Zambian Opposition Lobby for Suspension from the Commonwealth

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

President Sata when he was an opposition leader

President Sata as a victim of the Public Order Act when he was an opposition leader himself. Picture courtesy of Zambian watchdog.

Zambia’s opposition parties have called upon the Commonwealth to suspend the country amid claims of a deteriorating political environment. They accuse Michael Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) government of using the Public Order Act to severely curtail opposition party activities. Ironically, the Public Order Act was a piece of legislation that the Zambian President had to contend with as an opposition leader. However, since coming to power, he has stated that he has now “fallen in love” with the Act.

Two opposition leaders – the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD)’s Nevers Mumba and United Party for National Development (UPND)’s Hakainde Hichilema – are currently on trial for various political offences covered by Public Order Act. Mumba and Hichilema also attended the recent gathering of opposition leaders in South Africa – known collectively as the Coalition for the Defence of Democratic Rights (CDDR) – that made the demand for Zambia’s suspension from the Commonwealth.
Hichilema said at the press briefing:

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.

At the same briefing, Mumba explained why the CDDR had to issue its statement abroad:

If there were respect for human rights in Zambia, we would not be here […] 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.

President Sata publicly claimed that the opposition leaders were claiming asylum in South Africa, a request that the South African President Jacob Zumba turned down after Mumba’s and Hichilema’s return to Zambia. Even more embarrassing for the government was a claim made by the Chief Government Spokesman and Information and Broadcasting Minister, Kennedy Sakeni, that former President Rupiah Banda had also attended the press briefing. However, the former President’s office denied attending the event.

However, one opposition party, the National Restoration Party, criticized the CDDR for staging the meeting and press briefing on foreign soil. The party’s Youth League representative, Aquino Mutale, said:

At no time has any Opposition Political Party been denied their freedom to hold Press Conferences from their respective Secretariats – not even Dr Nevers Mumba from his Kabulonga Home! Today we ask, why South Africa!? […] If what their demands to the Commonwealth succeed, who would suffer the repercussions? Is it not the very people they claim to speak on behalf of? Is it not the ordinary Zambian struggling to survive[?]”

Writing on the Zambian Eye page on Facebook, Ray Panji Mwanza said:

It’s funny how people complain about results instead of targeting the cause….the press conference and all the complaints are simply fruits of which the root cause is Sata’s ancient style of governing…..if people don’t want our nation to end up another Zimbabwe, the solution is not in condemning Nevers & co, but condemning and standing up to PF’s old-fashioned dictatorial rule…

ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.

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