from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – ZAMBIA is swerving towards the edge of the precipice as animosity between the two most powerful politicians worsens and the infighting within the main opposition escalates.
The recent controversial elections held in Zimbabwe, which have triggered a diplomatic spat between the two neighbouring countries, is also aggravating the situation in Zambia.
The upheavals dent the Southern African country’s image as a beacon of democracy in Africa, as the nation also slides deeper into a dictatorship.
At the centre of the crisis is current Zambian President, Hakainde Hichilema, and his predecessor, Edgar Lungu (and his family), as well as their respective parties, the Patriotic Front (PF) and the ruling United Party for National Development (UPND).
Hichilema has accused the opposition of plotting a “coup.”
Things took a dramatic twist this week as Lungu approached the High Court to review the decision by the Department of Immigration to stop him from travelling to South Korea, for what his party says is a peace conference.
He was informed at the airport that his trip had been cancelled.
Government spokesperson, Chushi Kasanda, has told the media the ex-president was barred from travelling because he did not seek clearance from the cabinet.
This is the second time in as many weeks that the former head of state has been barred from travelling, after PF revealed he had been stopped to seek medical treatment in South Africa. This is provided for under the Former President’s Benefits Act (1998).
Yet, he was in Zimbabwe for the inauguration of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
His attendance reportedly did not go down well with Hichilema’s government after a fallout between the two countries in the aftermath of the controversial election south of the Zambezi.
The developments also come days after Lungu’s wife, the former first lady Esther Lungu, was arrested and slapped with a number of charges including vehicle theft, as well as the arrest of other opposition figures, including on charges of “insulting” the president.
Hichilema’s government has denied claims of targeting Lungu or his family.
“Government is not pursuing any family but pursuing to provide leadership for the people of Zambia,” Thabo Kawana, government spokesperson, said.
PF has condemned the restrictions on the former president.
“(The) Government actions to stop former President Lungu from traveling to Seoul, South Korea were illegal and immoral,” said Chishimba Kambwili, PF Central Committee member.
He described the actions as “unfortunate.”
The PF senior official also denounced the action by police to disrupt a church service where Mr and Mrs Lungu had been invited as special guests, in the third-largest city of Ndola, earlier in September.
Kambwili also alleged plans by the government to arrest senior members of the opposition for granting interviews to the Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) in a move increasingly exposin Hichilema as a dictator.
The Zimbabwean government-controlled broadcaster has offered politicians a platform to express their views regarding Hichilema’s controversial Southern African Development Community (SADC) Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM) envoy, Nevers Mumba, former Zambian vice president, who they have branded as a puppet of the West after a Zambian-led observer mission rejected the conduct of Zimbabwe’s August elections.
Harry Kalaba, President of the smaller opposition, Citizens First, also waded into the restriction of Lungu from travelling.
He condemned this as “the highest level of abuse of power” by the executive.
“Such acts are totally unacceptable and do not reflect the freedom and privileges due to one in the position of a former Republican President which President Hakainde himself will soon be around about this time in 2026,” Kalaba said.
The next general poll in Zambia is due that year.
Hichilema defeated Lungu at the last elections in 2021.
PF, after losing power, has been experiencing some factional fights.
This is amid a race to elect Lungu’s successor as the head of the party.
The former ruling party also faces deregistration from authorities for failure to meet some requirements.
Unconfirmed reports indicate Lungu is considering a return to active politics and is eager to reclaim his position as PF leader.
This has fuelled internal divisions.
Last week, a faction of the party, fronted by presidential aspirant Miles Sampa, stormed the PF party secretariat, in opposition of the continued grip on the organisation by the interim executive, led by Given Lubinda.
Property was destroyed during the skirmishes.
Police are investigating the issue after PF opened a case against Sampa, who has previously been suspended from the party.
“It must be made very clear that these illegalities and lawlessness displayed will not be allowed and the party leadership will take punitive action,” said Emmanuel Mwamba, PF Chairperson for Information and Publicity.
While PF maintains that Lungu is victimised, UPND claims the abuse is the other way round, alleging machinations to demonise Hichilema as well as his administration.
The ruling party accuses PF of discrediting the UPND-led government in foreign countries.
UPND members this week marched to the party’s secretariat to show solidarity with Hichilema, who they say has been “insulted.”
“We shall move in to protect our president because their intentions are dangerous,” said Obvious Mwaliteta, UPND chairperson for the capital, Lusaka Province.
He added Hichilema has admonished violence, “but that should not be taken for granted.”
Mwaliteta also accused the opposition of a ploy to rupture ties with Zimbabwe.
Zambia is credited with spearheading the liberation of fellow Southern African countries, but relations with Zimbabwe can be tetchy.
That is because, at times deemed a bully, Harare always butts heads with countries it feels are interfering with its domestic issues.
“It is unfortunate that the opposition in Zambia is attempting to damage the longstanding relationship that exists between Zambia and Zimbabwe,” Mwaliteta said.
Paramount Chief Mpezeni, of the Ngoni people, has appealed for advisors of Hichilema and Lungu to enhance cordial relations between the pair.
Like many, the traditional leader is accurate in saying the priority must be to resolve the economic problems bedeviling Zambia.
Last week, police arrested 27 people after massive looting of the staple maize after two shop owners were murdered in mob justice.
There were even reports that police were among the looters.
Rae Hamoonga, police spokesperson, denied the involvement of police officers..
“We would like to appeal to members of the public to remain calm as police are carrying out these operations so that law and order can reign supreme in the district,” he added.
– CAJ News