share such views. The appointment of the Chief Justice in Zambia is not purely a legal issue. The minute you bring in the President to identify and appoint a Chief Justice and later refer that matter to Parliament with a recommendation for the ratification of the appointee, you have politicized it. In exercising his discretion, the President does not identify or nominate his preferred candidate ‘judicially’ but does so politically. A brief look at the factors, if any, he takes into account and the process he follows should easily reveal the politics around it which clearly entitles all those with a stake in the country’s political dimension the right to not only comment but criticize or even demand government rescission of the decision.
Minister Kabimba should in fact be grateful that there are people like General Miyanda who publicly express their honest views on matters of general concern thereby assisting government get an idea of existing public opinion on important issues as in this. In any case, a Constitution is public asset every citizen should have a right to know and comment upon. This is in line with the dictate that the Constitution and issues in it is a product of the people. If it is a product of the people, should the people that presumably produce it not be entitled to comment on it? It is in fact failure of government to not educate citizens on the Constitution as a mandatory programme in order for people to know how to use the Constitution to demand accountability from government and protect their rights. Some of the citizens like General Miyanda have educated themselves and feel a duty to speak out for the rest of the citizenry or even sections of it on matters they feel strong about which is what democracy is all about.
Minister Kabimba should remember former President Kenneth Kaunda, now one of their greatest supporters, who in his 1973 ‘Letter to my children’, on page 26 bemoaned Zambia’s educational system and I quote:
‘…….. Certainly we need all the doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers we can produce………………………… What worries me is that we seem to take a functional view of education, regarding its products as job fodder, to be fitted into some vocational slot as they emerge from the machine………… In particular, I hope we do not turn out a generation of one subject specialists who are almost illiterate if they step one step one inch outside their field’.
Kaunda’s self explanatory words above debunk the ill-founded elitist theory to the effect that only lawyers or constitutional experts have legitimate interests to speak on the Constitution. No, the Constitution is for Zambians and all Zambians have equal stake in it and must speak out their views as thoroughly as they can for the good of the country. I am quite sure General Miyanda and all those who wish to be active citizens in the country’s democratisation process will not feel fazed by intimidatory tactics meant to prevent them exercise their rights to express different opinions over decisions of government which impact on all our interests.