Dr SISHUWA Sishuwa

POLITICAL commentator Sishuwa Sishuwa says by closing down Prime TV, President Edgar Lungu is priming Zambia for a ‘civil war.’

He says after closing The Post newspaper on June 21, 2016, using the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), President Lungu appears to have learnt from that experience that shutting critical media organisations boosts an incumbent’s chances of retaining political power.

Meanwhile, Dr Sishuwa has asked: “how bad do things have to get in Zambia before we stand up to Lungu and the PF, and say ‘enough and no more?”

Dr Sishuwa notes that while the President closed The Post six months before the August 11, 2016 general elections, the closure of Prime TV has been done: “earlier this time around.”

He said if democracy was about the competition of ideas, politics was about the struggle for power – social and economic.

Dr Sishuwa noted that the struggle for power could not be waged without the media and that: “Lungu knows this, and he is crudely making impotent his opponents by demolishing their access to this tool.”

“Incidentally, by eliminating the possibilities the media offer for non-violent competition for power, Lungu is priming the country for civil war – the only other means for struggling for power,” Dr Sishuwa wrote in an article titled ‘Lungu’s strategic march to 2021: the shutdown of Prime TV.’

Using the so-called Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), the PF government shut Prime TV on Thursday last week.

Dr Sishuwa said the first point to note about the cancellation of Prime TV’s broadcasting licence was that it was illegal.

“This is because the decision of the Board did not comply with a mandatory provision of the very section that the IBA Board cited to explain their action,” he said.

“While the quoted Section 29 (1) (j) and (k) of the IBA (amendment) Act of 2010 empowers the IBA Board to cancel a broadcasting licence, Section 29 (7) of the same IBA (amendment) Act of 2010 provides that “the Board shall, before cancelling or suspending a broadcasting licence under this section, give the broadcasting licensee an opportunity to be heard”.

Dr Sishuwa insisted that the cancellation of Prime TV’s broadcasting licence was a political decision and part of President Lungu’s wider strategy for the 2021 election.

He said those who were calling on the IBA to reverse the illegal action it had taken against Prime TV were missing one crucial point that was likely to render their appeals futile.

“The prime mover of the decision is almost certainly the President of Zambia. By closing the country’s leading independent television station, Lungu may be seeking to remove one more hurdle in his strategic step-by-step march to retaining power and extending his rule.

He explained that Prime TV had provided an important platform for the expression of a plurality of views and the discussion of issues that matter most to the public.

“These include the performance of the Patriotic Front (PF) in power, the viability of opposition political parties, the implications of the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill No. 10 of 2019, and the question of whether Lungu is eligible to stand for another term of office,” Dr Sishuwa said.

“The station has also regularly televised paid-for rallies of opposition parties that are denied access to the State-run Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation. Furthermore, Prime TV, sometimes in conjunction with other institutions, has organised and broadcast a series of public discussions that have raised public awareness and understanding on different subjects of mutual interest. Such was Prime TV’s influence and rising appeal that even ministers and ruling party officials regularly abandoned the public media and queued to appear on this private television station, seeking to tap into its distinct viewership.”

Dr Sishuwa noted that worried that the disenchantment arising from an informed public may damage his re-election prospects and work against the PF, President Lungu may have exerted pressure on the IBA to shut down Prime TV: “in order to strike a serious blow to the electoral chances of opposition parties.”

He indicated that the closure of Prime TV had removed the opposition parties’ most effective platform that enabled them to connect their agenda for political change with the concerns or demands of the electorate.

“By closing Prime TV 16 months ahead of Zambia’s next election, Lungu and the PF are also seeking to deceive many into thinking that the decision is totally unconnected to the 12 August 2021 election, when, in fact, it is the underlying motivation,” Dr Sishuwa said.

“It is worth noting that when Lungu and the PF, in another move that was meant to boost their re-election chances, closed The Post newspaper on 21 June 2016, only about six weeks had remained before that year’s election.”

Dr Sishuwa recalled that despite great attempts by the government to present the action to close The Post newspaper as a result of its failure to settle a disputed tax debt, “it was quite obvious to many that the decision was linked to the election and was difficult to explain for any other reason.”

“Lungu appears to have learnt from that experience by closing yet another critical media organisation much earlier this time around,” he said. “As well as seeking to conceal the obvious link to next year’s election, notwithstanding the fact that it is the primary motivation behind the move, he has decided to take an early decision in order to leave sufficient time to exhaust possible legal challenges against the cancellation of Prime TV’s broadcasting licence.”

Dr Sishuwa pointed out that in 2016, President Lungu took a gamble in closing The Post based on the expectation that the newspaper would not have enough time to exhaust the legal processes before it could be allowed to resume operations.

“This time, with the executive’s capture of key State institutions, Lungu and the PF may have the confidence that the courts are on their side and that the final judgment has probably already been written in their favour,” Dr Sishuwa argued, further decrying the increasing deployment of lawfare to undermine democracy in Zambia.

“Lawfare, in this case, refers to the strategic use of the law and legal institutions by actors in the executive to achieve political goals, obscure their authoritarian tendencies and enhance their grip on power. By using the IBA to remove a significant hurdle in his bid for absolute power, Lungu could be attempting to wrong-foot his critics by arguing that the closure of Prime TV was a legal decision, even if the directive may have come from him and the motivation was entirely political.”

He added that the closure of Prime TV demonstrated the increasing authoritarian and extra-constitutional exercise of State power in the interests of the ruling cabal.

“Moments after the IBA Board announced the cancellation of the station’s broadcasting licence, about 15 to 20 heavily armed police officers moved to seal off the premises of Prime TV and chased away all the workers. This action was as lawless as it was reckless and represented the highest expression of State-sanctioned impunity,” Dr Sishuwa said. “The occupation of Prime Television premises by police officers is a violation of the right to privacy of property protected by Article 17 of the Constitution of Zambia, which states that “Except with his own consent, a person shall not be subjected to the search of his person or his property or entry by others in his premises.”

He believes that not even the law, including the Constitution of Zambia, could stop the PF from doing what it wants.

“Their ultimate goal is to create a fear-driven society where no public criticism of the government and President is possible. Freedom of speech will not be directly outlawed but there will soon be no media outlets willing to print or broadcast any critical views,”

“As the country heads towards the 2021 election, Zambians should not be surprised to wake up one day and learn that the government, for one manufactured reason or another, has closed the remaining critical newspapers such as News Diggers or The Mast. The struggle on the mass front – mass consciousness against oppression and the possibility to rise against them – is what Lungu and the PF are preventing by shutting down the independent media.”

Meanwhile, Dr Sishuwa reminded Zambians that it was their responsibility to stop the country from sliding into authoritarian rule and “prevent our descent into a darkness we may never recover from.”

“Time is running out, fast! How bad do things have to get in Zambia before we stand up to Lungu and the PF, and say ‘enough and no more’? Yesterday, it was The Post and then John Sangwa. Today, it is Prime TV. Tomorrow it will be YOU,” warned Dr Sishuwa.

“We commit the greatest crime as we consent to the status quo by remaining silent and doing nothing in the face of serious democratic backslides, injustice, abuse, corruption, and glaring inequality. This is our challenge: we Zambians are complicit in our brutalisation because we choose to be spectators in our own torture at the hands of Lungu and the PF.”


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