Persecution Prosecutions: Is Zambia becoming a Thuggocracy?

By Chanda Chisala

It is amazing how people change when they get into power. There are so many good people today working in President Michael Sata’s government who only a few months ago were sensible people that could easily see when a leader is doing something wrong or going mad (with power). Today the same people somehow know how to find a way of defending the indefensible, and rationalizing the irrational. It’s a truly curious psychological question: how does that happen? What is it that happens to a human being when they get to the good side of power? It is the reason why we expected Sata to keep his promise of reducing the powers of the president within ninety days as he promised. Being on the side of excessive power tends to corrupt even the most innocent of souls.

Rupiah Banda, the former president of Zambia who was once also a mild persecutor of Sata and some of his supporters, is in court facing cases of corruption and abuse of office, allegedly committed during his short stay as president. His immunity was taken away by a silly kangaroo parliamentary session on grounds that are even less convincing than the sorts of serious allegations that led Mwanawasa to justify lifting the immunity of President Chiluba ten years ago. Everyone back then acknowledged that the accusations were very serious for Chiluba, even though the case ultimately proved to also be more a waste of time and money than anything due to lack of concrete evidence as a president obviously has an ability to hide his trails. The PF leaders themselves at the time knew that this had just been a waste of money and Mister Sata pledged that he would discontinue such cases if he became president because he believed they were merely about persecuting Chiluba for his political fallout with Mwanawasa. He believed they were just persecution prosecutions, in short.

We don’t know for sure if indeed Mwanwasa was just trying to persecute-prosecute Chiluba since there was widespread perception that Chiluba and his friends had been quite generous to themselves with state coffers, including using an unaudited government security account (ZAMTROP) for clearly non-security transactions (like million dollar designer suit and shoe collections, etc). But what is beyond doubt is that Mr. Sata is persecute-prosecuting former president Banda. This is clear because the issues involved are the kinds of “abuses” that Mr. Sata saw in Chiluba’s government when he worked under him and he apparently had no problems with them then. How could he suddenly gain the moral clarity to see all such things as unpardonably offensive wrongs? Can Mister Sata honestly tell us that there were no such abuses in the time he was a proud Minister and even chief executive of the MMD under Chiluba? Would the Post agree that as chief campaign strategist and manager of the MMD, the virtuous Mr. Sata ensured that no electoral or financial abuses were committed by the MMD, and he was completely unaware of any suspicious dealings by Chiluba when he supported him wholeheartedly?

Even if Sata thought there was something Banda did wrong, his advisors should have told him that this is the wrong time to go after him because of the kind of political atmosphere that is in the country. It was going to be too obvious in the rest of our minds that he was only persecuting his enemy since he is also doing it against other political leaders at the same time. If his advisors can’t see how this could simply diminish the public confidence in the whole investigative and prosecution system of the state, then they are now also too blinded by power to see the obvious.

There is nothing more hypocritical than using the law to persecute-prosecute people that you do not like. Mwanawasa at least earned our benefit of the doubt by allowing investigative agencies to even go after people who were putatively close to him, including some top ministers in his own government, like Reverend Gladys Nyirongo and others. In Sata’s case we see no evidence of any such character of fairness and principle centredness in his prosecutions. It is clear that you are safe if you are in good books with him and you are unsafe when you are on the wrong side; they do not even pretend to be fair by going after some of their own thieves just for show. In fact, the investigating agencies have now even been commanded to seek the permission of the president before opening any investigations into any of his suspicious ministers; but when it comes to his enemies, they are actually instructed to investigate cases where there is zero circumstantial evidence, like the curious case of Dr. Nevers Mumba, the new president of the ruling MMD who is being prosecuted for corruption despite being practically cleared by the Auditor General of the same government.

This is the modern way of tyranny. In Russia, the same hypocritical methods have been used to persecute-prosecute people who go against government. The young billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky found himself facing a long jail sentence for some “crimes” that his business had supposedly committed, even though he run his business the exact same way as other billionaires who were supporting the Putin administration. His real crime was to start questioning the human rights record of the government. It was only a matter of time before Russia would go as far as murdering journalists who were critical of government leaders and their supporting thugs.

Unfortunately, that’s how madness starts. Zambia is also now quickly becoming a thuggocracy after making such great progress from the dictatorial days of Kenneth Kaunda when everyone lived in fear. If such high profile people like Rupiah Banda, Nevers Mumba and Hakainde Hichilema could be so clearly persecuted openly, how much easier will it be to deal with some small person or journalist who tries to question the ways of the “great leader” and his sycophants? Let us hope the PF government will be removed from power before they turn the country into a full-fledged thuggocracy again, as we had under the dictatorship of Kenneth Kaunda and his merciless UNIP thugs.

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