By Sishuwa Sishuwa
Across 2017, Zambia experienced no shortage of disappointments and setbacks. Yet there are some individuals whose courage and principles made them inspiring figures in the political landscape. Here, I list two sets of citizens of 2017: those who through their actions offered hope for Zambians and those who were huge disappointments.
Pilato: Receiving death threats from Patriotic Front cadres or the party’s leadership should be considered a badge of honour in today’s Zambia. In this case, politically-engaged musician Pilato had honours heaped upon him in 2017 for his refusal to bow down to the ruling authorities and to stop singing songs that reflect the rot in the Zambian political system and that raise civic awareness among citizens. His song, Koswe Mumpoto, an incriminating track that encapsulates the brazen pilfering of public resources by those entrusted to protect them, preserved his status as a towering artist with a deep-seated consciousness who deploys music to educate people and to causes that promote the public good. Pilato’s relentless songs of protest have connected with the experiences of ordinary Zambians in a way the main political opposition has failed to do. At a time when his contemporaries in the music industry fashioned a lucrative career out of singing praises for President Edgar Lungu, Pilato refused to sing with his stomach or to put a price to his head, instead keeping his principles intact. His political commitments go beyond music. Pilato also joined forces with other civic activists to demonstrate against the scourge of corruption, especially over the controversial purchase of fire tenders. Alongside Laura Miti and four others, he was arrested for simply asking questions about public spending and endured a filthy police cell in defence of his convictions. In a country that is accustomed to the voices of adulation and reverence for those in power, Pilato’s awareness, native intelligence, wit and cultivated energies represent the best of Zambia.
Linda Kasonde: At a time when constitutional democracy appears to be under relentless assault, the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) has often seemed alone in its resolute defence of the rule of law, constitutionalism, social justice and democratic principles. In 2017, the association’s first female President, Linda Kasonde, was at the forefront of its efforts to defend civil liberties and check the excesses of the executive. Kasonde exhibited immense courage in condemning violations of the rule of law, impunity and unfounded attacks on the judiciary from President Lungu and the opposition. Shameful attacks and outrageous threats and insults were directed against her person. Yet she carried on regardless and survived spiteful attempts by ruling Patriotic Front-aligned associates to oust her executive and repeal the statute that established LAZ. Kasonde offers an inspiring example of female leadership in a country where positions of power have usually been monopolised by men. Zambians owe her an enormous debt of gratitude and many hope that the new leadership of LAZ will emulate the efforts of Kasonde’s executive.
Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu: Throughput 2017, Bishop Mpundu acted as the moral voice and conscience of the nation. In line with his ecclesiastical calling to defend the weak, the poor, the marginalised and those trampled upon, Mpundu offered rare leadership in trying to prevent Zambia’s slide into a dictatorship and campaigning for the release of United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema, who had been arraigned on a trumped up charge of treason. He led the Catholic Bishops into condemning the arrest of Hichilema and described the Zambian state under Lungu as a ‘dictatorship.’ He was involved in several initiatives with other religious bodies to exert pressure on the government and in particular Lungu to release the UPND leader. Despite a smear campaign against him and a political strategy to divide the clergy on ethnic lines, Bishop Mpundu remained steadfast in using diplomatic means to persuade Lungu to release Hichilema so as to guarantee peace and reduce tension in the country. While many have credited Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland for Hichilema’s release, it was the local initiative of Bishop Mpundu that challenged the efficacy of the detention and exposed its contradiction with democratic norms. Zambia is in desperate need of more incorruptible Christian leaders who refuse to be intimidated by the ruling authorities and to be distracted by worldly concerns such as maintaining good relations with those in power for purposes of preserving ethnic ties and accumulating wealth.
Laura Miti: Zambia’s once vibrant civil society has been regrettably mute in recent years. Laura Miti, the Executive Director of Alliance for Community Action, has been a welcome and brave exception to this terminal decline of the civil society movement. Throughout 2017, she remained a menacing voice that spoke truth to power and, through her organisation, rallied citizens to protest against corruption and abuse of public resources. Most notably, she led a group of activists demonstrating against the purchase of the controversial fire tenders, leading to her arrest and ongoing prosecution. Miti also consistently refused to indulge in ethnic politics, which, given that she hails from the same ethnic-language group as President Lungu, would surely have brought her great rewards. Instead, she opted for principle and hardship to her determination to combat the worst excesses of the government. She further deployed social media to good use, using the platform to question the corruption and rampant misuse of public resources under the PF’s watch, the leadership inadequacies of Lungu, and everything that is wrong with the current crop of political leaders. Miti, following in the footsteps of another heroic Zambian Lucy Sichone, is now established as one of Zambia’s foremost human rights campaigners.
Lucky Mulusa: The dismissed Minister of National Planning made headlines when he criticised the purchase of the US$42 million fire tenders as smelling of corruption. As 2017 ended, Mulusa broke ranks with his colleagues to expose the most blatant lie that the PF has peddled over the last two years: that the power shortages that the country experienced were caused by low water levels as a result of poor rains. The problem, Mulusa revealed, was with government energy policy and government technocrats who failed to provide a solution to the management of Zambia’s energy resources. It was a disclosure that earned him an instant dismissal. Mulusa is the only second minister to be dismissed under Lungu (after former Minister of Information Chishimba Kambwili), and the first over an issue of principle. While it would have been more honourable for Mulusa to have resigned on his own out of principle, his actions have shown that there are still Zambians willing to fight and expose the system from within. That he, rather than the many incompetent, mediocre and self-serving individuals resident in Lungu’s cabinet, was sacked speaks volumes about the current government. If Mulusa was willing to keep his mouth shut, he could have enjoyed comfortable existence and supplemented his salary by dishonestly drawing on resources of the state, more so that corruption appears not to be a sackable offence under Lungu. Instead, he stood up to Lungu and to corruption, refusing to be bound by the principle of collective irresponsibility that would have demanded the suspension of his conscience, and choosing to sacrifice his perks to correct the creeping maladministration and poor governance under Lungu’s watch. It requires courage and a high sense of patriotic duty to do so. Mulusa belongs to a withering class of Zambians who are prepared to always follow the dictates of their conscience and are not easily swayed by short-term benefits. If only more government ministers are willing to follow his example in 2018, of speaking out when things are wrong or even resigning on principle, corruption might be curbed.
Lubinda Haabazoka: Intellectuals anywhere in the world have a social responsibility. In Zambia, they are among the very few who have received a good education and consequently owe it to their fellow citizens to put that education to wider use. Unfortunately, many academics in Zambia appear to have lost their voice in recent years. Lubinda Haabazoka, formerly a Senior Lecturer in economics at Copperbelt University and now Director of Graduate School of Business at the University of Zambia (UNZA), proved in 2017 to be an exception to this deadly silence of the country’s intelligentsia on public discourse. He publicly criticised the arrest of the country’s main opposition leader, the failure by Lungu to bridge the divisions created by the 2016 elections, and the value of land deals done with Chinese companies when many other figures in Zambian society remained quiet or even orchestrated such deals. Haabazoka also bemoaned the fact that year in and year out, many Zambians are softly being paddled into the comforts of atomised free-floating consumer pleasures and unlearning all the useful things that ground us, like land, the importance of kingship and heritage: “We are busy fighting ourselves on ethnic and political lines whilst China is busy buying us off! By the time we finish fighting, and reconcile, there will be nothing [left] to share.” One can only hope that Haabazoka’s new position would not hinder his participation in national political life and that other voices from Zambia’s academic institutions such as UNZA would emulate him in 2018.
Senior Chief Mukuni Ng’ombe: The arrest and detention of Hichilema was a test for many in political life in Zambia. Would they condemn this injustice or stay silent for fear that the same would happen to them? Senior Chief Mukuni of the Toka-Leya people in Southern Province passed this test with flying colours. He protested loudly against the detention of the UPND leader, visited him in prison and sharply criticised President Lungu’s “alarming hatred” for others: “I humbly appeal to all Christians not to be fooled by the President. He seems very humble…but is full of hatred. Pray for him because he is slowly turning Zambia into a state where human rights are not respected. On one hand he forms a religious ministry, publicly holds a bible, calls for peace and dialogue but goes on to call another citizen an idiot…. Release Hichilema, reopen The Post, accept critics of your leadership, and seek God’s guidance. Minus this, your leadership is vanity.” Mukuni even turned down what was quite transparently a bribe to buy his silence when the government threatened to withhold his monthly subsidy. Chief Mukuni’s fearlessness in speaking out against wrong and oppression, especially in a context when many traditional leaders have sold out to those in power, is to be admired. At the height of a spate of suspicious fires that affected several public buildings, the ruling authorities hatched a plot to implicate Chief Mukuni as the instigator of the fires that gutted a section of Lusaka’s City Market. His public denunciation of the plot and preparedness to be arrested was rare among his peers. Chief Mukuni’s crime, for which the government wanted him arrested for arson and perhaps treason, was his stance that the arrest of Hichilema was wrong and his demand that the opposition leader be released unconditionally.
Mary Tshuma and John Kasanga: A person unfamiliar with Zambian politics might expect that an institution that successfully identifies financial crimes and monitors illicit capital flows would be praised for their actions. This, however, is not the case in Zambia. Mary Tshuma, the Director General of the Financial Intelligence Centre, and John Kasanga, the acting Board Chairperson of the organisation, have repeatedly been targeted and threatened by politically connected businessmen and ruling elites whose interests the duo threaten. Their major crime appears to be their competence in effectively discharging their responsibilities with sufficient honour. In November 2017, for instance, Tshuma and Kasanga released a dossier on financial flows involving Zambia’s rich and powerful. Their report disclosed that there were 35,785 suspicious transactions involving over US$1 billion linked to corporate and individual bank accounts, that at least 50 per cent of the companies that won government tenders last year were either not registered for tax purposes or recently registered, and that most of the companies that won government contracts were connected to politically exposed individuals. Understandably, those who stand to lose, the rich and powerful whose criminal activities have been exposed, have condemned the FIC’s actions. However, Tshuma and Kasanga’s courage to expose the criminality under the present government and the scale of plunder of public resources is unprecedented and demonstrates that under good leadership and with certain degree of political insulation, investigative organs can work. Instead of being outraged by the revelations of money-laundering activities and defending the heroic efforts of Tshuma and her team at the FIC, President Lungu and Minister of Justice Given Lubinda remained mute, appearing to be at peace with those who are at war with truth and justice. The Financial Intelligence Centre and the people leading it shine a light on the murkiest corners of the economy. Many people prefer to do their dodgy dealings in the dark. Anyone seeking to expose this fraud, as the FIC did, makes Zambians proud and should be celebrated.
Magistrate Greenwell Malumani: Magistrate Malumani surely was under immense political pressure to support the charges that Hichilema, the UPND leader who was appearing in his court in May 2017, had committed treason and used insulting language against the police offers who had earlier violently arrested him. In an increasingly rare show of judicial independence, one that his colleagues especially those at the High Court and Constitutional Court should follow, Malumani refused to endorse these ludicrous charges. He acquitted Hichilema of the charge of using insulting language, declared himself incompetent to handle the treason case, and made important pronouncement on the police’s handling of Hichilema’s treason case. Observing that the case was incompetent and bad at law, Malumani exposed the fact that the matter was politically motivated as no overt acts had been committed nor were any investigations carried out in the allegations of treason, other than the fact that the police responded to demands by the PF leadership to arrest Hichilema. The police, he added, should be embarrassed by their unprofessional conduct, and they should be. That Magistrate Malumani resisted political pressure when those with more power in the judiciary succumbed to it, or at a time when most members of the bench felt compelled to toe the government line and rule in favour of the State, is all the more in his favour. By interpreting the law without fear or favour and purely on the basis of the evidence before him, he provided a stunning example of what is possible when the judiciary is unafraid to exercise its constitutional mandate even in the face of executive pressure, outright intimidation and obstruction from the ruling political elites. When we place Zambia’s democratic backslides in a much wider context, we can see that the missing link in our democracy is a genuinely independent and robust judiciary that is not susceptible to political and financial interests.
Muna Ndulo: Another inspiring academic is US-based Professor of Law Muna Ndulo, whose intellectual interventions in commenting on Lungu’s government performance, especially on matters of constitutionalism and rule of law, demonstrated a public space for intellectual discourse. Though not publicly acknowledged, Ndulo’s articles on topical issues improved the public’s understanding of the issues and served as a critique of the state of governance under Lungu. He has consistently shown that informed and fearless academic commentary helps raise the level of public discourse on topical issues. The current mediocrity in Zambia’s politics takes place arguably because of intellectual complicity, driven in part by the desire to avoid abuse, victimisation, intimidation and the hope by many that one day they would receive a call from State House.
Ireen Mambilima: Being appointed to high office under President Lungu appears to corrosively erode any good judgement that the appointee previously possessed. As chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Zambia, Irene Mambilima was a well-respected figure and widely acknowledged to have run the previous elections credibly. As Chief Justice and head of Zambia’s judiciary, she has been the opposite, presiding over the fiasco of the 2016 elections and the contested aftermath. Judicial independence has been eroded consistently under her watch and she appears to be yet another formerly independent voice now content to take instructions. Why is Mambilima the country’s Chief Justice beyond the fact that she was appointed to the role?
Kakoma Kanganja: In 2017, Zambia’s Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja exemplified everything that is wrong with police service: unprofessional, inept and out to do the bidding of the ruling elites. This sycophancy is everything that the Inspector General of Police should not be and it can only be hoped that whoever succeeds him uses his example to do the exact opposite. In addition to his willingness to accept political instructions, Kanganja issued policing orders that made no sense. For instance, his much-criticised ban on police officers marrying non-Zambians was followed by the recruitment of foreign nationals into the ranks of the police, which in Kanganja’s judgement was apparently neither a security risk nor a breach of the law. He seemingly remains in his position to suppress the opposition and anyone even daring to ask questions about government spending. It is a shame to have a man with no sense of doing the right thing according to our laws in the service of the Zambian people at the helm of such an important organ of our security services. One glimmer of hope is that ordinary police officers, majority of whom are young, professional, and principled, have a dim view of their superior and not all of them display the same levels of incompetence.
Edgar Lungu: Many Zambians had low expectations of President Lungu for 2017 and yet he still managed to disappoint. His relentless ambition to extend his time in power, when fresh from acquiring a five-year term, was bizarrely matched with an almost complete disinterest in doing anything with that power beyond enrichment of himself and those around him. Does Lungu really realise that he is Zambia’s President? What exactly is his political programme? Throughout 2017, Lungu’s actions demonstrated that Zambia is ruled by a man who appears to be lost in his own world, to be haunted by the effects of a possibly stolen election victory, who is indifferent to any cause that benefits many or promotes ideals, and is engaged in an endless, suspicious scheming against supposed rivals, leaving no time for dealing with the serious and manifold issues affecting the country. In fact, one would be forgiven to think that the campaign promises Lungu was out to fulfil in 2017 were delivery of corruption and effective installation of a kleptocracy; the erosion of Zambia’s democratic principles, systematic weakening of the criminal justice system and flagrant violation of personal liberties; the promotion of impunity (especially among ruling party cadres); the destruction of state institutions and other alternative sources of power; the dismantling of the Constitution and the rule of law; the swelling of the national debt and expansion of extravagance; and the weakening of the country’s foreign policy position. So obsessed with securing the opposition’s acknowledgement of his flawed election was Lungu that he went to the extent of incarcerating his main political opponent on trumped-up charges of treason. Under his watch, Lungu tolerated undemocratic proposals from members of his party such as the suggestion to extend the presidential term of office from five to seven years, ridding his party of any internal opposition by expelling those harbouring presidential ambitions; attempts to have the main opposition party, UPND, banned or de-registered on account of its MPs having boycotted his address to Parliament; attempts to have 53 UPND MPs’ seats nullified on account that they disrespected the President by walking out of Parliament during the Official Opening of Parliament and a ludicrous proposal that the presidential term of office be changed to a single term of ten years. For all these reasons and more, Lungu was the country’s greatest failure and disappointment of the year 2017. What kept Zambia together was not his leadership, but its absence.
Lillian Siyunyi: Lillian Siyunyi, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), has singularly failed at the main task of her job: to assess those cases which when brought to trial have a likely chance of a successful prosecution. Siyunyi’s failures in 2017 were twofold. First, was a repeated failure to stand up to the executive, especially in relation to pursuing politically sensitive cases that she surely knew had no chance of a successful prosecution. Almost all politically sensitive cases she advanced embarrassingly ended in an acquittal of the accused or a nolle prosequi, an obvious sign of her incompetence. Her decision to have Hichilema committed to the High Court for treason over a traffic incident is probably the worst decision to be made by a Zambian DPP in living memory. The case was clearly meant as a political vendetta and the courts were simply used to punish Hichilema for not recognising Lungu’s presidency. No competent lawyer, let alone the country’s highest public prosecutor, would have sanctioned such a case. Had she had any integrity, 2017 offered the perfect platform for Siyunyi to resign. Second was a consistent inability to pursue cases involving those linked to the ruling authorities and a failure to protect those on the receiving end of plots or threats from the PF or those aligned to the party. Siyunyi’s failures are the more lamentable as it was thought that the appointment of a young woman to the office of the DPP would bring energy and dynamism, not servitude.
Given Lubinda: What has happened to Given Lubinda? Has he forgotten all of his principles? Many Zambians will recall Lubinda as an opposition politician committed to combating injustice and corruption. Since assuming his position as Minister of Justice, where he could make a real difference on the issues he was apparently so passionate about, Lubinda has lost his voice. He has not said a word about the efforts to undermine or ignore the Constitution, and the blatant theft of public resources. Lubinda’s decision to hold consultative public hearings on Zambia’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, a matter that should have been taken to Parliament in line with the new Constitution, and his ill-advised support for the declaration of a Threatened State of Emergency that was meant to stifle opposition and create an atmosphere that would discourage mass demonstrations, rank among his most disappointing positions. It is a shame that a man once considered by many to be a potential future president of Zambia has sunk so low that he could be termed Minister of Injustice.
Kapetwa Phiri: One might think that the Director General of Zambia’s Anti-Corruption Commission, Kapetwa Phiri, was a busy man in 2017. Allegations of serious corruption at the highest level of government especially in relation to President Lungu’s inner circle, public procurement and construction appeared frequently in the press. The Auditor General also highlighted increased theft of public funds. Phiri though had a leisurely schedule, largely untroubled by the requirements of the job. Under his leadership, the ACC repeatedly overlooked well-informed and substantiated claims of corruption among top public officials. Two of his immediate predecessors were removed from office for taking their jobs seriously and proactively investigating corruption. Unless he dramatically changes in 2018, there is no danger of the same fate befalling Phiri, who in 2017 appeared to prioritise job security over responsibility.
Joshua Banda and Pukuta Mwanza: Render onto Caesar what is Caesar’s! For Bishop Joshua Banda, the overseer of the Northmead Assemblies of God, and Reveland Pukuta Mwanza, the Executive Director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, this Biblical injunction or what belonged to Caesar, on the evidence of their actions in 2017, included their conscience. Servants of God who were in times past fierce critics of injustice softened their tone and put (at least in the eyes of many Zambians and on disagreements involving President Lungu and the opposition) narrow, possibly economic and ethnic-language, considerations before their old principles. Last year, there seems to be little that President Lungu could do which the two men of God would not approve or defend. Given his silence in the face of many human rights violations perpetrated by Lungu’s administration, including during the incarceration of Hichilema, Joshua would especially disappoint his Biblical namesake, who was a just, courageous and upright leader outraged by any injustice, regardless of its perpetrators or recipients. If there was any one thing that President Lungu managed to accomplish last year, it was the separation of the sheep from the goats.
Joyce Nonde: Joyce Nonde, the Minister of Labour, is keeping with the traditions of her office. Zambia sadly has a long history of effective trade unionists being muted through appointments as Minister of Labour. In 2017, Nonde hardly did anything that advanced the cause of the workers who she is supposed to represent and seemed paralysed by fear of offending the delicate feelings of foreign investors. She even failed to act over clear-cut cases of racial discrimination, low pay and harsh working conditions. What would Joyce Nonde’s former self think of her now? Such was her loud silence for the most part of last year that her former members at the Federation of Free Trade Unions of Zambia – unless they were regular viewers of ZNBC TV, where many cabinet ministers including the ever-smiling Freedom Sikazwe appear even when they are saying nothing meaningful – could be forgiven for thinking that she was no longer alive.
Edith Nawakwi: As the economy deteriorated further in 2017, many Zambians had to work two or three jobs to supplement their income including, it seems, Edith Nawakwi, who throughout the year continued to treat her position as leader of the Forum for Democracy and Development as a part time job. As she had hitherto consistently done, Nawakwi in 2017 ran this once promising opposition party further into the ground. With so many national problems that cried out for opposition leadership throughout the year, it takes a special kind of ineffectiveness as the one that Nawakwi exhibited to fail to take advantage of at least one of them. On the few occasions when she spoke out, it was largely to support the government or to criticise the opposition UPND leader Hichilema, with whom she appears to have unfinished business stemming from their days in the United Democratic Alliance. It was as if one of her New Year resolutions was to finish 2017 without criticising the government and President Lungu. It remains a mystery why Nawakwi chose not to join the PF altogether and give up the pretence that she is an opposition leader.
Lewis Mosho: Lusaka lawyer Lewis Mosho is widely seen by many as an attack dog for hire who is used frequently by Zambia’s elite, represented by State House, to do their dirty work. It was Mosho who was called upon to help suppress the independent press by shutting down The Post newspapers. It appears that Mosho does this with the tacit support of State House and other senior political figures in the PF. More recently, Mosho targeted Mary Tshuma, the head of the Financial Intelligence Centre, with criminal accusations with a view to have her removed from the organisation and possibly replaced by a pliant and submissive head. That a private citizen would threaten to prosecute public officials and receive no criticism for this from the President, the DPP or the Minister of Justice is evidence of the special position that Mosho occupies in the echelons of power and a sad indictment on the three holders of the aforementioned posts.