Calls to lift ex-Zambian president’s immunity spark debates


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Zambia’s investigative wings have started arresting political leaders in the former ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party, who are believed to have committed crimes, such as misappropriation of funds, attempted murder and others.

Among those arrested in November are former Defence Minister, Davis Chama, for attempted murder of a member of the now ruling United Party for National Development (UPND), during a bye-election in 2015.

Other include former ministers, Ronald Chitotela and Nickson Chilangwa, who are connected with the violence-related incident recorded on voting day on August 12 this year.

Former President Edgar Lungu’s spokesman Amos Chanda, his wife and sister in law, were also arrested for obstructing and insulting Anti – Corruption Commission officers, when they searched Chanda’s properties and interrogated him about alleged corrupt practices.

The lifting of immunity debate

As far as some law makers and ordinary Zambian citizens are concerned, Lungu may have equally benefited hugely from corruption and abused his office in other ways, making it necessary for him to be investigated too and have his immunity lifted.

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Some ruling United Party for National Development (UPND) members have thus, presented a petition to President Hakainde Hichilema, to that effect, saying, Zambians want to know how the former Head of State allegedly abused his office to accumulate his current wealth at their expense.

While there are Zambians that have welcomed such moves, others are saying it is tribal and a witch hunt, because the cases are only being brought up now, despite being said to have been committed a long time ago and that there are a number of cases that some sympathisers and members of the UPND have in the past been accused of, which include kidnapping, murder, assault and others, but they are not being pursued. As such, they say, the arrests are selective and meant to settle scores.

Former Zambian Ambassador to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to the African Union, Emmanuel Mwamba, cautions that the fight against corruption should not degenerate to be either tribal, ethnic, selective, exclusive or unfair, but should be done in a comprehensive, fair and objective manner.

“You need to question these things – is your fight genuine? Okay, ‘A’ so, is corrupt, but we also know about that ‘B’, [who] is also corrupt, so, apply the law, fairly. Let’s pursue just the evidence and the crime, not the personalities,” Mwamba advises.

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Those who don’t want to see Lungu’s immunity lifted just yet, feel it is too early to start discussing that, as there is need to investigate him first and only lift it once there is overwhelming evidence against him, adding that past experience in Zambia, has shown that rushing does not yield much, but merely victimises the president being investigated, as was the case with late second President, Fredrick Chiluba and fourth President, Rupiah Banda, respectively.

Mwamba agrees: “On the lifting of former Presidents’ immunity, for me I speak, coming from the African Union, it is one of the issues we identified that causes instability across Africa. Number one, sitting Heads of States are unwilling to leave power, because they don’t know what will happen if they leave power.

That in itself is a source of instability, it’s arising into mass street demonstrations against those leaders, sometimes even ending up in a coup! We have seen it in Mali, in Guinea Conakry, a thing we are trying to leave behind as Africa.”

“So, the issue of how you treat former Heads of States, is unfortunately, in the peace and security architecture, an issue. So, it might not speak to the legalities, but it does speak to legitimacy and we have examples, [like in South Africa], you arrest a former head of state for contempt [or] whatever it is and two cities built over centuries, burn down, is it worth the risk? Legalistic, you are right, legalistic, he should have himself before the law, but is it worth burning down a country? Those are questions I’ am saying we should ask ourselves.”

Silence the opposition

For former ruling party, Patriotic Front (PF) Chairperson for Legal Affairs and Leader of the opposition in parliament, Brian Mundubile, these arrests are a meant to silence the opposition.

“Most of these cases are cases that the police dealt with, before and we are seeing that the [ruling United Party for National Development] UPND  government, under the leadership of his excellency, Mr Hakainde Hichilema, are bent on silencing the opposition voice,  they are bent on silencing the [main] opposition party now, the Patriotic Front, through these arrests, but we want to assure him that we will continue to offer checks and balances, we will continue to question the manner in which he is governing, ” Mundubile asserts.

He adds that when President Hichilema, first addressed parliament, he promised the Zambian people, that he would govern using the rule of law and now, the people are watching and would judge if this is exactly what they voted for.

“If this is what it means to govern by the rule of law, through targeted and selective arrests, then we leave it up to the people to judge, if what is happening now, is exactly what the people voted for. I want to remind the President that the power resides in the people and when the people give you a mandate to govern, you must take that mandate and govern according to the aspirations and the wishes of the Zambian people.

So far what we are seeing will not bring about the unity that he keeps preaching about, it will continue to bring divisions, not only between the political lines, but what we may call, regional lines!” He warns.

However, Jack Mwiimbu, the Home Affairs and Internal Security Minister dismisses such concerns, arguing that the application of the law is not tribal, saying “Law breakers should not hide under the guise of tribal discrimination.”

Further, citizens who support the arrests, say no one is above the law, hence former President, Lungu and all accused former leaders  must answer some serious questions regarding the country’s wealth if they abused it.


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