By Prof. Mchelo Hansungule
Imagine this that yesterday, you were an ordinary Zambian in some township or village, today you woke up as president of Zambia? I know it’s difficult but try to imagine the unimaginable? This is precisely what happened to Edgar Lungu. Prior to 2011, never in his wildest dreams would he dream ever to be president of Zambia. I am quite sure that even now, he struggles to bring himself to accept this.
Until the death of Michael Sata, Edgar Lungu was nothing. In the ruling PF party he was nothing. That’s why most people in the region don’t know him. It is unfair for him to sit on the same table with leaders like president Emmerson Munangagwa with his illustrious career in Zimbabwe nationalist politics. It is wrong for him to sit with Hage Gottfried Geingob, current SADC chair and president of Namibia who for many years was running the UN Institute for Namibia in Lusaka and fighting side by side with SWAPO freedom fighters in Lusaka and the region. Though he did not go into exile, president Cyril Ramophosa was a strong student union activist during his university days which cannot be said of Edgar Lungu before rising to national politics in the United Democratic Front (UDF) and becoming leader of the black mining union. He later became instrument in drafting the current South African Constitution. Even His Majesty King Mswati knew that due to his blue blood, he probably would one day be King.
But who is Edgar Lungu? Nothing. He doesn’t have a track record of student activism while at the University. I can confirm this. He never held a senior position like Secretary General in his political party the PF which could have exposed him to some experience to run the country. He was nothing. Only two short acting stints of about one week at a time as republican president while Michael Sata was away on medical treatment which stints were illegal under the existing constitution were what ‘prepared’ him for the republican position of president. Is it any wonder why he tends to govern by military force?
A combination of lack of track record of experience in politics and his utter failure to win any of the elections he has contested explains these bouts of militarism. Opposition political party meetings like the recent ones in Solwezi by elections as well as peaceful demonstrations by citizens are brutally put down by military force. There are so many Zambians in the ranks of the opposition who are walking with bullets lodged in their bodies. Edgar Lungu easily resorts to the use of bullets to put down any dissent to his rule.
In order to achieve this objective, Edgar has done what no South African president since Mandela and even during apartheid did. He made sure he cowed the judiciary into total obedience. Certain members of the judiciary who tried to stand up and read the law as is have blatantly been intimidated by Edgar Lungu’s party cadres and told to toe the line or leave. Have you ever thought this would happen in modern Zambia? Named senior judges have received telephone calls and letters from party cadres threatening their lives or those of their families if they decided a case before in ways that did not please Edgar and his cohorts. As blatant as this!
On the other hand, a lawyer or judge who sings praises of Edgar’s political party or policy is appointed judge or promoted. We have known ‘PF judges’ on the Bench and these are rewarded handsomely for every decision made. Article 11 of the Constitution talks about equality before the law in reality this is far cry in Edgar Lungu’s Zambia. Shocking jurisprudence has emerged especially on ‘political cases’ which not even a second year law student can dispense.
Yet again, the constitution in article 118 states that ‘judicial authority of Zambia derives from the people of Zambia and shall be exercised in a just manner and such exercise should promote accountability’. It never says judicial authority shall derive from PF, yet this is reality. Article 118 (2) (a) states that ‘in excersing judicial power, courts shall be guided by the following principles …….justice shall be done to all without discrimination’. A cursory analysis of judgments in election petitions leaves us with several questions.
More importantly, for those judges who tried to do their best and are committed to justice, article 122 (2) imposes this important injunction which is an international best practice when it states ‘A person and a person holding public office shall not interfere in the performance of a judicial function by a judge or a judicial officer’. Further, paragraph (4) of this article adds that ‘a person and a person holding public office shall protect the independence, dignity and effectiveness of the judiciary’. In both cases, the prohibition is both against ‘a person’ and ‘a person holding a public office’ which addresses both vices i.e. of citizens interfering in the judiciary or citizens holding public office using that office to interfere with justice. Does any of this both the PF? Never!
My biggest worry, however, is the Chief Justice’s silence. In terms of the structure of the constitution, the Chief Justice is head of the judiciary which as we have seen is declared to be independent. However, this has to be nurtured. No independence is possible simply because the strictures of the constitution say it is. We expect the Chief Justice to at least condemn the not just apparent interferences she does not like but more so of citizens and public officials against perceived independent judges.
Second, the constitution suggests what the Chief Justice should do to protect this independence which she has not done. Article 136, inter alia, states that ‘The Chief Justice…..(b) shall ensure that a judge and a judicial officer performs the judicial function with dignity propriety and integrity. (c) establish procedures to ensure that a judge and judicial officer independently exercise judicial authorities in accordance with the law’. (d) ensure that a judge and judicial officer perform their judicial function without fear, favour or bias’.
Since the constitution was promulgated in 2016, the CJ has not established the procedures referred to in paragraph c above. Without suggesting PF would be prevented by the CJs procedures from interfering in the judiciary as described, this is the first natural priority in evolving the idea of judicial independence. For example, the procedures will define more precisely the lines between the judiciary and the executive, legislature and even society, Society because I understand the current CJ herself and some judges was and are sitting on some NGO boards while being judge which raises serious potential conflicts. So, not only to distance the judiciary from the executive and legislature but also societies like NGOs, political parties, etc. It is a shame, therefore, that this constitutional imperative has remained unimplemented leaving judges unsure their roles?
But looked at in a broader sense, all this is part of the systematic fear of Edgar Lungu’s militia which is slowly but steadily devouring all society including government institutions. Few people in Zambia today can stand up against Edgar Lungu’s militia even in the name of the law. The PF militia have literary taken over Zambia including key institutions like the judiciary. Even Edgar Lungu cannot control his PF militia. A senior Zambian reminded me that president Mwanawasa would put the MMD youths to order. Edgar cannot. Mwanawasa would tell them to not come to the airport to see him off or welcome him from a trip, and that he did not care if they withheld their vote. Would Edgar do this?
The solution lies in Zambians. Zambia cannot be taken to ransom by PF militia. Its time Zambians woke up and took control of their country. They can do this by dealing decisively by any PF militia who tries to take power illegally.
There are far fewer PF militia than law abiding Zambians and let’s each one of us wake up and confront this terrible malaise. Our country is a laughing stock in the region, we should reverse this. So, to answer the first question why Zambia has crashed so badly, it’s because majority of good and well meaning Zambians are scared of what would happen to them or their loved ones if they were to fight the injustices created by PF militia. The situation will change dramatically for the better once these good people rose and took a stand.