E. Munshya, LLB, LLM, MBA, M.DIV.
When a president declares a state of emergency, or as we are now calling it, a state of a situation which, if allowed to continue, “may lead to a state of emergency”, he needs not be second guessed. Our laws and our constitution empower the head of our republic, in good judgment, to assess the security of the republic and declare emergencies as appropriate. However, the recent declaration of the state of emergency (I’m going to use this term, instead of the long title) in Zambia is deeply troubling and concerning. President Lungu has reiterated that Zambians need not be afraid and should go on with their lives even in the presence of this emergency declaration. We doubt the motives behind President Lungu’s initiative and as a people, we are called upon, yet again to ask that this government avoid the excesses of power.
President Lungu’s emergency declaration is betrayed not by anything anyone else has done, but what he himself has done. From the behaviour of the police under his command, in the recent weeks and months, I am led to conclude that the declaration of the state of emergency has not been done in good faith, is not reasonable and could be abused by the police to achieve the ruling Patriotic Front party’s political objectives.
From the time that President Lungu won the August 2016 elections, we have noticed an unusual increase in politically motivated arrests in Zambia. Several opposition leaders have been charged with various crimes and for those that have reached courts of law, these opposition politicians have been acquitted, signalling that the charges are more politically motivated than criminal. If the police have abused their powers before the emergency, what makes President Lungu believe that they will not abuse their power during an emergency?
The arbitrary arrests of opposition leaders reached a climax with the detention of the United Party for National Development (UPND) party leader Hakainde Hichilema who has been charged with a non-bailable offence of treason. Mr. Hichilema’s treason charges arose from an incident in Mongu after a road dispute. The Zambian police do not seem to have any reasonable suspicion or any evidence to support treason charges against Mr. Hichilema. Mr. Hichilema is being held until the court hears his case, which can take months or even years. Holding an opposition leader in police custody on charges that cannot reasonably be supported is an act of profound brutality. If the Zambian police have abused their power by charging Mr. Hichilema for a crime unsupported by evidence, what makes President Lungu believe that the police will behave reasonably during the time of emergency?
The United Party for National Development (UPND) party cannot hold meetings and cannot mobilise politically due to the misunderstanding and misapplication of the Public Order Act by the Zambian police. Recently, the Zambian police banned the UPND from holding a meeting at their own party premises in Mongu. Five citizens were later arrested and charged with a crime of illegal assembly. Elsewhere in Zambia, the police deny the UPND from holding public meetings abusing the law and the constitution. If the Zambian police have continued to misunderstand and misapply the public order act, what assurances do we have that they will not misunderstand and misapply the emergency legislation President Lungu has promulgated? President Lungu’s declaration will not increase security in Zambia, it will only further erode the confidence that Zambians have in the police and other security wings.
President Lungu appears to be giving mixed signals about the security situation in Zambia. Just over two weeks ago, the Catholic Archbishop addressed the nation and encouraged the President to seek a solution to political crisis and tensions that were gripping the country. The President rebuffed the Catholic archbishop and declared quite shockingly that there was no tension in the country and it was all in the Bishop’s head. Unsurprisingly, President Lungu has come back, a few weeks later, to acknowledge that indeed Zambia does have political tension necessitating this emergency declaration. On July 6, 2017, however, Mr. Lungu insisted in another press conference that there was no political tension in the country except for “terrorism” which he hoped to take care of by declaring this “state of a situation that may lead to state of emergency”. He nevertheless tied this terrorism with politicians and political players who are, in his own words, “killing our people” in the Zambezi provinces. (I use the term Zambezi provinces for provinces touched by the Zambezi River where President Lungu is least popular).
The declaration of national emergency must be received with skepticism, not because we do not love peace, but because the price Mr. Lungu wants to pay for his version of peace in the short term, has the potential to defile the long-term peace prospects of a viable democratic state.
President Lungu should encourage peace in Zambia by releasing Mr. Hichilema, by opening talks with the opposition UPND, by firing the current police boss Kanganja, and by ensuring that the police exercise their power reasonably. President Lungu cannot solve political problems by relying on more guns and more bombs. We need him to step up and show that he can bring sides together. That is the role of the President.