By Field Ruwe
There is hot lava venting gas and steam under the volcanic Mukula Cartel Report, and we, the people of Zambia are seated on the crater, wearing blinders. The allegations made by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) that President of Zambia Edgar Lungu, his daughter Tasila, Given Lubinda and Jean Kapita (cabinet ministers), and Chief Kafula Musungu II, are the most serious after former President Frederick Chiluba’s corruption case. The Mukula Cartel Report insinuates that President Lungu and his daughter have been surreptitiously using established government agencies for personal ends. Such allegations dwell on gross misconduct and the misuse of executive power. If true, the president heretofore could be found culpable of graft and corruption, and his legacy scorched beyond redemption. That’s why coming clean is a matter of urgency. Engaging in discursive deflection tactics in an attempt to deter the public from accepting the report as credible is denying the people of Zambia the right to know the truth.
The President using Fake News as a Deflection Tool
The Mukula Cartel Report alleges that President Edgar Lungu and the afore-mentioned people are involved in a monthly illegal exportation of the Mukula (rosewood) trees in clear violation of export bans, and that the trade generates a total of approximately US$7.5 million paid annually in bribes and informal fees. Patriotic Front Media Director Sunday Chanda, a notorious spin-master, and serial spreader of misinformation, known for altering reality and twisting facts, engaged in elaborate “plausible deniability” in his effort to tamp down the impact of the report. Without providing credible counter evidence on the Mukula trade, he charged the authors of the report with treason.
Other PF militants including Emmanuel Mwamba and Bowman Lusambo succumbed to the same obtrusive strategy, and helped to deflect blame by polarizing, spreading conspiracy theories, and evoking negative emotions against the report. The president of Zambia, Edgar Chagwa Lungu also bought into it. He blatantly labelled the report that has roiled the nation “FAKE NEWS” as a way of delegitimizing it (the report) and removing public concerns and establishing himself as the source of truth. By doing so, Lungu has elevated the use of disinformation as a tool of persuasion and weapon of influence to another level. Consequently, the word “fake news” has found more fertile ground in Zambia. Fake news has become a pejorative term used by corrupt political offenders to deter the public from accepting accusations that might turn out to be true. Fortunately, modern technology has made it easier to evaluate the credibility of a source. In the case of the Mukula Cartel Report, all it takes is for the President’s press aide Issac Chipampe, to engage a bit of critical thinking and conduct some research. In scholarship, there are ways to help tell the fake news from real news. I employ some here to address pertinent questions.
Is the Mukula Cartel Report Fake or Credible?
Checked the source: I took time to learn more about EIA, the source of the Mukula Cartel Report. I combed through Africa Confidential, scholarly journals, environmental news, books and magazines, and other credible sources. I searched for any EIA affiliations to the U.S. and UK governments and their intelligence or political wings. My independent review reveals that the nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has been in existence for over 25 years, campaigning on behalf of threatened wildlife species, forests and global climate (visit their website). Founded by UK environmental activists Dave Currey, Jennifer Lonsdale, and Allan Thornton, and run by Alexander von Bismarck as Executive Director, the organization conducts undercover investigations of criminal activities involving the environment, among other assignments. As stated on their website, EIA boasts of a track record that reveals the organization as arguably the most consistently independent, fearless, dynamic and effective NGO on global environmental issues. Importantly, EIA is recognized by research organizations, governmental agencies, and nonprofit organizations around the world for its “extraordinary work on the ground”. Surely, Chipampe and his team at State House can conduct an even more rigorous research what with all the investigative tools at their disposal.
Is there Illegal Exportation of the Mukula in Zambia?
Investigated the Report: While the timing of the Mukula Cartel Report may be suspect, I examined all the passages in the report to see if they contained any political bias that may impact the story. I found none. As a general rule, a credible story must contain reputable and trustworthy citations and references.
I might add that indeed there is illegal exportation of the Mukula timber in Zambia. It has been going on for years. Chinese timber business has been in Zambia since 2005, mostly exporting material in forms of lumps and boards (see Mukula Cartel Report). Between 2001 and 2014, Zambia lost more than one million hectares of Mukula trees, (100 to 276 million trees per year), according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild and Flora (CITES). In March 2018, the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported that Zambian authorities had begun exporting Mukula timber confiscated from illegal loggers “who continue to fell trees despite a nationwide ban to protect the country’s dwindling forests.” The custodian of the funds is Jean Kapita, the minister of Lands and Natural Resources. In the same month (March 2018), an impeachment motion was filed in the Zambian parliament against Lungu alleging, among other charges, that he was involved in the disposal of the transferring of proceeds of the sale of Mukula to ZAFFICO and not the Consolidated Fund as requested by law. It came be stated that Lungu was suspected to be meddling in the exportation of Mukula timber way before the report.
Who, by Name, is Behind the Illegal Cartel?
Searched for other sources: One established fact is trafficking of Mukula timber is rampant. The question is; who is really behind the cartel? This is a question only President Lungu can and must answer. Back in March 2018 when Mukula timber was confiscated, illegal loggers were arrested and/or identified. It is assumed that the Minister of Lands and Natural Resources briefed the President and/or presented him with a full report containing the names of the traffickers, the source of the Mukula, the owners of the trucks hired, and its destination. The minister’s investigation and report must be made public.
It must be noted that Mukula was recently added to Zambia’s list of official commercial species and took front-page news in the reign of the incumbent Lungu. The increase of Chinese traders in the country has exacerbated the illegal exportation of Mukula timber. The Zambian Association of Timber and Forestry Based Industry alleges that about 5,000 Mukula loaded containers from Zambia have been exported to China following the ban on the exportation of the timber species. Who, by name, are the Chinese working with in Zambia? How and where do they obtain their permits? How do they pay? ZTFBI general secretary Kalowa Moota has charged that the government has breached the Forestry Act No. 4 of 2015 by affecting a ban while timber continues to be exported. Moota adds that the manner in which Mukula is exported is designed to cover illegal activities by the privileged few. It has since been revealed that the privileged few include the President and his daughter. The video interviews conducted by EIA in Zambia implicate the President and his daughter, among others. Watch the video at https://eia-global.org/reports/20191205-Mukula-cartel-zambia-report.
No different from Mandrax Trafficking of the 1980s
There can never be a more serious charge on a President than this. The legacy of the Zambian President has been thrust before the entire world as a symbol or proxy of corruption. Accusations of trafficking in Mukula timber are no different from those of the Mandrax drug trafficking of the 1980s. Both involve cross border illegal activities and undermine the rule of law. As President, Lungu faces legal and ethical violations. His current response to the report symbolizes totally unacceptable presidential behavior. As a legal practitioner, Lungu understands that accusations of such magnitude can carry several personal and professional devastating consequences, even if the accusations are unfounded. It can’t be emphasized enough that the Mukula Cartel Report negatively frames the president of Zambia. It erodes Lungu as the critical resource of trust, and takes the nation back into the deeper canal of corruption.
Lessons from the Chiluba corruption case
During the Chiluba regime, we watched a corrupt president with limitless greed, lust for power, and corrosive cynicism, mortgage mines, sell houses and deposit the money in the Zamtrop account for his personal use. Chiluba’s lieutenants assiduously protected him, and created elaborate camouflage and fiendish propaganda so successful Zambians were taken for a ride. In the end, Chiluba drove a vulnerable nation to the poorest level of the world, and left office with a poverty rate of 80%. Chiluba’s presidency demonstrates the venomous and corrosive impact of corruption on freedom and democracy. We can’t allow history to repeat itself.
Time to Come Clean
Enough with misinformation from royalists like Mwamba, Chanda and all those who instrumentalize fake news. They are the reason the Zambian moral engine relies on lies and cover-ups. Such serious accusations against our head of state cannot be fended off with a mere “fake news” flywhisk. Faced with such devastating accusations, President Lungu must come clean. He must not think that all he needs is a favorable opinionated spin. I strongly advise that he immediately addresses the nation factually to exculpate himself from such serious allegations. He must share with the world what he knows about the illegal trafficking of Mukula in Zambia, and provide the names of all involved if he is to clear his name. In the absence of convincing evidence, President Edgar Lungu must be held accountable. Parliament must perform its duty, and pass a vote of no confidence, and President Lungu must consider to honorably step down.
Dr. Field C. Ruwe is a US-based Zambian multicultural scholar practitioner and author. He holds a Doctor of Education degree from Northeastern University, Boston Massachusetts, U.S.