By Laura Miti
I have spent the day trying to get my head around the fact that Member of Parliament for Mazabuka, Gary Nkombo, is sitting behind bars in Livingstone on a murder charge that sounds, to my non-legal mind, decidedly weak if not trumped up. It is a charge for which our laws do not allow bail.
Let me quickly state that I do not have the facts of this case. I base my sense of disquiet on the news that has streamed in which suggests that there is no way Mr Nkombo and others with him should be facing a murder charge. But I accept that what we have heard could be wrong and we will therefore all have to wait to hear what facts the state presents in court when Mr Nkombo and others arrested with him appear for trial. I pray it is soon.
In the interim, something else is absolutely bugging me and I write because I would like the Minister of Home Affairs to ease this sense of disquiet.
Since the unfortunate death of a member of the PF campaign team, that has caused Mr Nkombo to be arrested, occurred when unprecedented violence broke out in in the Livingstone bye-election campaign, I as a citizen would like to call on the Minister of Home Affairs to address the nation and explain a few things. The extent of the violence in Livingstone was such that the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) postponed the bye-election and issued a scathing statement as to the environment in which the campaigning had been conducted.
This to my knowledge is the first time in the history of Zambia (recent anyway) that a bye-election has had to be postponed on the eve of voting because of out-of-control violence. What makes this situation very worrying is that the Zambia Police Force was identified by the ECZ as contributing to the creation of an atmosphere in which a free and fair election could not be expected.
I am sure the Honourable Minister of Home Affairs would agree that this situation calls for Government to show leadership. Government needs to assure citizens that it is urgently working to control the growth in electoral violence that is now leading to the death of citizens. We just want to know what concrete steps are being taken to ensure that this is the first and last time that violence and anarchy prevent an election from taking place. This is especially important given that there are a number of bye-elections coming up.
I, as a citizen, would like a to be assured that the sense of panic I feel at a Zambia increasingly behaving in a manner I do not recognise is shared by the government voters entrusted with the power and authority to look out for all of us. The point after all is that in none of the countries we have seen degenerate into anarchy around us did the rot set in overnight. It happened slowly. Nothing makes Zambia so special it can’t happen to us.
For this reason that government needs to show it is taking control of a developing crisis, I would request that the President set up an independent commission of inquiry to establish the underlying causes of the growing electoral violence, and suggest ways of dealing with it. This is especially important considering that a citizen could have lost his life simply because he chose to enjoy his right to campaign in an election.
I also think that in this situation where it is uncertain that the arrest of Mr Nkombo and others is not just about a ruling party wanting to use state power against political opponents, it is extremely important that the Minister of Home Affairs take the nation into his confidence on the preliminary facts that decided that a Member of Parliament and a score of other people would be charged with the murder of the PF member.
In the absence of information either from the police or the Minister of Home affairs, I am sure that there are many other citizens fearing that Zambia may, as we watch be slowly inching towards a police state in which state power is used to settle political scores.
Simply, I believe that it is government’s responsibility to assure citizens, in this case myself single individual through I may be, that their country is not degenerating into a fearful situation in which anyone who finds themselves on the wrong side of the ruling party can be thrown behind bars on some charge or other.
For that reason, I in my personal capacity as a citizen of Zambia, ask that the President and the Minister of Home affairs speak to us about what looks to the untrained eye like the country setting off on a down ward spiral to a dark place.
Like the Chairperson of the ECZ, Justice Irene Mambilima, said in her sombre, timely and courageous statement postponing the Livingstone bye election, we only have this one country Zambia.
Let’s not mess it up.