By Isaac Mwanza
THE month of May closed with a somehow petty squabble between two Catholic priests and leaders of the ruling UPND party. The fight was about who fits in the shoe size of “liar, joker or Lucifer, the Devil!”
The fight wouldn’t be described as against the Catholic Church as a whole but one which the UPND restricted to named priests. The Church has a clear channel of communicating its common position. As the oldest church, the Catholic Church stands distinct from some Pentecostal groupings.
Among ba Pente, a pastor’s word is alleged to represent the collective stance of a church. Some pastors even claim that the whispers they hear, the imaginations they visualise and the trances they dream are sacredly transmitted to them by the Almighty, when in fact not.
This bitter exchange between the priests and the UPND exposed three real issues: use or abuse of communication platforms, tolerance levels in Zambia, and the centres of power or authority.
To understand this, let’s journey back to two decades ago. The year is 2004, in January. Levy Patrick Mwanawasa is the Third President of the Republic.
Roy Clarke, popularly known as Kalaki and veteran journalist of British origin, is deported from Zambia. His only crime was his satirical article published by the Post Newspaper of 1 January, 2004 titled MFUWE.
Kalaki, in his satire, made subtle reference to Mwanawasa and some government leaders as Muwelewele, long legged giraffe, red-lipped, long fingered baboons and knocking knees.
Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Peter Mumba, in his usual overzealousness, claimed Kalaki had insulted the President and his two ministers. Mr. Mumba had said the article went beyond satire and comic.
Our learned Supreme Court judges agreed that the article was an overstretched satire, irritating and offending. The Judges reaffirmed that freedom of expression was not limitless. We will come back to this case later.
Let us come back to the present. The year is now 2023, Hakainde Hichilema is the Seventh President of the Republic.
Catholic Priest Fr. Anthony Sangaleta has come under fire when, in apparent reference to President Hichilema, said politicians were liars sometimes.
These priestly remarks followed a press conference by President Hakainde Hichilema who took some time explaining Zambia’s GDP growth since 1973.
These remarks by a Catholic Father did not sit well with Republican President Hakainde Hichilema who described the Priest as a joker.
Not to be outdone, Archbishop of Lusaka, Alick Banda, during the ADL Annual Youth Pilgrimage at the Marian Shrine, asked people to decide who was the real joker between a priest and a liar.
The UPND leadership then strongly and unsparingly, hit back with a statement written in crude language, describing the Archbishop of Lusaka in no uncertain terms: the Lucifer of Zambia.
“Mr. Banda is the Lucifer of Zambia who wants to take advantage of citizens by promoting the PF who gassed citizens, promoted bloodshed, divided the country, subjected citizens to terrorism, stole public funds, closed media houses, among other evils,” said UPND Secretary General Batuke Imenda.
This fight exemplifies the many centres of powers and authority that have existed in Zambia for far too long.
Power is an entity or individual’s ability to control or direct others while authority is influence that is predicated on perceived legitimacy.
When properly managed, these centres of power or authority can increase the amount of pleasure over pain and happiness over unhappiness among Zambians.
The positions held by traditional and religious leaders are probably the most ancient and basic among these centres of powers. Yet, this power has no real source except privilege.
In our new belief system, religious leaders are “anointed” by some supernatural and invisible being. Africa continues to witness the rise in the number of men and women who self-declare to have anointment from God.
These men and women of the cloth have far-reaching influence among a mass impoverished African people, who tell us that poverty is a friend of God.
Religion has become a tool of the kleptocracy, which is keeping us the poor in our place by encouraging our sense of powerlessness; our belief that we will only have our rewards in heaven.
Our brothers and sister now believe that we will be rescued not by the sweat of our striving, but by divine intervention. The new evangelism is churning out many more believers on our continent than anywhere else.
It is encouraging a belief that a more just and more equal society would be a product of ‘Immaculate Conception’, rather than of hard work. God knows I am not an enemy of religion, just the prevailing kind that says what it is.
Kenya is today grappling with horrific scenes of over 250 citizens who died at the hands of religious leaders; these are children, men, and women sacrificed or forced to give up their lives by “the anointed”, as a way to enter heaven.
On the other hand, democracy has given rise to political power. The hallmark in the exercise of this power is the ability to control the behaviour of people through laws and their enforcement.
In a constitutional democracy like ours, political power is the only power derived directly from the people, and it is expressed in the Constitution as a grand norm. Political power vests in the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary.
Civil society is a new centre of authority in real democracies. In particular, the influence of the media and its pen can either contribute towards national building and national unity or the opposite.
This author has always believed that there must be one supreme centre of power, which should lie in the hands of the ruling party at any one particular time. The other centres must be allowed to exist but cannot claim equal power, let alone supremacy.
These other centres exist to provide “checks and balances” to the supreme power. These checks and balances can be ignored or taken on board by the supreme power as a matter of choice, as it is common cause that advice cannot be forced upon anyone.
Having so many centres of power, authority and decision making can only be a recipe for disorder, making the country ungovernable.
As Zambians, we must guard against that cancer of democracy which grows out of allowing the power of majority exercised through an elected leadership while denying the rights of the minority the unfettered enjoyment of their right to call power to account.
Currently, President Hakainde Hichilema is at the helm of an elected government which constitute the supreme centre of power.
That does not mean, though, that our political leaders are beyond criticism in the exercise of political power. Elected leaders ought to be sensitive to the views of all constituencies.
Political leaders should be tolerant of the views of the other centres of power especially when such views disagree with their own or when these other centres of power criticize them.
With regards to the case of Kalaki, the Court took a unanimous, bold and unequivocal position, that freedom of expression must be protected at all costs and that leaders in public office must be prepared, to suffer and be tolerant, of criticism.
“No one disputes the importance of freedom of expression in a democratic society. Indeed, the Constitution itself has enshrined the freedom of expression in article 20.
And in this judgment, we re-affirm what we have said in the previous cases, that freedom of expression is one of the strong attributes of a democratic society and that to the extent permitted by the Constitution itself, freedom of expression must be protected at all costs and that those who hold public offices must be prepared, to suffer, and be tolerant, of criticism,” stated the Supreme Court.
President Hichilema started off his Presidency on a good note in promoting tolerance and democratic governance. He needs encouragement to pause at times, reflect and continue pursuing that path.
President Hichilema still has the best chance of leaving this country better than he found it.
It is truth though that since independence, political leaders have used power to punish those who criticize them.
One can safely assume that after the end of the slavery period, the devil moved from the American plantation to reside in Africa.
Since then, almost all of our traditional, religious and political leaders have gone to bed with the devil.
In Zambian traditional society, a subject would be banished from the village for criticizing a village headman, with the words that such a subject was being banished so that he or she would be free to hold their contrary views without disrupting good order and governance in the community from which they are banished.
It is also interesting to observe that even men of the cloth who claim heavenly anointing, when criticised with the same venom with which they criticize others, quickly invoke celestial protection: “touch not the anointed.”
Those with political power can be the most dangerous because of the weight of the power they carry. We recall, from the Bible, that the Devil offered Jesus political power.
Lucifer knew political power could be a tool with which Jesus could command unquestionable submission.
Levy Mwanawasa, a President glorified by many in his death, could not resist the use of political power to, at times, oppress and silence his critics, as I shall show in a future article.
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[Published by the Daily Nation, June, 2023]