by Hussein Solomon
Under the strong-man leadership of President Edgar Lungu of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), Zambia is increasingly displaying authoritarian tendencies whilst the economy is in free fall under the weight of corruption and gross incompetence. One indicator of this latter point according to Transparency International is the fact that 60 percent of the population are illiterate and poor whilst corruption is so endemic in society that 78 percent of the populace has admitted to paying bribes.
Amongst the first to suffer under Lungu’s growing authoritarianism was the media. In August 2016, for instance, the so-called Independent Broadcasting Authority suspended the broadcasting licenses of Muvi TV, Komboni Radio and Itzehi Itzehi Radio ostensibly because they posed a threat to national peace and stability. What all these media houses had in common was the fact that they spoke truth to power. The former Editor-in-Chief of the independent The Post newspaper (which has been rebranded as The Mast), Dr Fred M’membe, was personally threatened with death by President Lungu whilst the PF filed more than 50 lawsuits against Dr. M’membe.
This authoritarianism is best seen in the political sphere, where the leader of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), Hakainda Hichilema has been routinely harassed by the authorities. “HH” as he is popularly known has been a thorn in the side of the ruling party for some time. In the August 2016 elections he was narrowly defeated by President Lungu in an election which was described as fraudulent by many. Since then the UPND was targeted as a major threat to the PF’s political control. Permission for party campaigning and rallies on the part of the UPND is therefore routinely denied. Last October, for instance, HH and his vice-president Geoffrey Mwamba were arrested for unlawful assembly. This past week, HH’s home was raided by police who indiscriminately fired teargas into the house causing his wife and daughter who suffer from asthma to faint. Then HH was arrested for treason on the flimsy basis that he obstructed the convoy of President Lungu. It should be noted that treason is a non-bailable offence in Zambia with a minimum jail term of 15 years and a maximum sentence of death.
|UPND rally, 2016. Photo: Likezz (CC BY-SA 4.0)|
In all this, the international community has been silent. The regional body, the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) silence has been deafening. If one is to prevent another Zimbabwe in this blighted region, the international community has to act now. The easiest lever to affect change may well rest in the economic realm. The parlous state of the Zambian economy has resulted in a shortfall of US $1.3 billion in the 2017 Zambian budget. Zambian Finance Minister Felix Mutati intends to borrow this amount from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the form of an Extended Credit Facility. The IMF should refuse to assist Lungu and his regime until they begin exercising democratic governance.