Expert at Attacking the Thinker, Not the Thought: A Critique of Laura Miti’s Approach- Sishuwa Sishuwa

I feel sorry for Laura Miti

By Sishuwa Sishuwa

Laura Miti has become an expert at attacking the thinker, not the thought. She hardly demonstrates weakness in what the person has said and instead focuses on the person making the argument. She does not offer an elaborate rational view of her positions. Name calling, being nasty and so on are not intellectual rhetorical devices for her; they are the substance of her utterances, almost always. Nothing better illustrates this than the very case of Fr Chewe Mukosa, the Copperbelt-based Catholic priest she is attacking in the attached post.

Fr Mukosa has expressed the opinion that politicians who fail to honour election campaign promises must be voted out. In an interview with News Diggers newspaper, the priest argued that “social responsibility demands that if one pledges to strengthen the Kwacha, reduce mealie meal price to K50 and end load-shedding, they must honour that.” He is also quoted as having argued that “leaders who cheat after they ascend to power are fake and need to be removed through the ballot.”

Instead of contributing to this discussion by showing why she disagrees or agrees with the views expressed by Mukosa, Laura focuses her response on the person who offered the opinion. To avoid misinterpreting what Laura said, it is worth quoting her remarks in full:

“Fr Mukosha (sic) reminds one of the UPND’s new friend, Fr Frank Bwalya.

“Spewing out poorly analysed but shrill rhetoric on serious issues. A consistently very performative engagement with issues that is probably aimed at garnering the very kind of attention that IG Musamba gave him. This man has been given wings.

“The Catholic Church really is a mother structure. Out of its womb, we have seen the best and the worst for Zambia. This one aweee.”

This is the totality of Laura’s post on the views expressed by the Catholic priest. It is worth noting that the subject of Mukosa’s views is clear: the importance of trust in elected public officials and what should happen to politicians who fail to honour their election campaign promises. According to the priest, such politicians should be removed from power peacefully through the ballot because they would have betrayed public trust, which is at the heart of representative liberal democracy.

Instead of stating her views on this subject, Laura glosses over the issue and instead launches an astonishing attack on the Catholic priest himself, accusing Mukosa of spewing – meaning vomiting – shrill rhetoric (meaning loud and often unpleasant) and poor analysis. Notice how Laura does not provide the reader or public with her supposedly solid analysis on the same subject. She seems to have decided that her role is to pass judgement on the opinion of this Catholic priest. Without telling us how she reached her verdict, she concludes that what Mukosa said constitutes nothing more than shrill rhetoric and poor analysis. The reader is left to hunt for solid analysis elsewhere, one that would explain why it is so bad for anyone to suggest that politicians who fail to fix a pressing social and economic problem should be voted out. Imagine arguing the opposite: if these politicians fail, then they must be re-elected!

Laura then proceeds to launch two other attacks on the Catholic priest.

First, ignoring the fact that Fr Mukosa was clearly contacted by the newspaper for an interview, she accuses him of “very performative engagement with issues that is probably aimed at garnering the very kind of attention that IG Musamba gave him”. Here again, what Fr Mukosa said is secondary or relegated to the dustbin. What is elevated as substance or content that is suitable for discussion is the accusation that the Catholic priest is hungry for public attention. Laura blames the Inspector General of police Graphel Musamba whose organisation had earlier summoned this same priest for questioning after he preached about the cost-of-living crisis.

In his Easter homily, Fr Mukosa decried the crippling 8-hour daily power cuts, soaring food and transport costs, high levels of youth unemployment, and the political culture of lying and patronage that is common among Zambia’s political elite. Police interpreted this sermon as a form of “hate speech” (according to the official explanation offered by the spokesperson) and formally summoned the man of God for questioning. The callout that the police issued to Fr Mukosha was later withdrawn following public backlash and reported fear by the authorities of potential social unrest in a volatile or politically explosive area such as the Copperbelt Province, generally regarded as the home of protest culture in Zambia.

It is worth noting that Mukosa has an established history of speaking out on social concerns. A google search of his name brings press coverage of his previous interviews, including with News Diggers under the Lungu administration, interviews in which he criticised the government for, among other things, failure to provide essential basic services. Even when Lungu’s administration was restricting the democratic rights of opposition parties (the right to public assembly, expression, movement, etc), this same Catholic priest, according to published evidence in different media outlets, welcomed then opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema into his services and even gave him the platform to address his congregants.

Yet according to the implication of Laura’s post, Fr Mukosa was, until recently, a largely unknown person who was only catapulted into public limelight by the recent police summoning that gave him the “wings to fly”. Here, the suggestion is that it was a grave mistake for the police to have summoned this Catholic priest not because it interfered with his right to expression and preach whatever he considers appropriate for his flock, but because the State body has now turned him into a notable voice that commands public attention and which newspapers find worthy contacting as a news source. According to Laura, whatever the Catholic priest said should have been ignored by everyone including the police because Fr Mukosa is merely engaged in performances aimed at curing his obsession for attention. In my view, the idea that expressing social concerns and criticism over the cost-of-living crisis is “hate speech” should worry human rights advocates like Laura more than whether the person expressing such concerns is “attention seeking”.

Second, Laura says the Catholic Church is like a mother’s womb, out of which comes children who grow up to have the best or worst attributes or character traits. Here, the reader is told that the Catholic Church accommodates everyone for priestly training. Some of the priests end up as the best, others the worst. Using the analogy of a mother’s womb, Laura then proceeds to attack Fr Mukosa as one of “the worst [priests to have come out of the Catholic Church] for Zambia.” Laura does not explain how she reached this conclusion; she does not give a rational explanation or defence of her attack on Mukosa: she has said it, “This one aweee”! That is enough.

What Laura is doing here is to employ a tried and tested trick of liberal demonisation and character assassination: start and repeat a nasty label about someone several times and it will stick, the way the word “dictator” is used in the West to describe African leaders who do not serve their interests. That is Laura: she does not defend “principles”; she deals with the victim of a violation of rights, for not toeing her line. Laura has become an expert at the use of this nefarious trick: attack the person, not demonstrating weakness in what they have said!

Most ordinary people in Zambia are grumbling and collapsing at the weight of the burdens of life the Hichilema administration has hoisted on them. A human rights defender and commissioner on the country’s Human Rights Commission like Laura should be best placed to appreciate the many ways this grumbling is expressed, not to attack those calling attention to the stress and pain the burdens are causing. But this is her classic character: ignore the issue and deal with the messenger. I do not think Laura is stupid; she knows what she is doing when she does this.

In presenting Fr Mukosa in the manner she has, Laura may be trying to discredit him as a credible fighter for social justice and a news source by putting him in the brackets of the “worst” Catholic priests in Zambia. The public is being persuaded to see him as someone they should not listen to because he is in the habit of spewing out poor analysis and shrill rhetoric on serious issues in search of attention. In the service of whoever stands to benefit from her efforts, she is demonising, dehumanising, and destroying a genuine critic of elected public leaders. Laura is also simultaneously intimidating any other Catholic priest who may wish to take this route of raising awareness in the electorate that “social responsibility demands that if one pledges to strengthen the Kwacha, reduce mealie meal price to K50 and end load-shedding, they must honour that”; and that “leaders who cheat after they ascend to power are fake and need to be removed through the ballot.”

Laura knows that political parties who are supposed to air such views publicly are being gagged by being denied the opportunity to hold public rallies and mass gatherings: these are the platforms where human beings enjoy to the fullest their right to ventilate on such matters. Rather than celebrate the rare priest who takes the risk of using the pulpit to do so, or who gives an interview to a newspaper on very important social concerns, she seeks to discredit and smother him to death.

There is nothing ‘intellectual’ or ‘democratic’ about this assault on a person who is exercising their right to free speech: the denunciation is aimed at smothering to death critics of lying elected officials and any protests about them, now and in the future. This kind of conduct is only expected from zealots who are intent on defending the indefensible, or political party combatants who have taken off their gloves and are wielding knives, in defence of their leader.

It is sad that Fr Mukosa is being delegitimised, “invisibilised” by a prominent public activist, a believable, relatively respectable, and famous female person who can pass a plausibly believable verdict on his public persona. Anything he says henceforth must be filtered through what Laura has said about him: he is among the worst of the Catholic priests who consistently sprout out “poor analysis” and “shrill rhetoric” to satiate their hunger for attention and desire to make their name publicly known. What is lost in these exchanges is the real issue that Fr Mukosa raised: the importance of trust in public office and the need to hold to account those who govern us.

I expect Laura as a Human Rights Commissioner and social justice activist herself to defend Fr Mukosa and protect his right to express himself freely, instead of falsely discrediting him and shredding his well-earned public reputation. I feel sorry for Laura Miti.

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