By Henry Kyambalesa
It has become common knowledge that the Patriotic Front (PF) administration has often used sedition laws against some citizens who have attempted to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression to critique the government’s apparent failure to address the catalogue of socioeconomic problems facing the country and the common people.
Specifically, Section 57 through Section 62 of the Penal Code Act—that is, Chapter 87 of the Laws of Zambia—have become a vital weapon against citizens who dare to decry the widespread destitution and clear-as-crystal socioeconomic decay and backwardness in our Motherland. The following headlines excerpted from a diversity of news sources are good examples of the use (or is it “abuse”) of sedition laws by the PF administration:
“Two journalists in Zambia arrested, charged with sedition.” (July 19, 2013.)
“Magistrate overturns his earlier judgment and dismisses case of sedition against 4 Barotse Activists.” (December 4, 2013.)
“Three Luyungandambo Barotse Activists appear in Court again for sedition.” (December 9, 2014.)
“Zambia charges … presidential candidate with sedition.” (October 6, 2016.)
“Drop sedition charges against HH and GBM – Amnesty Interna-tonal.” (October 20, 2016.)
“Singer Afunika’s wife charged with seditious publication.” (February 23, 2020.)
“Arresting officer testifies in Mushipe’s sedition case – Zambia.” (June 30, 2020.) And
“Emmanuel Mwamba Reports Sishuwa to the Police for writing and publishing seditious material.” (April 26, 2021.)
Recently, a brother of ours is reported as having reported Dr. Sishuwa Sishuwa “for writing and publishing seditious material.” I have had the opportunity to skim through some of Dr. Sishuwa’s articles.
Apparently, the implicit message I have discerned from his articles is his advocacy for a change in the leadership of our beloved country through the ballot box. There is really nothing seditious about this—it is what citizens and non-PF patriots in opposition political parties are supposed to do.
And PF leaders and supporters would have engaged in the same or similar kinds of rhetoric if they were not in power and had a desire to secure the people’s mandate to form government.
In fact, the issues, and problems which Dr. Sishuwa has attempted to highlight in some of his articles are undeniable, and they affect the majority of Zambian citizens irrespective of the political parties they belong to and the political leaders they support.
Such issues and problems include mass poverty, extreme inequality-ties, intolerable levels of unemployment, unprecedented economic decline, the worsening levels of corruption, and unsustainable levels of commercial, bilateral, and multilateral debts, among a host of other socioeconomic issues and problems.
There is a need for PF officials and supporters to actively counter dissent and criticism with factual, honest, and regular defences of their government’s handling of the socioeconomic issues and problems facing the country and the common people.
Some of the issues and problems about which journalists, opposition politicians, political commentators, and scribes like Dr. Sishuwa have continually accused the ruling political party as having miserably failed to address are chronicled by the Bank of Zambia, Amnesty International, Transparency International, the World Bank, the local Central Statistical Office, and other credible institutions.
One wonders why PF leaders and supporters cannot continually de-find themselves in word and deed through their monopolised nation-al news outlets—including the Times of Zambia, Zambia Daily Mail, Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (radio and TV), and the Zambia News and Information Services (ZANIS)—which they can freely use in this endeavour.
One would wish to advise our compatriots in the PF administration to refrain from weaponizing” sedition laws against critics. Charging such people with the offence of sedition should, therefore, never be the norm—it should be used sparingly, if ever.
If PF officials cannot withstand the heat, they will do well to stay out of the kitchen, so to speak, to spare the citizenry from incessant violations of their rights and freedoms.
Mrs. Michelle Obama, former U.S. First Lady, has provided the
following additional leadership morsel for PF officials to consider:
“Being Commander-in-Chief [and Head of State and Govern-ment] is a hard job; [among other things,] … you need to have discipline, and you need to read, … you need to be knowledgeable, you need to know history, [and] you need to be careful with your words.”
And one must make an earnest effort to perform one’s job with dig-nitty, leadership and integrity amidst a myriad of genuine and/or un-founded criticisms.