Friday, 28 September 2007

LEVY, PLEASE LISTEN

By Gershom Ndhlovu

President Mwanawasa, Legal Affairs Minister George Kunda and the MMD in general should realise that their constitutional amendment exercise through the NCC is doomed right from the beginning. Credible players like the NGOCC, FFTUZ and now political parties like the PF have decided to shun the process.
Of course, the two lawyers at the top and their party will go ahead to amend the constitution but what they must remember is that in the next four years when there will be a change of guard, an MMD president or a president from another party for that matter, will start the process all over again.
President Mwanawasa's predecessor, Frederick Chiluba (is it not incredible that he has joined those opposing Levy?) amended the constitution in 1996 with which many people were thoroughly dissatisfied with, and it is the same constitution that Levy decided to overhaul when he came to power a few years later. Unfortunately, this is the same process causing unnecessary tension among interested parties such as civil society and opposition political parties.
Of course, there are some NGOs and church organisations with dubious credentials that appear, for a few crumbs, to endorse the machinations by the MMD government to manipulate the constitution making process. These organisations are given prominence by state-owned media which are themselves complicit in the manipulation, while the views of opposing organisations are left out.
This whole affair is not helped by Mwanawasa's capacity to belittle people opposing him, and surprisingly, not even the Willa Mung'omba Constitution Review Commission which he himself appointed, has escaped his verbal attacks in his justification for the setting up of the NCC. The Mung'omba commission itself was appointed amid controversy and a number of organisations declined to be part of it. From the foregoing, it is clear that the whole process has been fraught with controversy right from the beginning and what has been at the fore of this has been the mode of adopting the final document.
By pouring cold water on the Mung'omba CRC recommendations and subsequent setting up the Zambia Centre for Inter-party Dialogue (ZCID) leading to the passage of the NCC Bill and mandating members to go round the country to explain the process yet again, makes the whole exercise not only duplicitous but extremely expensive to the tax-payer who has had to bear the huge cost of the CRC. One would have thought that a one-off Constituent Assembly as recommended by the CRC, would have adequately served that purpose.
The groups shunning the NCC have a genuine fear of an in-built MMD majority which would render their voices in the whole exercise meaningless. It would also appear as though that Mwanawasa, Kunda and Co. have a predetermined document that they want to spring on the public through the same NCC.
President Mwanawasa, by pushing through the NCC in its proposed form, will squander a golden opportunity to bequeath the nation a people driven and well thought out constitution that could stand the so-called test of time. A few years from now, Mwanawasa, Kunda and those supporting the process now, will be the same people speaking out against the constitution they want to enact now when they realise the folly of having passed it.
I have said it before that it is important for our leaders to learn from history. It is pointless, like Mwanawasa and Kunda are doing now, to blame Chiluba and Kaunda for past constitutional iniquities. It is pointless for Kunda to pour venom on people like General Miyanda for speaking out against the current constitutional making process, for he together with Mwanawasa, will be judged even more harshly because they will have had an opportunity to avoid the perilous path they have chosen.
Everyone with a conscience should shun this process. Allowances that people will derive from it are nothing compared to the effects a faulty constitution will bear on the whole nation.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

THE GOVERNANCE INDEX

Check out the Ibrahim Index of African Governance. Zambia is ranked 19th which is not very encouraging for a country that pioneered multi-party democracy on the continent in 1990/1.
http://www.moibrahimfoundation.org/index/index2.asp

Thursday, 20 September 2007

MULONGOTI MESSING MEDIA

By Gershom Ndhlovu

“Journalists at Times and Daily… have wives and children, they have jobs to protect, don’t forget that. Before they write anything against me, they will think, ‘what will the minister do? Will I be in the office tomorrow?’ These are worries that come but we expect them to be factual and to report truthfully. “They are not created to be critics of the government… If they think they want to exercise their freedom to write, they must apply for jobs where that freedom can be exercised. If you want to attack us don’t go to Daily Mail, I can assure you, the story will be killed,” Information Minister Mike Mulongoti is quoted to have said at a Post Newspaper function.
In 1990-1 when the word injunction gained currency in our everyday language, it was because the then Movement for Multi-Party Democracy pressure group interim committee’s legal eagle, Levy Mwanawasa filed and threatened to file more injunctions against the lopsided state-owned media which at the time, ignored the pressure group’s activities in favour of the ruling UNIP.
Strange as it may sound today, some of the senior civil servants and politicians now in government wore UNIP T-shirts as late as Election Day on 31 October 1991 and are today tightening the screws on the state-owned media in terms of covering the opposition and criticising the government.
It is very sad that Mulongoti, should, in this day and age, threaten state-owned media journalists with dismissal if they criticise the government even if its officials err in running the affairs of the nation and there are many errors in the governance of our beautiful country.
Is this the reason why government has been dragging its feet to legislate the Freedom of Information Bill which has dragged on for nearly a decade now?
From Mulongoti’s statement what immediately comes to mind is the case of his predecessor, Vernon Mwaanga, who misrepresented President Mwanawasa when he sent him as special envoy to Congo when he “assured” Katanga Province governor Moses Katumbi who is wanted in Zambia for alleged plunder that in fact it was the Zambian government that owed him money.
The state-owned print media tried by all means to cover up for Mwaanga, twisting facts and calling The Post all sorts of names for exposing “the mighty” VJ who was eventually swept aside with the overwhelming facts laid on the table by the private newspaper. Just recently, the MECOZ actually ruled that some state media houses made fools of themselves over the issue.
Only a few short years ago, the circulation of the two state-owned newspapers was pathetic to say the least, unless things have changed. I know for sure that one of the two government owned newspapers, if not both, sold less than 16,000 papers daily and the Sunday edition shot up to a measly 18,000 nation-wide.
With statements like Mulongoti’s, this is definitely driving circulation figures even lower as people do not want to read government gazette-sque publications that do not only lack analysis of issues, but do not give a voice to opposition politicians and critical NGOs.
One non-practising journalist friend, obviously disgusted after reading Mulongoti’s statement, wondered what excitement state media journalists derived when they woke up in the morning to report for work with such a millstone round their necks. I feel pity for former University of Zambia Mass Communication lecturer, Leonard Kantumoya who has left behind the freedom that obtains in the world of academia to operate in the realm where even a Kulima Tower MMD cadre dictates to you.
Well, maybe it pays to toe the MMD line especially now when a number of journalists have just been rewarded with appointments into the Diplomatic service. But, ultimately, it is the ordinary Zambian who places so much trust and faith in journalists whether from state or private media who is being short-changed by this kind of myopia in the approach to media issues.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Friday, 14 September 2007

KICK MUGABE OUT OF SADC

By Gershom Ndhlovu

Did the last SADC heads of state summit in Lusaka go as well as it has been portrayed? Maybe on other issues it did go as well as the media in the respective countries reported, but certainly, there are questions to be answered on why Zimbabwe President left Lusaka early if not, as foreign media are now saying, that he clashed with the new chairman, Levy Mwanawasa who wanted to table that country’s political and economic crisis during a closed session.
According to the online version of a South Africa newspaper, BusinessDay, quoting diplomats who attended the meeting, Mr Mwanawasa who chaired a session attempted to table for discussion the Zimbabwe crisis after South African President Thabo Mbeki submitted his report as the SADC appointed-mediator in which he said “there was progress in the talks although parties needed to intensify negotiations.”
Says BusinessDay: “"After Mbeki delivered his report to the summit, Mwanawasa, as the chair of the meeting, said there was an urgent need to discuss Zimbabwe because the situation there had become 'unacceptable'. Kikwete said there was no need to discuss it because talks were in progress and Mbeki concurred," a senior diplomat said.
"Kikwete then suggested Mugabe should be asked what he thought about Mwanawasa's proposal. When Mugabe was given the platform to speak he launched an angry tirade, attacking Mwanawasa left, right and centre before walking out in protest."The diplomat said Mugabe angrily asked: "Who are you, Mwanawasa? Who are you? Who do you think you are?""Mugabe also said he was aware of Mwanawasa's recent meetings with western intelligence agencies on Zimbabwe. He said he would 'not allow Mwanawasa to sell out Zimbabwe as he has done to Zambia'," the diplomat said,”
Mr Mwanawasa had earlier in the year referred to Zimbabwe as a “sinking titanic” when the regime in that country battered opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai leaving him with serious injuries for which he was hospitalised.
This is probably the incident that claimed the scalp of Zambia’s Foreign Minister Mundia Sikatana who has been outspoken on a number of issues on the continent such as the Darfur Crisis which he rightly labelled a racial issue and the Zimbabwean political and economic crisis.
The handling of the Zimbabwean crisis by Mbeki and Tanzanian president, Jakaya Kikwete as chairman of the SADC organ on politics, defence and security is what brings into question the setting up of the SADC defence brigade as a laughable exercise because the standing army, if there is one, will not go any where it is needed because of issues of sovereignty that are brought in when it matters even when a purely political solution is needed.
Extrapolated at continental level, NEPAD’s African Peer Review Mechanism or APRM, cannot work for similar reasons because paranoid leaders like Mugabe do not want to subject themselves to scrutiny by other well-meaning leaders like Mwanawasa in this case.
This is why Mugabe keeps on harassing Tsvangirai even for going round the shops to see what mayhem his government is causing not only for ordinary people, but businessmen as well who are forced to sell goods at sub-economic prices.
Leaders like Mbeki and Kikwete need to learn and understand that their approach of quiet diplomacy to issues like Zimbabwe will only entrench dictators like Mugabe and lead to further suffering of the already suffering Zimbabweans.
This is equally why it is next to impossible to bring African countries together for purposes of establishing a United States of Africa because of the different democratic values that different countries hold which they may not only want to impose on others but may not want to relinquish.
Ironically, it is leaders like Mugabe who are keen on establishing the U.S. of Africa and yet they do not want to subject themselves to the authority of a smaller entity like SADC for which they are voluntary members. May be it is time SADC considered the possibility of suspending Zimbabwe’s membership from the sub-regional body.

Friday, 7 September 2007

CHESS, A GAME MANY ZAMBIANS MISUNDERSTAND

By Gershom Ndhlovu

It is certainly not a spectator spot like football where you see 22 men chasing a piece of leather whose meat was eaten long ago, nor is it like boxing where to men or women like in the case of Esther Phiri, pummel each other to a bloody pulp and people cheer.
This is the game of chess in which two people facing each other, or with technology now between a person and a computer or on the internet, with someone anonymous halfway across the globe, try to mentally wear each other down by pushing pieces of different shapes across a board.
This is the game that is least understood in our townships where everyone is able to discuss English or Spanish football in addition to the local league, in great detail. I personally remember when I learnt to play chess after I completed Form Five in 1983 how, with a few of my friends like the late Charles Nzowa, we used to play the game in a local tavern in Kwacha while drinking Chibuku and people would ask “nga iyi draft muleteya ya shani (what sort of droughts are you playing)?”
Used to playing droughts, people were mesmerised how pieces like the Knight would jump over other pieces and Bishops would criss-cross the board. What equally mesmerised the people was how the opponent’s pieces were captured and the seriousness exhibited by the players. While others said those who played chess were intelligent or something to that effect, to many others it was just one of those not only boring games but also complicated and took too long to finish.
And yet this is the game through which Amon Simutowe has firmly put Zambia on the world map by reaching the lofty heights of Grandmaster which we could only dream about when we read chess books and came across names like the legendary Ruy Lopez and when names like Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi dominated newspaper pages.
We never thought then that a Zambian, let alone a sub-Saharan African, would attain such a status. Many of us abandoned chess even as a leisurely game we played on occasion.
According to one website, www.ishipress.com, FIDE, the World Chess Federation, first awarded the Grandmaster title in 1950 and a few weeks ago there were 565 chess players who held the title and a few more were expected to be added to the list after some meetings like the one in which Simutowe took part in Europe.
The website says, in addition, there were 5 players with the honorary grandmaster title, 102 players with the woman grandmaster title and one player with the honorary woman grandmaster title. All 673 players were on this list.
There were in addition six players in the world who held both the GM title and the WGM title, so there were a total of 108 players with the WGM title.
I would like to urge Simutowe to use his newly acquired status to popularize chess especially in Zambian schools where I know that sports like football are all but dead. Obviously, this will need resources which have been denied to Simutowe himself who complained a few weeks ago that he had to use his own resources to compete in tournaments on behalf of the country.
What the authorities ought to remember is that with chess, you do not need expensive infrastructure to play the game. All you need is the interest among players and a few chess sets to go round. Who knows, we could produce another Grandmaster after failing to bring honours in more popular sports like football.
And talking about football, allow me to pass my condolences to Chaswe Nsofwa’s family, the Zambia National Team as well as the football fraternity in general on the death of the footballer in Israel. Nsofwa’s death followed so soon after the death of Sevilla defender Antonio Puerta from cardiac arrest in very similar circumstances.
Like many other professions, soccer has its own hazards.