By Isaac Mwanza
Is it by accident that, all of a sudden, many Zambian Facebookers have discovered they can exercise their freedom of expression; That all they need is a Smart Phone, bundles and their Facebook account to advance this cause? Or have we reached a stage where the partial shutdown of social sectors of our country such as bars, colleges, and universities has taken a toll on everyone for we can no longer do the gigs and concerts?
Is the mudslinging we see from some of these social media bloggers the result of how annoyed we are with the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic but we are too scared to tell China straight to her face because we are not as brave as Donald Trump who has been blunt in terming it the “Chinavirus”?
On Freedom of Expression
The 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, once said about Freedom of Expression: “we have to uphold a free press and freedom of speech…because in the end, lies and misinformation are no match for the truth.” Before Obama, Winston Churchill also said, “everyone is in favour of free speech. Hardly a day passes its being extolled but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage” but it is Raphael K. Nunes who tried to define the limits of freedom of expression when he said:
“The limits of freedom of expression is tautological: it ends at a point where it begins to affect the freedom of expression of others.”
In the exercise of freedom of expression being promoted by social media, Zambian bloggers ought to reflect on the caution the Republican President, His Excellency, Dr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu made to journalists on November 8, 2019 during his rare media interaction, when he said:
“Criticism is healthy in a democracy …The media can build or destroy a nation, therefore, let me urge you not to be swayed by the political shenanigans of the outside world as you do your professional work. I, therefore, urge you not to be crusaders of conflict between political players but to provide a forum for public discourse and compromise.”
These words still apply to those who have discovered the new power of freedom of expression that social media offers them. The question then is whether many of these users of live streaming facilities on social media are, indeed, providing a forum for public discourse and compromise or they are just crusaders of conflict between political players.
Some of our colleagues conducting live streaming on Facebook, all in the name of exercising their right to freedom of expression, are unfortunately doing so in disregard of constitutional freedoms and rights of others or the need to exercise restraint reasonably required by the Constitution of Zambia for purposes of protecting the reputations, rights and freedoms of other persons or the private lives of persons or preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence.
At the rate we moving, it’s easier to predict that soon, our country will be seized with civil litigation in which many people will be dragged to court for various libel and defamation cases. The only consolation for those who may be dragged to court is that a known civil society organisation has donor funding for use in providing legal services to libellous characters or defamers who issue defamatory remarks that support causes for which those funds were made available by the donor.
Free Expression and anti-Chinese sentiment
Let us first be clear: that there is no excuse for any foreign national – whether investor or just a mere businessman or woman or a mere tourist or visitor – to mistreat Zambians either for the colour of their skin or simply because our people need those jobs to earn a living. Equally, there is no excuse for any of us to become xenophobic against foreign nationals, especially the Chinese all because some of them are engaged in unlawful labour practices that humiliate the dignity of our people.
Article 15 of our Constitution protects all persons, both citizens and non-citizens from inhuman treatment. The Article reads:
“No person shall be subjected to torture, or to inhuman or degrading punishment or other like treatment,”
In a nutshell, Zambians and foreign nationals need each other and must co-exist but, most importantly, Government has a solemn duty to protect all persons – Zambian citizens and foreign nationals – from inhuman or degrading treatment.
In carrying out this obligation to Zambians, Government agencies responsible for labour and immigration must work together with the Chinese to improve the environment in which our labour force is working.
But further, in exercise of our freedom of expression, social media bloggers must remember to remain mature and solution-oriented.
There are some live streaming broadcasters on Facebook who have literally forgotten the demands of our African culture and Biblical teachings of treating persons with the courtesy every human deserve: treat an elderly woman as a mother, an elderly man as a father, a young female as sister or young male as a brother. That demands maturity from all of us.
But we must also be solution-oriented, doers of the word and not just people who speak the loudest because we have a platform on Facebook or other social media platforms to do so.
Facebook Streaming without solutions?
During the same interaction with the media in November last year, President Lungu made these remarks which are proving true today:
“The coming of social media has meant individual citizens, themselves, passing content that they have no direct role in producing, and without verification. With social media we have seen that the truth is less important and the more exaggerated or inaccurate the communication is, the more it seems to attract readership.”
What should concern many of our youth on social media today is whether the many vocal bloggers who use live streaming on Facebook, are capable of providing solutions beyond the mere rhetoric and criticism. For instance, how many Facebook activists have created even one (1) gainful employment for the next person?
There is one Zambian colleague who is based in the UK; he doesn’t like speaking publicly (not a Facebook streamer) and yet he has invested his money in a radio station and other employment generating projects in his home district, Manyinga. That kind of entrepreneurial spirit is what this country needs because it creates employment for others and uplifts the wellbeing of communities. Silence speaks the loudest when you have results to show for it.
But the author is not blaming those who speak the loudest and yet have done nothing to create even a single job for someone. This has to do with our education system as a country. Our education system – from nursery to universities – teaches us to become employees, instead of employers. We go to school with the hope that someone will employ us and will give us better conditions.
So when someone is crying that the youth want employment and better conditions, it comes from this mentality that society owes our young people jobs, not opportunities to work for themselves and creating jobs for others.
This is what makes the difference between our country and other countries such as China and Germany, where their education has a large component of vocational or skills training, not focused on producing job seekers but entrepreneurs, that is, creators and managers of their own businesses. And those that come out with innovations in China and run their own businesses, get the support of their government through appropriate policy tools and practical measures or finances, to enable them to thrive.
Here in our country, our own Government has set aside K10 billion as bailout or stimulus package for small scale businesses to help them survive. To those who are speaking the loudest on Facebook streaming, I pose the question; what have you done to encourage our people to access these funds?
We also have US$10.3 million in aquaculture funding from the Ministry of Fisheries managed by CEEC and waiting for people to apply for it so that they can go into fish farming. What are our people who are streaming live on Facebook doing to help our youths harness this opportunity?
There is so much talk about gold mining and that the youths demand that Zambians are given the opportunity to mine the gold. This is a good call but you can cut my finger: even when this opportunity is opened up and conditions set for gold mining, it’s only those Zambians that will have capacity who will be beneficiaries, namely, those who will have the ability to borrow money and invest into gold mining.
But if our youths are failing to tap into the already available opportunities of borrowing from the K10 billion stimulus package or $10.3 million aquaculture funding, what will motivate them to enter into gold mining? Zambia also enjoys vast land for farming, how many of our youths feel like venturing into farming?
Youths seem to be waiting for someone to create employment for them and to give them better conditions of service. I long to see a time when those who have now discovered the power of social media to stream live, would utilise that opportunity to challenge our youths to a change of mindset.
Youths must not expect that any one politician – now or tomorrow – will literally create jobs for them and give them better conditions of service; you can also change Government as many times as you want but your fate lies in your own hands. Those telling you that solutions lie in politics or the youth voting in or out anyone are not providing any solution at all.
Youths and adults alike must rise to the occasion and seize the available opportunity to better their lives. But this starts with the streamers themselves.
Responding to social media bloggers
The manner in which Lusaka Province Minister, Bowman Lusambo, responded to some vocal social media bloggers has indeed raised controversy and been condemned by many Zambians. And they are justified in doing so because, for example, B Flow and Kingsley never insulted or disrespected anyone but they aired their views. What then would be the best reaction to social media bloggers?
Let me remind the PF, of the Republican President’s directives on this matter. The President once said this to journalists:
“The question still stands; do our people believe everything they read on social media? If the answer is yes; then we need to find a way of educating them about how to detect lies in the information they come across; if no; then we need to use the same platform to reply to the purveyors of fake news and call their bluff.”
So instead of calling people like B Flow and others who respectfully air their views as if they broke some law or violated some rule, the President says, use the same platform to reply to the purveyors of fake news and call them out or call their bluff. There is no need to issue threats against citizens, such as B-Flow, Kings Malembe and others who are just peaking their mind
Those working with Government need to take the advice by the President seriously: use the same platform to reply to the purveyors of fake news and call their bluff. And if what they say is untrue, challenge them by replying with the facts, not threats.
The author is a governance activist and hold of Bachelor of Laws, with an inclination towards discourse on governance and legal matters