Sunday Standard Editorial Commentary
11 Jun 2017
For Southern Africa, the surprise story of the last few months has been an arrest without bail of a Leader of Opposition in Zambia, Hakainde Hichilema.
The arrest of such a major political figure, with all the attributes of a national president in the making is an issue of seismic proportions.
Yet outside Zambia such an arrest has hardly attracted proportionate international attention.
SADC has a deserved reputation as a lame duck organization that is not worth the kind of public finances it receives from member countries.
Since the arrest of Hichilema, not a single SADC head of state has said a word of protest on what is happening in Zambia.
It would seem like SADC Heads of State are in solidarity with their peer, Edgar Lungu, the President of Zambia.
It is interesting to note that Hichilema has been arrested on treason allegations.
He is accused of trying to assassinate President Lungu by not moving out of the road to make way for the presidential convoy.
Both Hichilema and Lungu were travelling on the same highway, due to attend an event somewhere in the countryside outside the capital, Lusaka.
Zambian authorities are keen to portray to the outside world that Hichilema’s charges are legal. And have got nothing to do with politics.
That is totally wrong.
The charges are not only political, but are also potentially illegal.
They are intended to harass a political opponent of the president.
And even to ensure that he does not in future participate in the public discourse of that country.
Another thing is that since the arrest, Zambian authorities have been keen to give the issue a pure domestic bent.
That cannot be further from the truth.
Hichilema, it has to be pointed out, is not your average politician.
In the last elections, he gave President Lungu a good run for his money.
And like many of African president, Lungu has a lot of money.
His arrest therefore cannot just be a matter for Zambia, the region and Africa but also the larger world community.
Save for the situation in Zimbabwe, which really has for decades been the sub-continent’s black sheep, for some time now things seemed to go exceptionally well in as far as democracy is concerned in the sub-region.
There was a real enthusiasm to keep increasing the gains made. And elections, for all their defects were by and large invariably always pronounced largely reflective of the people’s wishes.
That march to full democracy and respect for the will of the people was led by Zambia which had successfully held peaceful political power transitions from one political party to the other from as early as 1991.
Just as it was Zambia that showed the region the way with its early adherence to democracy, it would seem like it is the same Zambia that is now taking lead in its road of regression.
Zambia’s gleeful embrace of these base dictatorial instincts have really taken many of the country’s enthusiasts by surprise.
How can Zambia, which has done so much to prove that democracy through transition of political power from one party to the other is not alien to Africa be the one to lead us into a throwback many of us had wished we had seen the last of?
If Zambia wants to be a serious regional leader, it has to do so by adhering to elementary democratic principles in its domestic front.
There is no short cut about.