Monday, May 31, 2010

A Comedy for Donor Appeasement

On July 13 2009, I wrote a blog “Unnatural offences, unnatural thinking!”, contesting the hullaballoo over the Post editor (Chansa Kabwela or something like that. I always get the name wrong). I observed that Kabwela’s being charged with one of the many unnatural offences in our laws is a contradiction of natural thinking. I argued that “it is reflective of unnatural thinking”.

Today, after patiently waiting for comments from our very informed Civil Society Organisations on an event that should have brought this issue back to the human rights discourse in Zambia and indeed, the Media front pages, I am dismayed and yet again forced to revisit what it is that Civil Society Organisations in Zambia affirm to be defending.

I argued many years ago that human rights values or belief systems are internalised, cherished and protected either because of an extreme experience or because of a result of the recognition of the functionality of the value or belief system to an individual. And further that for, the defence of human rights in Zambia, to be effective and contribute to an acceptable politico-socio-economic environment and governance mode, it is important that defenders embody functionality in a much broader sense that citizens can identify with and duly recognise the functionality of human rights. In addition, I vehemently argued that human rights defense should NOT be the observable narrow functionality targeting Donor appeasement, and sustenance of new power structures that often have seen individuals emerge as the new political leaders; or indeed the narrow functionality of human rights as an international academic exercise distant from the impoverished reality of citizens in the developing world.

At least, however, I am glad that MISA Zambia’s Henry Kabwe issued a statement on the matter, though I disagree with his statement that “the move will assist in restoring government's credentials.”

I will come back to this later. First, let us take a walk into memory lane, with only a few examples.

February 11, 2002. Fred M’membe was arrested and charged with defamation of the President Mwanawasa. M’membe was detained at Woodlands Police station and was released on bond when his lawyers sought the intervention of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The police alleged that Fred M’membe and FDD Lusaka Central MP Dipak Patel had defamed the president by calling him a cabbage in an article in the Post Newspaper of January 25.

June 7, 2002. Editor-in-chief Emmanuel Chilekwa, Kingsley Lweendo, Shadreck Banda and Jane Chirwa appeared before a magistrate court for allegedly defaming the President. The quartet was charged with defaming Mwanawasa in a story that appeared in newspaper edition number 17.

None of these cases ended in a conviction, they were discontinued. But, both made headline news and CSO noises to the effect that in the same year Civil Society in Zambia affirmed the need to (and I quote):

“To remove existing media laws that criminalise journalism. Laws relating to Defamation of the President, Publishing False News, Sedition, Espionage are deterrents to investigative journalism. For instance, Section 69 of the penal code, relating to Defamation of the President, has been used to silence dissenting views and criticism of government or key office bearers such as the president. This archaic piece of legislation makes it an offence to defame the President. It remains an offence under this provision for anyone, with intent to bring the reputation of the President into hatred, ridicule or contempt, to publish any defamatory matter, whether in writing, print, word of mouth, or any other form or manner.” (c.f. Political Governance in Zambia- A Civil Society Position, 2002)

Eight years later, we learn that Darius Mukuku was on March 18, sentenced by the Ndola Magistrate's court to eighteen months imprisonment for defamation of the President. Darius Mukuku was on May 25, Africa Freedom day, pardoned by the President of the Republic of Zambia. President Rupiah Banda ordered the Minister of Home Affairs to remit in whole the sentence slapped on Darius by Ndola Magistrate Court on March 18, 2010.

The only Civil Society Organisation to have commented on the issue is MISA-Zambia. MISA-Zambia is reported to have “expressed gratitude to President, Rupiah Banda for pardoning Darius Mukuku who was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for defamation of the president. And that, “MISA Zambia Chairperson, Henry Kabwe says the move will assist in restoring government's credentials.” (

I find it derisory that organisations that seek legitimacy on the basis of there being human rights defenders and or indeed good governance defenders can not acknowledge a milestone on the archaic law of defamation of the president. Irrespective of whether President Rupiah Banda sought political advantage by pardoning Darius Mukuku or whether he did it out of his own good will, the objective fact of the matter is that he pardoned the man who was convicted of defaming the presidency.

Inarguably, this puts the Police in an awkward position relative to enforcement of this law. Notwithstanding the latter, President Rupiah Banda’s act inadvertently provides an opportunity for CSOs to urge/lobby that this law be reviewed or repelled. That CSOs have not ceased this window of opportunity is tragic, and brings into question whose interests they claim to defend.

This act by President Rupiah Banda should further be conceived beyond the narrow purview of “restoring government's credentials”. What credentials are being restored when the Police are about to charge Frank Bwalya with the same archaic law?

In my mind I have no doubt that CSOs’ silence and the narrow purview of the issue, simply evidences the tragic reality that human rights and good governance defense in Zambia is simply a comedy for donor appeasement. The individuals that so claim to be defenders have never internalised the values they so claim to institutionally defend. President Rupiah Banda should be engaged on this archaic law, and not let the issue slide into obscurity as we do with many issues. He has opened the window, and surely I expect CSOs to be clambering through the window all the way to Parliament.

But I guess I am just a dreamer!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Down on memory lane!

If I remember, on July 16, 2002 or there abouts I was one of the NGO types that marched from Northmead to parliament grounds seeking the removal of FJT's immunity. I was then head of mission - research and development at Afronet. We sought the lifting of FJT's because, as Afronet we also had information that included the fact that USD47m from the privatisation of the Roan Antelope Mining Corporation was not accounted for; and that USD20.5m was allegedly paid by the Chiluba government for weapons which never arrived. In his speech to parliament, Mwanawasa simply made known our suspicions.

Further, in our position paper ""Conman without Borders - Ari-Ben Menashe", we did allege that Beni Menashe was paid more than US$6 million for the maize he never delivered. The popularly known as Carlington maize saga.

With hindsight, I am bemused that CSOs (we were called NGOs then), never asked why FJT ended up being charged over a so-called plunder matrix of payments from an intelligence account. Of the 12 counts in the judgement before me, there is not a single mention of millions!

And how did the British have a grandstand seat in the whole saga? Let us think again. There are missing links.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Rethinking 2011

Now they are concluding that Mufumbwe violence is a microcosm of 2011. How inanalytic can we be! By-election events can only be representative of a major election, when you remove the participation of other persons who will be busy seeking their own re-election in over 3000 polling sites. Deploying "tujili jili" cadres to all these sites, will be a feat I seek not to miss.