By Maiko Zulu
(PLEASE READ BEFORE YOU COMMENT)
I had a chat with Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa yesterday. He posed a few questions and said something that left me troubled. I asked him for permission to reproduce part of our conversation. Here is part of what he wrote to me during our chat:
“More people have been arrested and jailed for defamation of the president in Hichilema’s first year than were under six years of Lungu. On average, a Zambian is jailed every month for insulting President Hichilema. Take the last 4 months as an example.
In May, Andsen Zulu, a 46-year-old driver of Evelyn Hone College in Lusaka was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for defaming Hichilema.
In July, Danny Kapambwe, 28, and Justine Chimpinde, 19, both unemployed and from Chiengi, were jailed for two years with hard labour for insulting the President on TikTok!
In August, Benson Tembo, a man of God in Chipata, was sent to 15 months imprisonment for calling Hichilema a satanist.
I will not take about the arrests of citizens using the law on defamation of the president because these are a regular staple under the Hichilema presidency. Just the other day, on 1st September, police in Lusaka arrested Lawrence Bwalya Muchinda, an unemployed 35-year old man for alleged defamation of the president. On the same day, police arrested Sean Tembo, a 42-year-old opposition leader, for allegedly insulting the president.
I have two questions.
First, why isn’t this new onslaught on human rights and democracy in Zambia attracting much outrage from the Human Rights Commission, from broad sections of civil society organisations, from international human rights bodies, and from Western diplomats – as the old onslaught did under Lungu? Is there a specific threshold of human rights violations that these actors and institutions are waiting for before they can raise their voice against these continuing attacks on political and civil rights?
Second, how does Hichilema sleep peacefully amidst all these arrests and imprisonments of citizens, for “insulting” and “defaming” him, that are being carried out in his official name? This is a man who, when in opposition, promised to repeal the defamation law immediately he assumes office but he is now presiding over the arrests and jailing of citizens using the same law he criticised and condemned under the PF. What really happens to people after winning power? Repeal of an Act of Parliament only requires a simple majority!
Politicians sometimes behave like they are born from the same mother…open to feedback when in opposition but easily get intoxicated when handed power. Worse, they don’t even learn from those before them and yet they get surprised when voters give them the boot for their arrogance. Their behaviour is similar to that of minibus drivers…very nice to you before you jump on their bus but they will either haul insults on you or be quick to flex their muscle once inside, especially when you remind them of their responsibilities.
The truth is that all these arrests and jailings of Hichilema’s critics are happening because the legal architecture that enabled the authoritarian tendencies of Lungu and previous leaders remains unchanged under Hichilema. We often forget that it is not about the persona or goodness of the President; it is about institutional reforms.
Although it has slightly improved under Hichilema, Zambia’s democratic trajectory remains most concerning. Based on its track record over the last 12 months, the Hichilema administration has shown a lack of willingness to make structural changes to strengthen accountable, democratic governance. As a result, Zambian institutions will remain as susceptible to manipulation as they were under Lungu.”