Archbishop Mpundu says USA must sanction President Hichilema and his officials destroying Democracy and Freedoms!

Mr Michael Gonzales
United States Ambassador to Zambia
P. O. Box 320065
Lusaka, Zambia

8 March 2024

Dear Ambassador,

RE: Petition for the United States Government to impose financial sanctions, visa restrictions, and travel bans against top Zambian officials undermining democratic rights in Zambia

Refer to the above captioned subject.

Formed in June 2020, Our Civic Duty Association (OCIDA) is a registered civil society organisation in Zambia working to advance democracy, good governance, and human rights. It is made up of senior citizens whose only aspiration is to advance the public good.

We, in OCIDA, are deeply alarmed by the continued abuse institutions of governance and the erosion of democracy in Zambia today under the leadership of President Hakainde Hichilema and his ruling United Party for National Development (UPND). Of particular concern are the violations of democratic rights such as the right to public assembly, free speech, freedom of association, and the right to a speedy trial. Also worrying is the continued abuse of state institutions like the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Independent Broadcasting Authority, the Zambia Police Service, the National Assembly of Zambia, and the Judiciary.

On several occasions, OCIDA and other organisations such as the Zambian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Law Association of Zambia and Chapter One Foundation have called on the Zambian Government to respect and enable the expression of these fundamental democratic rights. Our combined calls have fallen on deaf ears. What we have instead witnessed over the last several months are further restrictions on these rights. Public rallies by opposition parties continue to be banned by the Zambia Police Service, the Judiciary continues to engage in what appears to be wilful delay of the resolution of urgent political matters affecting the main opposition party, the Executive arm of government continues to interfere in the operations of other institutions, the leadership of the national assembly continues to undermine democracy in parliament, critics of the government continue to face intimidation and threats from state institutions and public officials, and leaders of the opposition continue to face arrest from the police based on what appears to be politically motivated charges. This is not the Zambia we want. This is the Zambia we rejected in August 2021.

In view of the continued abuse of governance institutions and the violations of democratic rights in Zambia, OCIDA calls on the United States Government to impose financial sanctions, visa restrictions, and travel bans against the below-named officials of the Government of the Republic of Zambia whose conduct has aided this continued suppression of democracy in Zambia. We make our call in the wake of the recent decision by the US Government, as part of its democracy-centred foreign policy, to impose similar sanctions on members of the Government of Zimbabwe who are at the forefront of restricting democratic rights, tolerating corruption, and abusing governance institutions. It in this light that we petition the administration of President Joe Biden, through the US Embassy in Zambia, to impose sanctions on the following officials of the Zambian Government:

1. Police Inspector General Graphel Musamba

Since his appointment as Inspector General of Police in April 2023, Mr Musamba has presided over the prohibition of opposition party meetings. Not a single public rally called by opposition parties has been sanctioned under his command. Mr Musamba has cited unspecified security concerns and inadequate manpower as justifications for this continued violation of the right to public assembly, even in instances where opposition parties have offered to provide their own security. It is impossible for multiparty democracy to be seen as a legitimate political system of government if political parties, created by the Constitution of Zambia, are not allowed to freely meet their members and conduct their activities.

In a truly functioning democracy, citizens are and must be free to exercise the right to peaceful assembly at any time they wish, including outside the elections. The job of the police service is to facilitate the enjoyment of this right, not to curtail it. Mr Musamba’s continued violation of the right to peaceful assembly represents a threat to national peace and stability, a danger to the survival of Zambia’s democracy, and a blatant defilement of the Constitution of Zambia, which mandates the police to protect and defend human rights and democracy. As Elias Chipimo noted in April 1980 when criticising the restrictions on political and civil rights under then President Kenneth Kaunda, the multi-party system is “the surest way of avoiding coups and eliminating the disgraceful tendency of presidents ending up with bullets in their heads.” Alarmingly, the current Inspector General of Police has proved to be an apostle of state-sponsored lawlessness as he has been in the forefront of not only breaking rather than enforcing the law but also undermining the very multiparty character of the Republic.

2. Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Jack Mwiimbu

Mr Musamba’s efforts to undermine democratic rights in Zambia have been aided by the conduct of his superior, the Minister of Home Affairs and Infernal Security Mr Jack Mwiimbu. Under Mr Mwiimbu’s leadership, the Zambia Police Service has been turned into a private militia of the ruling party. As well as supporting the police’s continued refusal to sanction meetings organised by opposition parties, Mr Mwiimbu has also presided over the numerous arrests of nearly all opposition party leaders in Zambia, except those aligned to the ruling party, on frivolous charges. All these developments have occurred whilst the minister and his police officials continue to ignore the offences committed by members of the ruling party and the government, even when the same are formally reported to the police by the victims. As a result, a two-tier policing system has been created under his command: one for members of the opposition and another for members of the ruling UPND.

In addition, governance institutions such as the Registrar of Societies have been repeatedly suffered abuse from Mr Mwiimbu’s ministry. For instance, a former Registrar of Societies who refused to carry out unlawful changes to the leadership of the main opposition party – changes that were aimed at instigating factional divisions in the main opposition Patriotic Front party – was unceremoniously hounded out of office and replaced with a malleable official who has not only obeyed the illegal commands but also paved the way for the installation of a pliant leadership in the main opposition party.

Mr Mwimbu is also ultimately responsible for the police’s ongoing efforts to frustrate the registration of an umbrella alliance of opposition parties, namely the United Kwacha Alliance. Citizens have the right to associate with a political formation of their choice, and the job of the Ministry of Home Affairs is to enable the enjoyment of this right, not to undermine the freedom of association. Democracy is at great risk of collapsing when democratic rights like the freedom of association are restricted. And when people lose trust in the capacity of formal institutions to represent them, they are likely to resort to democratic means of expressing their discontent – and indeed of changing governments.

3. Speaker of the National Assembly Nellie Mutti

A known supporter of the ruling UPND, the Speaker of the National Assembly has been at the forefront of undermining democracy in parliament. Ms Nellie Mutti has presided over unconstitutional changes to the leadership of the official opposition in parliament (consequently trampling on the rule of law by overlooking matters that are before Court over the same issue), been quick to suspend opposition lawmakers at will, especially those who question her judgement, and has, on several occasions, curtailed opposition and independent MPs from debating freely in the House, especially on matters that relate to criticism of the Executive.

This demonstrated partiality by Speaker Mutti harms Zambia’s constitutional democracy in that it violates the principle of separation of powers and the right of parliament to scrutinise the activities of the Executive as part of promoting accountability. Multiparty democracy is strengthened when all three arms of government carry out their activities in a manner that enhances or promotes checks and balances. Ms Mutti has proved, time and time again, to be a mere appendage of the Executive, committed to advancing the interests of the ruling party rather than the greater cause of democracy. Her continued adverse actions risk undermining public trust in the capacity of parliament to truly be a people’s House and ultimately in the very integrity of the democratic system.

4. Chief Justice Mumba Malila

When Mr Mumba Malila was appointed Chief Justice, OCIDA was among the many Zambians and organisations that then and subsequently commended his appointment. Our hope that Mr Malila would provide leadership to this vital state institution, without whom democracy cannot flourish, was based on his impressive track record of defending fundamental freedoms and human rights not only in Zambia but also in international organisations where he had worked.

Unfortunately, in recent years, Chief Justice Malila has proved to be a great disappointment. Our faith in his leadership has since decreased considerably. Not only has he lamentably failed to provide effective leadership in ensuring speedy trial for politically sensitive cases, especially those whose outcome have a significant bearing on the state and direction of Zambia’s democracy; he has also, in an unprecedented move, deployed the Judiciary to intimidate and attack, through press statements, ordinary citizens who dare to criticise the institution’s performance under his watch. The capture of Zambia’s main opposition party by the executive branch of government has been enabled by the conduct of the judiciary under Mr Malila’s watch. Judges handling the matters have sat on them while the Chief Justice continues to criss-cross the world, giving speeches to unsuspecting audiences, some of them emphasising the importance of speedy trial and judicial independence.

Mr Malila’s proximity to President Hichilema – demonstrated in regular shared public spaces and the Chief Justice’s penchant of inviting the head of the Executive to address judicial meetings – has also raised public eyebrows about the extent of judicial independence under his watch. These fears have been aided by several instances where announcements that must come from the Judiciary are first made by the President. A clear example is how the President recently announced to the public a Statutory Instrument that was yet to be signed by the Chief Justice. How did the President know about it? The only hypothesis is that the President could have been the author.

5. The Director of Public Prosecutions Gilbert Phiri

The Director of Public Prosecutions Gilbert Phiri is a former personal lawyer of President Hichilema. Any hopes that Mr Phiri would rise above these personal historic ties to conduct the affairs of his office in an impartial manner were extinguished long ago. Instead of defending public interest and the integrity of the legal system, Mr Phiri has been in the forefront of refusing to sanction the prosecution of government and ruling party officials whilst doing the opposite for members of the opposition. Not only has his conduct undermined the integrity of the legal system; it also represents a threat to the legitimacy of the multiparty political system. DPP Phiri has clearly shown that he is working with the President on many cases to undermine democracy and human rights.

6. Electoral Commission of Zambia Chairperson Mwangala Zaloumis

Ms Mwangala Zaloumis is another official with known ties to the ruling UPND. Appointed to the role by President Hichilema, she has since led the Electoral Commission of Zambia in disfranchising citizens by way of excluding candidates of the main opposition party from taking part in elections to the benefit of the UPND. Complaints from opposition parties about the abuse of state resources by government officials during by-elections have also been ignored by Ms Zaloumis. The multiparty system rests on having an independent electoral commission that enjoys public trust and is impartial in its conduct. The current leadership of the Electoral Commission of Zambia is far from these requisites and represents a danger to peace, stability, and the survival of democracy in the country.

7. President Hakainde Hichilema

If there is one person who deserves sanctions for undermining democracy and democratic rights in Zambia, it is President Hichilema. Not only is he the one responsible for the appointment of other democracy-threatening officials like Mr Musamba, Mr Mwiimbu, Ms, Mutti, Mr Malila, Ms Zaloumis, and Mr Phiri; President Mr Hichilema has also aided their conduct by neglecting to reprimand or sanction them for undermining civil and political rights. The Police, for example, has been used as a tool to suppress political opponents or arrest government critics. In fact, Mr Hichilema has praised Mr Musamba’s harrowing performance, publicly stating that he wished he had resurrected the latter from retirement much earlier.

The President of Zambia as Head of State and Government must be a fountain of justice and equity and presidential functions must be performed with dignity and transparency. The President must be above partisan considerations when treating citizens whether in opposition or in support of government. All these principles are provided for in the Constitution of Zambia under which he took the Oath of Office. Unfortunately, President Hichilema has not lived true to these ideals. His administration has divided the country on ethnic-regional lines. Key Government positions are now a preserve of members of his ethnicity and adjacent tribes in Western, Northwestern, and Central provinces. We are witnessing a purge in government and State-Owned Enterprise of Zambians who hail from the Northern or Eastern provinces based on the belief that they are supporters of the main opposition party. In recent months, civil servants hailing from these provinces have been displaced from their positions and replaced with people who come from Southern and Western Zambia. This state-sponsored polarisation has created tension in the country and undermined nation building and stability. The spirit of One Zambia One Nation is now but an illusion.

President Hichilema has also ignored growing incidents of corruption in his administration, including among members of his oner circle. Not only has he failed to publish his assets and declarations as a way of showing leadership; he has further ignored calls to do so from several people including Zambians and non-Zambians such as yourself, Ambassador. This is not the character of a man who is committed to fighting corruption.

Having highlighted how the conduct of the above officials continue to undermine democracy in Zambia, we reiterate our call that targeted sanctions against these specific individuals be imposed on them to serve as a deterrent. We believe that such a move is an imperative at this juncture, if the United States is to be perceived as fair and consistent in its application of foreign policy values, central of which is democracy promotion and the sanctioning of those who undermine it. Although many people think the current President of Zambia is a darling of the United States, we believe that the interests of the two nations are by far larger than the interest of an individual leader – especially when that leader is in the forefront of undermining democracy and abusing institutions of governance.

We look forward to your action-oriented response.

Yours faithfully,

Emeritus Archbishop Telesphore G. Mpundu
Chairman, OCIDA

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