By Sishuwa Sishuwa
In contrast to the shortage of authentic, consistent heroes in public life, Zambia had a huge surplus of disappointing individuals and institutions in 2018, as the competition for uninspiring conduct grew even fiercer. Indeed, such is the surplus that if we are really serious about diversifying Zambia’s economy, we will do well to consider exporting many of them alongside copper. None of the people and institutions on the list that follows would be missed.
Haabazoka was such an embarrassing disappointment in 2018 that if he is re-elected President of the previously credible Economics Association of Zambia (EAZ) at the next election, many Zambians, I fear, may lose their last shred of hope in electoral democracy. (There are serious questions over the way Haabazoka was elected to the EAZ presidency. He overly relied on ‘proxy voters’ – those members who, though eligible to vote, were unable to make it to the polling station for any reason and consequently transferred their right to vote, not necessarily their choice, to any other voting member of the association – to win. The EAZ constitution allows this practice and Haabazoka is said to have exploited the relevant provision to secure victory.) Following his election, many had hoped that his leadership would uphold the association’s historical character of serving as an important platform for the promotion of evidence-based economic policy debate and an advisory scientific resource at the disposal of its members and the general public. Haabazoka, now Director of the University of Zambia Graduate School of Business, delivered the opposite. The EAZ, under his leadership, has become such a partisan platform in support of the government that many credible potential speakers who can objectively inform public understanding of economic issues are now said to be shunning its organised events. It was telling that the EAZ end-of-year dinner was reportedly attended mainly by representatives of parastatal organisations instead of the association’s established partners, such as banks.
Haabazoka himself has metamorphosed. His once well-informed public economic commentary has been replaced by sycophancy. Throughout 2018, he utilised his new position to professionally embarrass himself, abandoning all pretence of academic credibility and integrity and saying anything required of him by the government. Such was his commitment to debasing himself in an obvious and public manner that one would be forgiven for thinking that he was either lobbying for an appointment to public office from the government or that EAZ was now financed by State House and his grovelling defence of the ruling elites was a prerequisite for further support. Rather than seeking to promote an understanding of economics among the educated general public, Haabazoka sought to restrict it by repeatedly pointing to his own educational qualifications as a way of deflecting criticism and by demanding the enactment of a ridiculous law that would prevent non-economists from speaking about economic matters. Fortunately, however, Haabazoka received stern rebuke from more reasonable and respected members of EAZ such as Professor Felix Masiye and Herryman Moono, who both wrote excellent public commentaries that repudiated his leadership of the association and sharply exposed his naivety and the unrepresentativeness of his views on subjects like debt restructuring. One hopes that EAZ members, embarrassed by his repeated claims to speak for them in a professional capacity and seeing through his plans to have the association declared a statutory body (which would make it much more susceptible to capture and control by the government), will vote him out of office should he make the terrible mistake of re-contesting his position at the next election.
The Supreme Court:
What exactly is the point of the Supreme Court? Despite what the name might suggest, the creation of the Constitutional Court and the Court of Appeal means that many cases are judged on their constitutional foundations, leaving the Supreme Court judges with very little to do. In this context of a relatively free schedule, it was perhaps unsurprising that in 2018 the Supreme Court judges decided to make work for themselves by bringing contempt of court charges against a man of God, a civic activist and a newspaper editor, all of who had queried their judgement in one of the few appeal cases that ended up before the court. Evidently, the judges were at loose ends, occasionally disparaging the accused and their lawyers in a language that was laced with emotion and threats. The three accused were found guilty. In an infamous judgement that is likely to scar Zambia’s jurisprudence for a very long time to come and to dissuade many from criticising the actions of the judiciary, the activist was sentenced to six years imprisonment, the editor was handed 18 months in jail after rendering an apology, while the fate of the man of God, who also apologised, is not yet known. The most ironic part of the contempt judgement is that it is one that many people would ordinarily expect a lower court to make before the Supreme Court overturns it. Since the case was initiated before the Supreme Court by the Supreme Court for the Supreme Court, the convicted have no recourse to appeal. If the Supreme Court judges, by both instituting contempt proceedings against their critics and meting out harsher sentences, sought to encourage respect for the judiciary, they may have succeeded in achieving the opposite. Until the Gregory Chifire contempt case, many Zambians, most of whom generally view the judiciary in unflattering terms, retained some degree of respect for the Supreme Court. In the wake of that case, many people appear to have lost that residue of respect.
The conduct of Deputy Chief Justice Marvin Mwanamwambwa in 2018 also did nothing for the reputation of the Supreme Court. In August 2018, an ordinary citizen wrote a letter to the Chief Justice, seeking the investigation and possible initiation of contempt charges against opposition United Party for national Development leader Hakainde Hichilema for the unfavourable comments that he made against the three named judges of the Constitutional Court (ConCourt). Although the letter was written outside the context of any judicial process, Mwanamwambwa, in his capacity as Acting Chief Justice, decided to offer an extraordinary response. This Hichilema matter, he stated, ‘does not need an inquiry because the evidence…in the form of a report of utterances by the named culprit, is already there’. What was needed, by implication, was simply a conviction and deciding the length of the jail sentence. Mwanamwambwa expressed astonishment that the ConCourt, ‘for unexplained reasons, did not charge the culprit with contempt of court’, before adding that the ‘Supreme Court does not tolerate attacks and insults on it. As of now, there are a number of persons facing charges of contempt before it, for attacking and insulting it’. As well as offering free legal advise to the bench when commenting on matters that are not before court, Professor Muna Ndulo correctly rebuked Mwanamwambwa for not only making a finding of fact but also giving a verdict without due process of the law. The disgraceful conduct of judge Mwanamwambwa in the cited case does little to engender public confidence in the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, which many Zambians now feel is an unnecessary drain on the public purse. Many of the justices of the Supreme Court are elderly and should be thinking about their legacy rather than embarrassing themselves with conduct that violates well-established judicial ethics.
In 2018, the ConCourt shred any pretence at independence from the executive arm of government. It declined to address itself to President Lungu’s threats on it and, as if mindful of his warning that an unfavourable verdict would be met with chaos, ruled unanimously in favour of Lungu’s eligibility to stand for a further term in office. The judges appeared to have struggled to find a way to rule in favour of Lungu so they decided to apply current constitutional provisions retrospectively back to 2015. By planting into earlier time a law that did not exist then, the ConCourt effectively usurped the power of Parliament for the purpose of benefitting an individual: one Edgar Chagwa Lungu. It is no wonder that many Zambians now regard the court as a body that is entirely at the service of the executive and will not check its power in any meaningful way. The Constitutional Court already enjoyed a poor public reputation but it managed to surpass itself in 2018 with its judgement on Lungu’s third term case. Many Zambians now regard the court as surely having sunk so low that it can only rise.
Law Association of Zambia:
In 2018, the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) changed overnight from being a defender of the rule of law to being a shameless apologist for the government. Attentive readers of Zambia’s news would have noticed the association’s regrettable and disgraceful absence from many stories concerning the abuse of freedoms we enjoy and the abuses of power by the government. Previously, under the leadership of Linda Kasonde, whose term of office ended in April 2018, LAZ was at the forefront of defending citizens from the excesses of the executive. The association further exerted every effort to fulfil its legal mandate of defending the rule of law, constitutionalism, social justice and democratic principles. A forthright statement from LAZ almost always accompanied any story on the government’s clampdown on civil liberties, constitutional breaches by the executive, or abuse of power. Now, LAZ is at the forefront of defending the government from the defenceless citizens. A change of leadership in the organisation that saw one or two PF supporters assume senior positions on the body has left it a creature of the executive arm of government and dominated by members interested in their personal advancement. The absolute disdain that the new LAZ executive has for civil liberties was revealed most fully when the Supreme Court sentenced anti-corruption activist Gregory Chifire to six years in prison for contempt of court. Rather than questioning one of the country’s most bizarre rulings ever, however, LAZ leapt to praise it. “The sentence sends a message that Zambians must not engage in unwarranted attacks that tarnish the image of the judiciary,” it said. Astonishingly, during that case, Supreme Court judges attacked the defence counsel as naïve and inexperienced. LAZ declined to come to the defence of their own members. If the association would not defend their own members, then what hope is there for ordinary citizens or the rest of the country? Without an effective and independent LAZ, Zambians have lost a great defender of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Who does Professor Nkandu Luo listen to? Where exactly does her pride as Minister of Higher Education lie? In 2018, Professor Luo appeared so committed to wrongdoing in the execution of her ministerial responsibilities that one would be forgiven for thinking that she was doing it as a matter of principle. She attacked and consistently undermined the interests of the very constituencies that she is supposed to serve: university students, lecturers and other key stakeholders in higher education. Hardly did Luo speak in defence of her members. When a female student at the University of Zambia (UNZA) died at the hands of police brutality, Luo remained mute and was understandably booed by students when she visited the funeral house. When Copperbelt students demanded to know when the government would pay their meal allowances, Luo threatened to withdraw and abolish their stipends. In a meeting with UNZA management and union representatives of lecturers called to identify the causes of the manifold challenges that beset the university, Luo is said to have blamed everyone in attendance except herself. Whenever she spoke, it was either to issue threats of one kind or another to the noted communities, or to draw attention to her educational accomplishments. ‘Do you know that I am a Professor of so and so… and was the first female Zambian to attain this rare feat in this field?’, she would often say. What is it with self-importance and people educated in Russia? (Remember one Lubinda Haabazoka?) Is it insecurity of some kind, or something else? It would appear that Luo has to constantly remind people that she is a Professor because she realises that her actions, words and demeanour constantly suggest something far more lowly.
At a time when the provision of higher education in Zambia requires effective leadership and a community of efforts if it is to be restored to its glorious past, Luo has used her position as minister to almost singularly destroy the university and ministry. Such is her faith in her own ideas, however perverted and wrong, and her genuine lack of understanding of what exactly explains UNZA’s painful decline that she thinks the best solution is to turn the institution into various colleges. The tragedy is that she seems completely unaware of the scale of destruction that her actions are causing the education system. If President Lungu really cared about the position of higher education or listened to the views of others, he would have removed Luo from the Ministry of Higher Education long ago. In 2018, she seemed determined, in particular, to weaken and destroy the University of Zambia, perhaps in punishment for their terrible mistakes of having completely failed or excluded her when she was an undergraduate student there (before she later secured a scholarship to Russia thanks to her family’s political connections) and having made her a professor. One hopes that UNZA has learnt from its mistake and will henceforth examine prospective candidates more carefully before conferring professorship on them. In 2019, I sincerely hope that Professor Luo develops a predilection for consultation, consensus-building, communication, co-operation and active listening.
A year ago, in January 2018, Mwanza, the former spokesperson of the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) and a hitherto respectable voice of reason in Zambia’s opposition movements, ditched the FDD to join the governing Patriotic Front, where he was immediately appointed deputy media director. Within a short time, Mwanza changed round so quickly that the sweet and inspiring words that previously used to come out of his mouth in 2018 came out of his rear end and created such a terrible stench that it is astonishing he could not get it! How a person with an active conscience could make such a drastic U-turn and remain at peace with themselves, only Antonio Mwanza can tell. What would Antonio Mwanza’s former self think of him now?
On trivial matters or subjects, the Minister of Religious Affairs and National Guidance never lost her voice and made all the needless headlines in 2018. On learning that South African dancer Zodwa wa Bantu, famed for her choice to perform without underwear, had arrived in Zambia to showcase her talent, Sumaili ordered her deportation on grounds that since the country is a Christian nation, the artist’s actions, if allowed, would corrupt public morals. In so doing, she conflated an artist’s right to perform in Zambia with the right to perform in ways that the government (thinking on our behalf, we little children!) approves. I see here that we are all Christians because Zambia has this declaration and that the government is the custodian of our personal moralities. There are fundamental questions here about how backward and child-like the kind of retarded Christian theology colonialism bequeathed us (designed to wean us away from everything we were, including a people that were not terrorised by nudity by the way!) and its continuing hold on our “collective national psyche”. If we are so terrorised by the nudity of a woman, what are the chances of imagining a society free from such terror? Zero. In this day and age, when technology in fact makes it impossible for any government to control what people see, hear or say, would it not have been better for individuals to decide for themselves whether they wanted to see the show or not? And if indeed we are a devout Christian country, should the show not have collapsed by itself because no one or very few people would have volunteered to go and see this woman? This may be unpopular, but time must come soon when we must ask difficult questions about the impact of Christianity on the native mind in us, and how to grow beyond this. Sumaili’s disappointment arose from the fact that while she was quick to make herself heard on trivial subjects, the minister, throughout 2018, fell so silent on more important subjects such as the grand theft of public resources that many Zambians got genuinely concerned that her conscience may also have been stolen.
Later in 2018, when campaigning for a Patriotic Front candidate in Mangango parliamentary by-election, Sumaili blasphemously urged voters to support the ruling party because such was its appeal that even Jesus Christ Himself had (perhaps after many years of hesitation) finally entered the boat and was now a dedicated cadre of the PF. What the Reverend minister did not mention was that in the extremely likely event that boat capsized, Jesus would easily escape from it because He is famous for walking on water. The problem is that the rest of the passengers, including those she successfully invited to join the boat (since the PF candidate went on to win the election), are likely to drown since they possess no such skills.
Presidential aides Amos Chanda and Kaiser Zulu:
No Zambian voter elected presidential aides Amos Chanda (Lungu’s spokesperson) or Kaiser Zulu (Lungu’s political advisor). Nor did any voter have the opportunity to do so. Both of these men are in their positions because they were appointed by the President but frequently mistake themselves for the President himself. To listen to Chanda speak in 2018, one would be forgiven for thinking that they were listening to a pronouncement from the President, not someone speaking on his behalf. And I don’t mean this as a compliment. Zulu, on the other hand, shuns publicity but his actions in the background, of pressuring and threatening individuals he deems lesser than him, make it appear that he thinks he has the power of the President. Arguably a ruffian with a penchant for violence, Zulu embodies the worst of Lungu’s presidency; it is as if making headlines for all the wrong reasons is a fundamental element of his official job description. That Lungu has allowed him to last in his position this far is both incriminating and enlightening. The two presidential aides command little public respect. This was not always the case. At one time, under founding president Kenneth Kaunda, for instance, presidential aides, like permanent secretaries of ministries, were acknowledged and widely respected technocrats or experts in their fields, having spent many years building up the relevant competences in the civil service. Chanda and Zulu lack such a background. It is more common now for aides and permanent secretaries (think Edward Chomba, the charlatan at the Ministry of Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection who blatantly lied about his record of higher education!) to be appointed from amongst the ranks of lumpens, uneducated sycophants, the least-informed and most self-serving party cadres. It is a great disservice to Zambia that our competent experts are ignored and politically connected mediocrities are promoted in their place. Ha, this world!
Other individuals who hugely disappointed in 2018 and deserve an inglorious mention include Miles Sampa (what wrong didn’t the Lusaka Mayor commit last year?) and Dora Siliya (what lie didn’t the Minister of Information tell last year?). Others are Isaac Mwanza and Andrew Ntewewe, both from the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), who abandoned any pretence of civil society credibility to become boisterous supporters of the ruling elites. In fact, ever since Mwanza and Ntewewe were linked to the mismanagement of donor funds meant for the 2016 elections (how did the investigations into that case end?), they appear to have taken a studied disinterest in expressing any outrage against corruption, human rights violation, democratic backslides and other matters that adversely affect the executive branch of government.