Democracy In Zambia ‘Under Siege’, Opposition Claims

Lusaka, February 13, 2013 – ZAMBIA is under siege from Michael Sata, its president, according to civil society and opposition leaders who gathered in Johannesburg on Tuesday to alert the world to the “death of democracy” in the Southern African nation.

The Coalition for the Defence of Democratic Rights, comprising leaders of Zambian civil society organisations and opposition political parties, urged the Commonwealth to appoint an envoy to undertake an independent investigation.

The meeting in Johannesburg came after the coalition last month filed a petition to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. The 40-page document presented evidence of “serious and persistent” violations of the Harare Declaration, which sets out the core principles and values of the Commonwealth.

Among those who endorsed the petition were Nevers Mumba, president of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD); Hakainde Hichilema, president of the United Party for National Development; Edwin Sakala, president of the Zambia Direct Democracy Movement; Sakwiba Sikota, leader of the United Liberal Party; and former Zambian president Rupiah Banda.

The opposition has accused Mr Sata of being a “dictator” and urged the international community to defend democracy.

“If there were respect for human rights in Zambia, we would not be here,” Mr Mumba said in Johannesburg on Tuesday. “We are here today because the signs on the ground are similar to those in Uganda under Idi Amin. We have refused to reverse the gains of independence and we are here to tell the international community.”

Opposition leaders, flanked by their lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, said Mr Sata had no respect for the rule of law and his leadership had increasingly degenerated into a brutal dictatorship.

“The situation in Zambia has reached crisis levels,” Mr Amsterdam said. “We are here in Johannesburg as shamefully this event can’t happen in Zambia.”

Zambia’s Public Order Act prohibits any meeting in a public place and any meeting (whether or not in a building) that the public or any section thereof are permitted to attend, whether on payment or otherwise.

“This government has behaved in a criminal fashion, and average Zambia citizens are suffering greatly from its destructive and selfish policies,” Mr Mumba said.

The civil society and opposition leaders are considering legal steps to ensure that what they call the Zambian government’s attack on freedom of expression and assembly is brought to the attention of the global community.

“If you objectively look at the pattern of abuses committed by this government, not just against the opposition parties but also against civil society and business competitors of the allies, it is difficult not to conclude that we are on the road back towards the one-party state,” said Mr Hichilema.

Economic downturn

The opposition leaders also accused Zambia’s ruling Patriotic Front (PF) of “Zambianising” the economy by adopting socialist policies that were detrimental to business and that went against the dictates of the global economy.

They said investors were growing increasingly wary of Zambia’s economic policies.

Last year, the country sought to boost economic growth to lower a 14% jobless rate and cut poverty, but the opposition believes no progress will be made under Mr Sata’s policies.

Mr Sata came to power on the back of heavy campaigning for the nationalisation of state-controlled companies.

Last year, Mr Sata’s government reversed the sales of telecommunications company Zamtel, which had been bought by a Libyan company, and of Finance Bank, which had been due to be sold to South Africa’s FirstRand.

Concerns regarding interference in the judiciary were also raised recently when Mr Sata fired three senior judges for allegedly being corrupt after they issued a judgment against allies of the president. The sacking was subsequently stayed by the high court.

The MMD, which lost power to Mr Sata’s PF, said the current leadership was detrimental to Zambia’s growth.

“We live in a global community; the current government has socialist policies,” Mr Mumba said. “The MMD had sound capitalist economic policies that created jobs. Since coming to power, the PF is Zambianising the economy. It has taken over international companies and deported CEOs. The business community is not feeling safe under the socialist policies.”

The MMD had an impressive economic track record during its time in power. Zambia maintained single-digit inflation, grew foreign direct investment and enjoyed gross domestic product growth of 6%-7%.

“Read what Sata has done. He has been handing assets to friends. We are saying to the world, ‘Just take off your glasses and have a clear look at Zambia.’ Business should lobby the regime,” added Mr Amsterdam.BDLive