By - Tobi Idowu
A march towards dictatorship, which has impeded growth and development in Africa years after it got itself out of the shackles of imperialism, is threatening to plunge the people of a Southern African country into despair. Zambians now fear the worst as their President, Edgar Lungu, lusts after more and more power. He desires overreaching absolute power, which is quite capable of beating any form of opposition to pulpy silence. A particular publication has likened Lungu’s insatiable quest for power to that of the late strong man of Zimbabwe, a fellow Southern African country; in fact, the writer suggests Lungu may actually be hoping to fill the shoes of Mugabe so he can at least rule almost forever!
A Circumstantial President
Born Edgar Chagwa Lungu on 11th November, 1956, his rise to the most powerful seat of his country has been a combination of favourable alignment and providential luck. He had begun his political career with the United Party for National Development under the leadership of Anderson Mazoka, but later switched to the Patriotic Front (PF) led by party founder Michael Sata. Lungu would be appointed as a Junior Minister in the Vice-President’s office, after the PF won Zambia’s presidential election in 2011. He was subsequently promoted to Minister of Home Affairs on 9 July 2012, while in 2013, he became Minister of Defence after Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba resigned from his ministerial post.
Between 2013 to 2014, Zambia’s President, Michel Sata suffered from a long term illness, and so Lungu would function as the President in acting capacity. He became a substantial President Lungu in 2014 following the death of President Sata. Lungu would subsequently win the presidency in his own right in 2016 in polls marked by clashes between PF supporters and those of the rival United Party for National Development (UPND).
Power desires more power
A hint of what was to come for Zambians surfaced last year when President Lungu successfully won a right to run again in 2021, in spite of strident oppositions, after the Constitutional Court had ruled his first term did not qualify as a full term. Some critics berated the court ruling, saying Lungu had arm-twisted the judiciary to do his bidding. They referred to his warning that, failure to grant him additional term would “plunge the country into chaos.” Hakainde Hichelema, who heads the United Party for National Development (UPND), described the ruling as effectively opening the way to a third term for Lungu. “For now, we would like to clearly state that no one is entitled to a third term of office as president of this country,” Hichelema said. “This is because when courts fail to protect citizens, (they) have the power to map their own destiny through people power.”
Perhaps, having gone through a very close electoral process for his first (the opposition insist it is his second) term, Lungu has been tampering with Zambian constitution and electoral laws to make the next contest amenable to his whims. Through a proposed constitutional reform, which is underway, Lungu’s powers will be strengthened ahead of elections in 2021. Known as bill number 10, the bill is set to be discussed soon by parliament, where the ruling “Patriotic Front” (PF) holds a majority. If passed as it stands, Bill 10 extends the President’s powers to appoint judges and ministers, allows him to change the electoral map alone and transfers the responsibility for monetary policy from the Central Bank to the government.
A new African ‘strong man’
African sit-tight Presidents are often referred to as strong men; they are so-called due to their no nonsense disregard for their people, and their irritation at any opposition. President Lungu has been signing up for this class of leadership, as his antecedents in office have shown. He has been increasingly taking authoritarian stance against his rivals, whom he considers as irritable gadflies.
Hichilema, who was Lungu’s election runner-up in the last election and who refused to accept the results, was jailed for four months in 2017 for allegedly refusing to give way to a motorcade transporting Lungu. He would be held on treason charges, an offence that carries the death penalty. It is not difficult to read the political undertones to his arrest. Also, musician Chama Fumba, was prosecuted for a song the authorities considered hostile to the president. Many other charges of human rights violation have been levelled against Lungu’s rules. His government has also been accused of corruption, a staple of dictatorship: Britain had to suspend its aid to Zambia over allegation bothering on misuse of aid funds.
To the credit of activists of the country, President Lungu’s desire for absolute power has always been challenged even from its incipient stage. For instance, in July, activist Laura Miti launched a campaign, which he called the Yellow Card, against regime corruption and reform. She had asked her countrymen, “Would you accept that a president you don’t like should have such powers,” she recently wrote in a forum, “whether he is a saint, the devil or something in between?” In respect to Lungu’s push for self-serving constitution amendment, a respected professor of political science at the University of Zambia , Sishuwa Sishuwa Sishuwa, warned that “this text will dig the grave of democracy in Zambia. It is designed first and foremost to consolidate the FP’s hold on the country and make it impossible to dismiss President Edgar Lungu.”
The Lawyers’ Association of Zambia (LAZ) has moved to the forefront of challenging President Lungu’s plan for term extension. It has joined Edgar Lungu, Attorney General Likando Kalaluka and the entire Assembly in a suit before the courts. “This bill strengthens the powers of the executive at the expense of Parliament, so it is unconstitutional,” Muna Ndulo, a law professor and member of the LAZ said in a statement.
Another member of LAZ, US-based Muna Ndulo, also contended that the plan could not be justified as it is being designed to arrogate overbearing powers to the President. “This proposed bill is a project to put more power on the executive and disadvantage parliament.”
Unperturbed, President Lungu charges towards power
“We braved the storm to prepare this Constitution (…). Support the procedure,” Edgar Lungu told MPs this month, before warning sternly, “if you don’t want to change it, we will”. He appears not consider the many opposition voices to his moves as he believes he is in total control of all the levers of power. Zambia is in dangerous rut with this man, whom does not seem to recognize he got to the highest seat in his country through providential push.
His henchmen are also in tune with his dismissive tendency towards the opposition. A case in point was the casual dismissal Lungu’s government spokesperson, Dora Siliya, treated the question on the LAZ suit against the President’s move. “We know that there are some lawyers whose job is to seek popularity,” spokeswoman she had told AFP, adding that “the process is going ahead” In her reckoning the lawyers are “people who waste other people’s time,” but nevertheless their bid would have no impact as “the bill will go its way,” to be passed by the parliament.
Follow us on Twitter @aprecon
Follow on Instagram @_aprecon
Like our Page on FB @aprecon
Copyright © The African Progressive Economist 2019. All Rights Reserved.