I’M SORRY FOR ZAMBIA, PEOPLE
…opposition arrests is a poison chalice deserving to end, former US ambassador
By Edwin Mbulo in Livingstone
A FORMER US Ambassador to Zambia says the continued arrests of opposition leaders may be the poisoned chalice for President Hakainde Hichilema.
“Any government that wants to limit free speech first has to kill democracy,” he said.
In an exclusive statement to The Mast, the former envoy who requested for anonymity on condition that he wants to respect those working on behalf of the US government in Zambia said the continued arrests of opposition leaders is a danger to having a solid democracy.
“Currently Zambia seems to be on a good trajectory with the current President. He has all the good intentions to those of us looking in from the outside. However, the appearance of the shrinking of the democratic space might be a poison chalice to be wary of. The turnover of the arresting of opposition politicians from the outside looks quite messy,” the former envoy said.
“There are only two reasons to explain the frequent arrests of opposition political leaders in your country as is obtaining right now, it is either the opposition political leaders are criminally inclined. They have that propensity to commit crimes which leaves the law enforcers with no choice but to arrest them as should be in any case. If that be the case does it mean the majority of Zambian opposition politicians are criminals? How is it that only opposition politicians are viewed as law breakers by those governing? It happened in the previous administration, isn’t it? Your current President was one of those arrested then, among many. Does it mean being in opposition is the actual crime?” the source wondered.
“If you goggle ‘arrest of opposition leaders in Zambia’ it is clear something is wrong. I wish it was the mighty Victoria Falls coming up not the arrests of opposition politicians. As one who still retains interest, having had that diplomatic tour of duty, I am sorry for the nation and its people. If being in opposition is the actual crime and a threat to those in government then it means when the current leaders will move into opposition one day, they will be viewed as a threat and criminals whose freedom of expression must be curtailed by all means necessary. It does not start with the government of the day nor will it end with them. This cycle is a poison chalice deserving to end for the betterment of Zambia and its people.”
The diplomat added that the second layer of why the opposition political leaders and others could be facing frequent arrests is that those in government are instilling fear in the opposition to cow them into a fear kraal and limit their freedom of movement and the exercise of freedom of expression under free speech.
“That, if so, would be a democratic killer with no reverse gear but down into democratic precipice. I have friends in Zambia. Some are in the opposition while some are in government as were then during my tour of duty. I value them all. They are men and women of integrity. Some who face arrests today I wonder when did they become criminals deserving frequent arraignment and arrests? Looking back, it only seems they were viewed as criminals only when they joined politics and began to question government as should be. That then lends weight to the idea of the actual crimes being politics and freedom of expression,” noted the diplomat.
“The sacred duty of any government is to care and protect its citizens and guarantee them freedom of exercising their democratic rights among them freedom of speech. Any government that abandons this sacred duty and instead becomes the editor of free speech will be hated by its people. Snooping on citizens is not sacred. For example, if the US government criminalised free speech, more than 200 million Americans would be in jail. Any government seeking to limit free speech has to first kill democracy. Limiting free speech by criminalising it is a symptom of insecurity by any government. My country in these United States of ours is not perfect, but we ensure freedom is part of all the citizens of these states as united as they are. Though retired, my eyes are on Africa as part of Wilson Center Africa Programme particularly the Sudan Working Group (SWG). I will always have best regards and wishes for Zambia and its people.”