from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – HOPES for the revival of democracy in Zambia, following the election of former opposition leader, Haikande Hichilema, have relapsed into despair.
Indications are that his new administration is entrenching the same dictatorship he vowed to quash.
The arrest of the leader of the main opposition party, who is Hichilema’s potential rival in the next election, detention of soldiers for alleged revolt as well as the venom spewed by the ruling party on Hichilema’s predecessor, Edgar Lungu, further exacerbate fears of autocracy deepening.
These incidents are the latest in a series of occurrences that have reignited tensions in a nation whose status as a beacon of peace in Southern Africa is fading, after inter-party turmoil in recent years with Lungu at the helm with an iron fist.
Elections held in August 2021 were marred by deadly violence but the victory of businessman Hichilema, himself a victim of the repressive regime of ex-defence minister Lungu, was welcomed as a breath of fresh air.
Then, ties with some Western countries and the donor community had hit rock bottom.
Human rights violations escalated under Lungu’s administration.
In 2017, Hichilema spent five months in prison on treason charges.
His election was a fairytale.
After losing five presidential contests previously and thrown into detention after the last contest that Lungu disputably won narrowly in 2016, he seemed down and out.
It was sixth-time lucky in 2021 when Hichilema secured victory.
On his inauguration last August, he pledged to unite the nation polarised under the leadership of Lungu (2015-2021) and promised the crackdown against corruption would be apolitical.
Those pledges are distant memories.
It has been a dramatic and tragic month in the copper-rich country of more than 19 million people.
Earlier this week, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) arrested and charged Acting Patriotic Front (PF) president Given Lubinda, on five counts of “being in possession of property reasonably suspected to be proceeds of crime.”
This relates to a house, US$100 000, third relating to $50 000 and another relating to $80 000 among others found in different bank accounts.
Lubinda, a favourite to eventually succeed Lungu as party leader and in future stand against Hichilema is out on bail.
Jonas Zimba, argued charges against his client are politically-motivated.
His is the latest in a series of arrests of officials from PF, the former ruling party in Zambia.
Some suspected United Party for National Development (UPND) cadres are accused of storming ACC premises in the capital Lusaka and attacking PF women present to express solidarity with Lubinda.
Journalists stationed at the premises to interview him fled.
Davies Mwila, a former PF secretary general, denounced the government’s anti-graft drive as retribution.
“They lied that we have stolen,” he told the media.
“It’s seven months yet they have failed to prove anything,” Mwila argued.
Some PF members, at times their spouses have been arrested during the anti-corruption crusade critics argue is aimed at stifling the opposition.
In February, police arrested Nancy Lusambo, wife of Kabushi Member of Parliament, Bowman Lusambo on charges of “concealing properties suspected to be proceeds of crime.”
Her husband was arrested at the beginning of the year for alleged corruption.
In January, police arrested PF Central Committee member, Raphael Nakachinda, for “defamation of the president” after alleging foreign entrepreneurs linked to Hichilema intended to evict some residents to make way for a mall.
He was arrested on similar charges of “insulting” Hichilema at the end of last year.
Bowman Lusambo has faced similar charges.
Former Foreign Affairs minister, Joseph Malanji, has been slapped with corruption charges.
Amos Chanda, Lungu’s former aide, was in November last year arrested for “obstructing and insulting” anti-corruption officers planning a search in his property.
The death of the fourth president, Rupiah Banda, on March 11, from colorectal cancer, has revived the antagonism between the governing United Party for National Development (UPND) and Lungu’s Patriotic Front.
He led Zambia from 2008 to 2011.
At Banda’s burial, Lungu accused Zambian politicians of “hypocrisy” by harassing former presidents as they exited power but glorifying them when they passed away.
It was interpreted to be a reflection of the current state of affairs whereby he is accused by the current administration of presiding over a corrupt administration.
Some in the government are agitating for Lungu to be stripped of immunity from prosecution.
In 2013, corruption-accused but later-cleared Banda was the second to suffer the ignominy after Frederick Chiluba.
Critics have hit back strongly at Lungu.
University lecturer, Mark Simuuwe, recalled under Lungu, Hichilema spent time in prison, as mentioned above, police tear-gassed the then-opposition leader, used live ammunition against critics and ethnic tensions were at peak.
“Otherwise, considering ECL’s (Edgar Changwa Lungus’s) style of leadership makes one conclude that ECL belongs to ICC (International Criminal Court) and jail!” Simuuwe said.
Percy Chanda, PF National Management Committee member, also lashed at the former president.
“We find the utterances of ‘hypocrites’ from Mr Lungu as a direct provocation to the Zambian people who are adapting a new life under the New Dawn administration,” Changa charged.
On Tuesday, PF lamented the alleged detention of more than 100 soldiers for mutiny after demanding allowances for peace keeping assignments.
Harry Kalaba, the opposition Democratic Party president and former Foreign Affairs minister, urged the government to pay the aggrieved military personnel.
“You promised Mr President. Why detain them?” Kalaba, fired from PF in 2021, asked.
Zambia suffered a brief military coup in 1990 when Lieutenant Mwamba Luchembe announced the ousting of then president Kenneth Kaunda (now late) after anti-government riots that left more than 20 people dead and 100 wounded.
– CAJ News