Professor Hansungule: Zambia on the brink?

By Professor Michelo Hnsungule

It is highly ironical that on a day that a South African Court delivers a historical judgment ordering the National Prosecutions Authority (NPA) to investigate claims of election related mass rapes and other crimes perpetrated in Zimbabwe during the 2008 failed election, reports from Zambia suggest the country is on the same lane towards the Zimbabwe type situation. Isn’t this an amazing coincidence? Is Zambia going to be another case for SADC mediation? At the rate things are going in my beautiful country, nothing can be ruled out.

The only thing that I thought was lacking in the civil society/opposition complaint to the Commonwealth two weeks ago was solid evidence not of misgovernance because there is plenty of this everywhere one looks at but of a pattern of rapidly degenerating society resulting in systematic violation of civil liberties including such basic right as the right to organize, gather and canvass for votes from the electorate by opposition.  But how lucky they are that the ruling party have just handed this literary on a silver platter. Though the complaint made a string case, I thought that there still was one or two missing jigsaw puzzles to make the case water tight. With the events of Livingstone and Mpongwe especially the former, I don’t think the Commonwealth or any other forum for that matter will have to look far to make a case against Zambia.

Africa has had far too many examples of failed states crushing in our very eyes with catastrophic losses of innocent lives and property to afford one more. The superficial peace Zambia has ‘enjoyed’ the past half century should not make us believe it is genuine. For years, we believed in a fiction that Kenya and Ivory Coast were oasis of peace in troubled regions. I need not complete a well known sordid story that followed. In both cases, however, it is interesting that it was a simple case of failing to count the votes and of magnanimously conceding defeat that brought whole state machineries crumbling to the ground in a matter of days.  By the time we realized that ‘peaceful’ Kenya and Ivory coast were fictions of those with evil interests, thousands had perished most of them for nothing they could understand.

In 2009, the African Peer Review Mechanism boldly reported in its annual report on Mali that (quote) ‘…….The presentation highlighted Mali’s strengths and best practices which are the culture of dialogue and vibrant participatory democracy: the vitality of youth and women associations…….’ (page 12). If this was true, why is Mali what it is barely four years later after the APR peer review? What happened in just this short period to the culture of dialogue?

I have always argued that the most important guarantee to sustainable peace when the masses refuse to fight and reject state-based divisionism. Politics of bankruptcy have totally ruined stable societies and only political vultures benefit from state-sponsored chaos. People must reject desperate or ngwangwazi politics because once the peace you enjoy collapses, no one, not even the United Nations or the African Union will come in time to protect you. Unless the Americans, French or Europeans come and only if there is definite rewards for them, you have had it. They did not come to Rwanda and neither did they come to Sierra Leone because there was nothing there for them. If they could not even come to Kenya, why would they come to Zambia if it titters to the brink?

In the midst of all this, however, there is something to celebrate. The precedent setting decision by a South African Court today means anyone tortured in Zambia can sue in South Africa as torture is a universal crime and perpetrators can be arrested at Oliver Tambo Airport  on their to South Africa or connecting to another country. Europe is already practicing universal jurisdiction and any torturer who goes there is likely to be netted in one of their cold prisons.  The most important thing for the victims of torture or other crimes against humanity or their families is to penetrate the security establishment and get them to cooperate to supply you with names of those who tortured you. Majority of security officers are human. That’s why regimes fall. While they do the bidding of their masters, they pass on information to victims. Torturers and their bosses can no longer walk the streets.

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