By Henry Kyambalesa
Our brother President Edgar C. Lungu needs to promptly rescind his decision to deploy defence forces to quell political violence expected to be perpetrated by unruly supporters of citizens vying for elective positions in government ahead of the August 12, 2021 general elections. He should do so for two important reasons.
Firstly, the gallant members of our defence forces are not trained to observe the rights and freedoms of the citizenry guaranteed by the Republican constitution and are, therefore, likely to violate such rights and freedoms. As such, the President will do well to guard himself against being indicted by the International Court of Justice for any atrocities which are likely to be committed by some members of the defence forces.
Secondly, the deployment of our beloved country’s defence forces to deal with domestic issues and matters other than public emergencies and national disasters may not be constitutional. The Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) No. 2 of 2016 stipulates the following as the Constitutional functions of the Defence Forces and the Zambia Police Service:
(2) The Defence Force shall—(a) preserve and defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic; (b) foster harmony and understanding between the Zambia Army, Zambia Air Force, an auxiliary unit and members of society; and (c) cooperate with State organs and State institutions in times of public emergencies and national disasters.
(2) The Zambia Police Service shall—(a) protect life and property; (b) preserve peace and maintain law and order; (c) ensure the security of the people; (d) detect and prevent crime; (e) uphold the Bill of Rights; (f) foster and promote good relationships with the Defence Force, other national security services and members of society; and (g) perform other functions as prescribed.
(1) The President may deploy personnel of the Defence Force outside the Republic.
(2) Where the President deploys personnel of the Defence Force outside the Republic, the President shall, as soon as is reasonably practicable, inform the National Assembly of the deployment. (Note: The National Assembly is currently dissolved.)
There are also less-important reasons why the President needs to rescind his decision to deploy the military to perform non-traditional functions of preserving peace and maintaining law and order. Firstly, the presence of military personnel and cordons on streets is potentially going to worsen voter turn-out because timid voters will most likely avoid criss-crossing military personnel and cordons to go to polling stations.
Secondly, it is going to require a great deal of tact to send the military back to the barracks after the elections, unless it is the President’s intention to stay in power with the help of defence forces in the event that he loses the forthcoming presidential election.
Thirdly, engagement of the military to quell political violence before and during elections is likely to be interpreted by some military officers as an invitation to support the Commander-in-Chief and his political party against their political opponents—a situation which can easily get out of hand and culminate in unimaginable tragedy.
However, the President has unquestionable authority to deploy the Zambia Paramilitary Battalion, an auxiliary unit of the Zambia Police Service, to reinforce the work of the Zambia Police Service in maintaining law and order. There is a good reason why we have the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Defence as separate cabinet-level units of the Executive branch of government.