(Published by Financial Times – New York)

In many African countries, a traffic violation generally results in nothing worse than a fine or demand for a bribe. In Zambia, one man faces a somewhat stiffer charge: treason.
The man in question is Hakainde Hichilema, an opposition leader who claims he was cheated of the presidency, and the violation, which was his refusal to move over for President Edgar Lungu, helps explain why the seemingly minor incident has plunged Zambia into a political crisis.
Mr Hichilema, a businessman who narrowly lost August’s presidential election, a result he unsuccessfully challenged in court, has been charged with treason.
The motorcade escorting him to a traditional ceremony in last month allegedly refused to give way to the presidential convoy, a show of bravado that is said not only to have shown disrespect to the office of the president, but also to have put Mr Lungu’s life in danger.
Tension in Zambia, which has been one of southern Africa’s most vibrant democracies, is threatening to destabilise a country that is already grappling with rising debt, widening deficits, sluggish growth and weak revenues from copper that account for 70 per cent of export earnings.

Unknown assailants have burnt public buildings and Mr Lungu has threatened to impose a state of emergency that would give him sweeping powers of arrest and detention.

 

“This used to be a beautiful, stable country but unfortunately it is sliding into the abyss,” said Jack Mwiimbu, Mr Hichilema’s lawyer.

 

He accused the police who arrested Mr Hichilema last month of acting like goons, raiding his house, pepper-spraying the groins of his employees and dragging Mr Hichilema to jail on what, he said, was the ridiculous charge of treason.
This used to be a beautiful, stable country but unfortunately it is sliding into the abyss Jack Mwiimbu, Hakainde Hichilema’s lawyer Treason can carry the death penalty, although nobody is thought to have been executed in Zambia for 20 years.

Mr Hichilema’s defence team is challenging the treason charge in court this week.
Public opinion is divided over the motorcade incident, with some Zambians accusing the government of suppressing the opposition leader on a flimsy pretext, but others blaming Mr Hichilema for what they describe as arrogant and reckless behaviour.

Telesphore Mpundu, the Catholic archbishop of Lusaka, weighed in on Zambia’s most serious political crisis in years, saying: “Our country is now all, except in designation, a dictatorship.” Since the raid on his home, Mr Hichilema, 53, has been in jail, save for a few brief court appearances.

Mr Lungu has refused to enter into dialogue with the opposition leader until Mr Hichilema recognises him as the country’s legitimate head of state.

President Edgar Lungu, above, has refused to talk to Hakainde Hichilema until the opposition leader recognises him as the country’s legitimate head of state Reuters Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian-born economist, said the political stand-off was “a really big distraction when there are so many other issues”.

She pointed to a recent softening of copper prices after a long period of recovery, adding that Zambia’s dollar borrowing could come back to haunt it if US interest rates rise, the greenback strengthens and revenues continue to be weak.

Zambia, Africa’s second-largest copper producer, issued three Eurobonds between 2012 to 2015, totalling around $2.8bn.

While its ratio of debt to gross domestic product is a manageable 50 per cent, a low tax base means it spends almost 20 per cent of revenue on debt service, according to Fitch, the rating agency.

 

Razia Khan, chief economist for Africa at Standard Chartered, said the foreign debt burden made the conclusion of a long-delayed International Monetary Fund programme essential to restore investor confidence.

From the archive Africa is growing in fits and starts The hopes of resource-rich countries have faded along with commodity prices A delegation from the fund is due in Lusaka this month.

But Mr Lungu’s government is believed to be reluctant to agree to some IMF conditions, including cutting politically sensitive fuel subsidies, especially at a time of rising public discontent.

 

In a sign of the economic hardship, eight people were crushed to death and 28 injured in a stampede for free food being handed out by a Lusaka church in March.

One foreign investor said Zambia’s economic fundamentals were reasonable, if copper prices stabilised.

But he added that political stability was crucial. “What we would like to see is the wheels of democracy run safely,” he said.

 

Mr Mwiimbu fears that Mr Hichilema could spend months, even years, in prison. “There’s been a breakdown of law and order,” said Mr Mwiimbu, accusing the government of using the police and the judiciary to silence the opposition. The country is “going back to the days of a one-party system”.

 

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49 COMMENTS

    • It is such unreasonable comments that have brought problems to this country .Does everything have to be political .If someone paints things as they are you think they are UPND.When are you going to accept that there are a lot of people who see the wrong in this and you in your political wisdom see this right.Grow a little and perhaps life will be so much better .

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    • What a shame for Zambia. Lungu is self contradicting doesn’t know wether he is coming or going. Whilst Lungu clearly stated that he’d never interfere with a court case, however, he ordered ZCCM-HI to drop the lawsuit against FIRST QUANTUM. Edgar Lungu told the state investment company to drop its fraud case against the country’s biggest copper producer. Isn’t this self contradicting.

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    • There’s no political crisis in Zambia. We only have a bitter man who was overly confident of winning elections after having registered 9 year olds to vote, ensured that people voted for him and there where zero rejected ballot papers in his strongholds by chasing observers and having his party representatives escort voters to polling booths to ensure that votes where given to him. He later on wanted to rely on clauses in the constitution he told his members of parliament not be a part of when it was being formulated…..a puppet of the Oppenheimer family like Odinga, Obasanjo,Mills e.t.c.

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    • True, Sebenza, you are spot on!! Jack Mwiibu is the defence lawyer and an opposition politician, you expect him to say something nice?? Then this badly written report mentions the catholic bishop, what about the Pentecostal & other Protestant Pastors who condemned hh’s behavior and support the government? Zambia is not a catholic country as it has a huge pentecostal and protestant population!! Then they quote that useless incident at OYDC where lazy people went to fight for handouts, that is cheap and shows FT are badly misinformed!! For me, IMF deal is almost done, bumper harvest of 3.6m tonnes announced, exchange is coming down-it closed at K9.29 yesterday, the British have spoken, copper prices looking bullish, mining companies re-investing, THERE IS NO CRISIS, this report is a…

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    • …systematic attack on our sovereignity by the same clique of characters who wanted to hijack this country.

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    • The article is very poorly written as it quotes only one side. This is yellow journalism.ournalism at its worst. It it bleeds, it sells.

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    • Things are certainly not they used to be a few months ago.
      We have political tension and NOT political crisis.
      We will not allow one 1diot either from the opposition or ruling party to sink our beautiful country

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    • Financial Times New york reeks with mud! Slings!Don’t they have better things to do than gossip?

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    • Sebenza: Point. That’s all we have in Zambia. A lumpen and anarchiest who
      Does not want to accept defeat as if he is dealing with his clan. This is a country we are talking about and people spoke and a President was sworn in and there is a cabinet in places. These foreign media groups are also useless. Why can’t you talk to the leadership of the country rather than just quoting a disgruntled opposition lawyer. What do you expect to come out of such a mouth? This country is at peace. The problem is with this group of limpets who continue to cause unnecessary conflicts. This country is very intact.

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  1. Mr Mwiimbu fears that Mr Hichilema could spend months, even years, in prison. “There’s been a breakdown of law and order,” said Mr Mwiimbu, accusing the government of using the police and the judiciary to silence the opposition. The country is “going back to the days of a one-party system”.

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    • There is no crisis in Zambia. In fact the arrest of HH will instill discipline in many to learn to respect state institutions. Just look at a case he committed at his home “INSULTING LANGUAGE TO LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS”. He has been found with a case to answer. Non of the critical matters has been tabled yet and he might land jail for pomposity. The mongu issue in not a mere traffic offence. It borders on state security were the President is supposed to be accorded a no movement when his motorcade is passing. In America when Air Force one is approaching an airport, it goes into what they call lockdown. No plane flies in the vicinity of the airport for hours until the President lands. If any f00l like HH tries to fly a witchcraft plane, it will be shot by jets. No question. If it was in…

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    • Ricky: yes he shoud grow up indeed. I honestly feel that this country will be in serious trouble if HH became president. I have never seen such a disgruntled power hungry selfish opposition leader anywhere in this world. You loose but you still make noise. Even refusing to allow your party to have an Acting Prrsident. Imwe I hope you are observing how UPND is being managed. It will be worse if given this country.

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  2. Worrying outlook for things we ourselves are deliberately getting ourselves into unnecessarily. We can avoid all this with a bit of foresight in leadership and genuine concern for prosperity of our country.

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  3. Just as expected the ignorant pf cadre on top claims that this was manufactured by upnd member. My friend do your research on who dambisa moyo is. The world is watching and are seeing Zambia disintegrate. Remember that the western powers that be mostly would like to see Zambia disintegrate because it us during confusion where they will drain our resources while pf monkeys are concentrating on arresting and persecuting our own blood and soil citizen hh who won the elections.

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    • Oh so you know the consequences of disintegration? Unfortunately UPND is in the front roll promoting such acts in this country

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  4. The treason charge is not based on the motorcade issue! Somebody is really trying very very hard to misrepresent facts. What’s the definition of ‘political crisis’?

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    • Iwe “haven’t you heard that the dogs are unleashed”

      The Zambia you left before you escaped poverty and went to America is no more!
      It’s now a dictatorship DUNUNA REVERSE STATE!

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    • What do you think they would have done to you if you had done that (the Mongu Escapade) to Donald Trumps motorcade? They would have taken you out, terminated, finish and klaar – no talk of treason.

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  5. Kaya this year! Anyway “big-ups” to Mosi on their new brand… Had a ka cold one yesterday after work and boy I must say! You can’t have that in jail!

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  6. what political tension…i am enjoying my peace! everybody is going about their business trying to put food on their tables while the trouble maker languishes in the chooks! happy weekend

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  7. Rizzo mali chili pali iwe…. We shall be quiet…. Do the right thing…. In the last days , the love of many shall grow cold or be self centred. It shall be me and my family only…
    Today, the blame is on the victim while the predator is glorified as the most humble man and God fearing….
    If Jesus was to leave you in your sin , would you go and worship on Sabbath or Sunday?
    If Jesus was the President of Zambia, he would do things different from the ECL…. Jesus was not RECOGNISED BY THE jews BUT never did he condemn them. HE paryed for them… CAN YOU , President ECL or FATHER FRANK BWALYA for HH? Definitely you cant nor the President pray for HM.
    The President can pray for former President Banda, Kaunda, Kaizer Zulu and Tasila….
    The President cant even pray for TONGAS…

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  8. Jesus pray for the Jews… I pray for both ECL and HH. I pray for Father Bwalya and many PF leaders to sober up and not call Tongas as Kachema… I pray for Tonga to show love despite the hate many bloggers have for them. I pray for Bloggers to exercise love toward another… especially Mushota, 2020vision, munone, Zambia citizen… I believe one day my pray will be answered… GOD does not fail… Both PF and UPND have issues that need spiritual cleansing……

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  9. Jesus prayed for the Jews… I pray for both ECL and HH. I pray for Father Bwalya and many PF leaders to sober up and not call Tongas as Kachema… I pray for Tonga to show love despite the hate many bloggers have for them. I pray for Bloggers to exercise love toward another… especially Mushota, 2020vision, munone, Zambia citizen… I believe one day my pray will be answered… GOD does not fail… Both PF and UPND have issues that need spiritual cleansing……

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  10. I beg to differ this whole editorial has been fabricated. Non of the above is true. There is no political tension. There is peace in Zambia. We are living freely and moving freely. Don’t be cheated

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    • You are moving freely because your job is safe, your house is safe and your neighbourhood is safe. What about us whose shops in Kamwala were burnt? We have lost our businesses after the arrest of HH. Is it only peace when you yourself is safe and others are being butchered in the neighboring compound?

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  11. There is no political crisis in Zambia, that political crisis you are talking about only exist in your head. In Zambia, we are peaceful, get that right you bastards

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    • Iwe “haven’t you heard that the dogs are unleashed”

      The Zambia you left before you escaped poverty and went to America is no more!
      It’s now a dictatorship DUNUNA REVERSE STATE!

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    • The PF Strategy is to make sure that HH does not stand in 2021 one way or the other! They are so scared of him! They have committed so many crimes and acts of corruption!

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  12. Comment:
    Political crisis? That’s pretty thick. Never felt safer, nor this peaceful in this my country since independence day, back in 1964.

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  13. WITH OR WITHOUT HH IN POWER, THE DAY OF RECKONING WILL SURELY COME. CHILUBA DID THE SAME BY AVOIDING SATA AND PUTTING MWANAWASA. MY ADVISE TO THOSE IN THE CORRIDORS OF POWER IS TO DO THE RIGHT THING. IT IS THE RIGHT DECISIONS THAT WILL MAKE US REMEMBER YOU AND NOT EVIL.

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  14. This trash of an article cannot certainly be authored and approved by Financial Times, they don’t write like this. Its a UPND chap who has suddenly come out his slumber and realized that infact, the one tribally inclined party has no genuine following and their so called leader is in deep trouble for deliberately and knowingly breaking the law at will.
    HH was deliberately committing these serious crimes to test his popularity in Zambia even when he knows for sure that he is not the type of material Zambians can entrust the powers to run the country. Zambians are very sharp people by the way. Sadly HH went even out the way to commit treason believing or hallucinating that he was untouchable! The fact is, don’t dare the office of the President because it means so much to any country and…

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  15. Zambia is not in a political crisis. One political party cannot cause ciaos in Zambia. Its in southern province where there is a political crisis as they don’t have a leader to leader yo lead, or they are thinking they don’t have anyone to lead.

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  16. you people make me wonder many times. is this blog about upnd vs pf? be objective for once. the only reason why hh and ecl cant dialogue is because they are both scared of the other. ecl wants to talk only when hh admits that ecl is the legitimate leader, hh fears that once he does that, then ecl will tell hh that they have nothing to talk about cause hh would have agreed that ecl was a legitimate leader.(this is hh fears). if ecl agrees to talk to hh without conditions, then hh will turn and say that ecl lost thats why he wants to talk. (ecl fears). so the thing is wether we are pf or upnd as long as we are in zambia, we will be soending 75% more on electricity, meaning, we have to find that extra money. has this differentiated upnd or pf. lets try to be more objective guys.

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  17. Mr Kabanshi, your thinking is UPND/Tonga. You people who has bewitched? You always think about UPND/Tonga being above the law, look at your chiefs who are always at courts thinking they would save HH, you are wasting your time, the law will take its course. We will not allow one party/tribe to be making the lives of Zambians difficult. your desire is not HH to rule, but Tonga to emerge a super tribe. It will never happen because any Zambian who will try to rule this nation on tribe line will lamentably fail a good example is HH who has fooled you in thinking that he can liberate Tongas, but from what? Selfish tribe you are, uncivilized people who always do things on tribal lines. Lawyers Tonga, Most of the Charged Tongas, Most of the people attending court sessions Tongas. MR GBM leave…

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  18. PF cadres and their government are in self denial. PF government is so paranoid, that any one in the world who comments about the short comings and bad governance Zambia has been subjected to is taken as an opposition opinion. This proves why Zambia is now a dictator state where citizens live like at Lungu’s farm.

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  19. @Robmwale – if it wasn’t for people’s prayers HH should have been dead by now.

    @P. Kanzhila – who can be scared with a 5 times looser?

    Who ever wrote this nonsense above should be a very bad dreamer. Zambia is better with HH.

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  20. PF government has taken Zambians for granted. They are in self denial. The truth is Zambia under PF regime is finished. If we just sit and watch what is happening we shall end up like Zimbabwe. Where are the courageous Zambians?

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  21. There is no political tension. In fact the opposite is true. Some UPND members are even celebrating the incarceration of their leader who has been at the helm of UPND leadership for decades without a convention. And coming to the president dialoguing with the UPND, in what capacity? This is the greatest question those who are blindly advocating for this dialogue should ask themselves. Should his Excellency, the chosen ECL come to dialogue with UPND just as an ordinary citizen? You who are championing this dialogue,especially the Church, ask yourselves this question.

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  22. Would it be wise to ask one of the two disputing men to recognize a child as his own without DNA test? Can you imagine the woman’s parents giving a dead line for the DNA test and when you arrive a minute late, the DNA test program is cancelled?

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  23. You think Trump can have time for some fella with an unpronounceable name when himself is embroiled with his FBI ? You can create all the fake news it won’t work.

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  24. To the contrary, this trial has brought sanity to Zambia as HH was trying to propel anarchy into our lives. We the ordinary none partisan Zambians are extremely happy.

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