Monday, 13 July 2015

President Lungu Needs To Build Ethnic Bridges!

There is not a lot to admire about the Gambian President Yahya Jammeh with his numerous titles but it is his latest addition that makes one sit up. The title is Babili Mansa or bridge builder. Of course it is not about adopting it but rather internalising what the title is all about.
For a country like Zambia with a much changed political landscape from 2011 when the Patriotic Front (PF) took over and tribal talk took centre stage between the predominant ethnic group behind the ruling party—the Bemba—and that of opposition United Party for National Development (UPND)—the Tonga, the country would definitely need a leader who would build bridges not only between the two groups but among all 73 recognised ethnic groups.
What surprised most Zambians recently was President Edgar Lungu coming up with a statement threatening to deal with some Tonga people who allegedly met at the recent Lwiindi Ceremony and discussed the possible secession of Southern Province from the rest of Zambia. If such a meeting was held, it was probably a very private and secretive meeting but the President being the President, he probably received an intelligence report about it.
Discussing secession and certainly acting it out is treasonable in many jurisdictions and Zambia is no exception. But assuming this topic came up among Tonga—mostly traditional—leaders, it is obviously in the wake of what the PFSecretary General Davis Chama said about the ethnic group with its polygamous practices taking 100 years of procreation for them to have sufficient numbers to produce a President.
Secession or the attempt of it is borne out of many factors and some of them being alienation, political and economic marginalisation, harassment and mockery of minority ethnic groups by the majority or bigger ethnic and politically influential groups.
Threatening advocates of secession, arresting them or even killing them through some form of civil war just gives birth to “freedom fighters” who gain more sympathy from compatriots. The history of the world is replete with secessions and secession causes. In Africa, the latest country to win its secession cause is South Sudan which has just celebrated its fourth independence anniversary and there are other failed causes such as Biafra in Nigeria in which up to a million Nigerians in the south eastern part of the country lost their lives.

Dr John Garang

When leader of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA), the late Dr John Garang De Mabior, launched a diplomatic offensive to meet a number of African leaders way back in the late 1980s when Sudan was under the leadership of strongman, Jafaar Nimiery, nobody thought the ragtag army would go as far as splitting the biggest African country then into half many years later.
Elsewhere in Africa, Ethiopia lost one of its regions, Eritrea, which seceded from the country after a referendum in 1993. Other countries such as Angola have had to deal with issues of secession with the enclave of Cabinda separated from mainland Angola by a sliver of Democratic Republic of Congo land, battling for decades to form a separate country.
In Zambia itself, there is the burning issue of Barotseland in which some activists have been calling for the secession of the region most Zambians call Western Province.
Zambia’s former colonial master, Britain, just saw one of its constituent nations, Scotland, losing a referendum for independence from the United Kingdom.
With divisive statements like Chama’s statement, ethnic groups such as the Tongas would get hurt when they are told that as minority groups, they would never produce a head of state unless they improved their demographic numbers. 
Of course people do point to President Frederick Chiluba as being a Chishinga, obviously aligned to the Bemba, Kenneth Kaunda as a Henga—a Tumbuka dialect—but we all know he aligned himself with the Bemba, Levy Mwanawasa as Lenje/Lamba but of course we cannot forget the massive support he received from Chiluba.
Admittedly, on the second day of writing this blog, I saw a statement from President Lungu agreeing with UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema that discussing issues of tribalism—and by extension secession—took away from most important issues affecting Zambia such as the current shortage of electricity, the closure of universities and the economy in general. (As I am finishing up, there is a notice calling Tongas to meet in Monze at the end ofthis month to discuss Chama’s statement).
As I set out to write about the title bridge builder borrowed from President Jammeh, the Zambian leader ought to identify and isolate toxic people surrounding him whose only political relevancy has been to strike a wedge between different ethnic groups in Zambia. Zambia’s politicians enjoying political power today need to be sensitive about how they handle issues of ethnicity. It does not do for lead politicians to hate with a passion certain ethnic groups because they did not vote them.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Zambia's Presidential Tenure Runs In Tandem With Parliament

Sembe—that word that Zambians have for a long time associated with football which simply means if—President Edgar Chagwa Lungu had not commented on the issue of one lawyer Robson Malipenga, one politician Wright Musona and a less known citizen by the name of Mumba going to court arguing that a president is elected for five years meaning that there should be no presidential election in 2016, maybe the issue would have died a natural death.
President Lungu explained how he had heard about the proceedings filed in court by Musona and Mumba represented by Malipenga as he was flying out to Mozambique to attend that country’s 40 years of independence a few weeks back. He said something about him being a lawyer and understanding the constitution which he swore before the people and God to protect but that it was a debate worth following and left it to the courts to interpret what the petitioners were praying for.
Zambia has had the misfortune of losing two sitting presidents within six years between 2008 and 2014. The first to die in office was third republican president Levy Patrick Mwanawasa who was succeeded by his then Vice President Rupiah Banda who was confirmed as a president in an election that is provided for in the constitution following the demise of a sitting president. Banda automatically took over as head of state subject to an election within 90 days.
The second president to die in office was Michael Chilufya Sata who was immediately replaced by his Vice President Guy Scott who had never acted in the higher capacity for reasons best known to Sata himself but believed to be related to the constitutional provision that a person with one or two of the parents foreign born cannot be president in this former British colony.
The ruling Patriotic Front (PF) went through a tumultuous process to choose President Sata’s successor which saw a bevy of 11 senior cadres ranging from his widow Dr Catherine Kaseba, his son Mulenga, nephew Miles Sata to hitherto politically unknown Edgar Lungu whose political star had shone brightly when he was appointed PF secretary general after the dismissal of once powerful but seemingly divisive Wynter Kabimba. Lungu also simultaneously held two ministerial portfolios of Legal Affairs and Defence. He has held on to the Defence portfolio as President.
As the man who was left with the instruments of power on the trip on which President Sata was to succumb to a medical condition or conditions that his government never disclosed even though it was an open secret that the man was ailing, Lungu was seen as the anointed one, a selling point his supporters exploited. By hook or crook, the lanky lawyer turned politician saw off his PF challengers to become the party’s republican presidential challengers and eventually won the January 20 national election.
But barely six months into office, a fringe politician and a fringe citizen represented by a fringe lawyer, have petitioned the High Court arguing that the constitution says a president is elected for five years which means therefore that Lungu should go up to 2020, foregoing the 2016 election.
From secondary school Civics, we learn that the Zambian politico-administrative system has borrowed the presidential system from the United States and the parliamentary system from Britain. At the apex of the Zambian system is the president who is elected by universal adult suffrage and Members of Parliament who are elected by constituents in the 150 parliamentary locales in the country.

The President and Parliament

One thing that does not need any argument is the fact that the tenure of the Zambian president is tied to the life of parliament which lasts five years. The president is elected together with the MPs in what has been known all along as presidential and general elections and recently with the addition of local government as councillors now serve five year terms from previous three year term.
As the life of a five year cycle of parliament comes to an end, the president dissolves parliament and he technically loses his position except that he remains in his position with the help of civil servants represented by permanent secretaries of various ministries and departments until after a presidential and general election when he is either re-elected or hands over to a newly elected individual.
As a Zambian citizen, I wish that the courts of law will be sensible enough to see through this case and decide for what is constitutionally correct for the country in that even if—God forbid—a president died every year, we still would have an election every 90 days until the fifth year when we would have a president who would live for five years to face a normal presidential and general election.
To conclude, let me quote what presidential spokesman Amos Chanda wrote on my Facebook wall:
"I [am] presidential spokesman and I can tell you that the petitioners are strangers to us. Secondly and most instructive, the lawyer representing them is a member and fundraiser of the opposition communist Rainbow [P]arty of [M]r [K]abimba. [I]t is also interesting that only one newspaper seems to know the actual date, hour and minute when those vanity individuals turn up to entertain themselves at court... This President [Lungu] has won all the parliamentary by[-] elections and the majority of local by[-]elections that have taken place since he was elected five months ago. We [are] on course to win more next Tuesday, what is there to fear in the 2015 polls when we have consolidated the incumbency, remember we won even when the acting president wished the opposition won...”

Friday, 3 July 2015

"It’s Corruption What Won!"

When Supreme Court Judge Elizabeth Muyovwe confirmed the High Court judgement nullification of Dora Siliya’s 2011 election as Petauke Central Member of Parliament, she said there was overwhelming evidence of widespread corruption in the run up to the election.
Similarly, Kapembwa Simbao lost his Senga Hill seat on the MMD ticket in a petition filed by Giles Yambayamba on grounds that there was a number of electoral malpractices. The petitioner had contended that the election had been characterized by widespread undue influence, bribery, intimidation, voter treating and electoral malpractices.
Make no mistake about it, many more MPs, especially from the opposition, have lost their seats on grounds among them corruption and abusing the electoral process. But what is of interest, however, is that the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) through its then Secretary General Wynter Kabimba tried to block the re-contesting of the seats by those whose seats had been nullified.
It is no wonder that the by-elections for Petauke Central, Malambo and Mulobezi constituencies took nearly two years to be held instead of the normal 90 days within a seat being declared vacant either by the High Court when there is no contest, or the Supreme Court when the lower court’s judgment is contested or if the vacancy is caused other circumstances such as death.
I know that the PF has not, since it came into power in September 2011, issued any strong anti-corruption statement. The closest the late President Michael Sata came close to issuing any statement concerning the vice was when he said that if the Anti-Corruption Commission wanted to investigate senior government officials like ministers they needed to seek permission from him.
This was at the height of allegations and counter-allegations between once powerful Kabimba and former Defence Minister Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba accusingeach other of impropriety.
As an outsider, it is difficult to say with certainty why the PF adopted Siliya and Simbao but it is clear that the ruling party knows the type of electorate they deal with, people who do not question decisions made for them. In other jurisdictions, the mere nullification of an MP’s seat on account of what Siliya and Simbao’s seats were nullified, their names would not appear on the next ballot paper and other future ballot papers.
It should be pointed out however that the fact that Siliya and Simbao won the by-election on the ruling party ticket despite the baggage from the petition shows that they are strong candidates in themselves.
But adopting the two apparently sends a message that corruption is ok as long as you belong to the ruling party. I mean how does one explain the fact that the PF petitioned more than 50 opposition seats, costly by-elections held and the ruling party started adopting opposition members who had lost seats at its behest.
All I can say is that it’s corruption what won, not the PF.