OASIS Forum chairperson Eddie Mwitwa says Zambia has a momentous task at hand which is the struggle to regain its independence. Mwitwa, who is also president of the Law Association of Zambia that is part of the Oasis Forum, says the current debt burden has seriously eroded the economic and political independence, and “even eaten away the country’s sovereignty”.
He also said the development of a police State had greatly contributed to the unconstitutional powers assumed by a dictatorial type of governance. In a statement yesterday reflecting on the country’s 54th Independence which falls that, the Oasis Forum said Zambia needed to wake up from the nightmare of colonialism and find the living dream of democracy.
“We call upon all citizens, including politicians, members of parliament, the judiciary, civil servants and the church to wake up and recognise the nightmare. The momentous task at hand is the struggle to regain our independence. We broke free from a colonial white elite, but have instead gradually fallen into the hands of a local ruling elite that has imposed a similar system of oppression and dictatorship,” Mwitwa stated.
“On 24th October 1964, Zambia woke up from the nightmare of colonialism and found itself living the dream of democracy. The nightmare had been a prolonged period of apartheid, in a country run by a privileged white elite where Africans were secondclass citizens. By contrast, independence brought the dream of equality of opportunity, not only to employment but also to political power. This ideal was to be achieved largely by the principle of equality of access to education and to all the other services made available by the State; a government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
He stated that despite Zambia making positive strides over the years, the dream had slipped away and the nightmare had gradually returned.
Mwitwa noted that instead of an imposed colonial dictatorship, Zambia had a locally grown autocracy.
“In a number of ways, we as a nation, made some positive strides over the years to inculcate a democratic culture in our country and deliver unto ourselves a better Zambia, a land of work and joy, where women and men can stand and sing, freely and proudly. But gradually, over a period of fifty-four years, the dream has slipped away and the nightmare has gradually returned. But not entirely in the same form; instead of a ruling white elite, we now have a ruling African elite,” he said. “Instead of an imposed colonial dictatorship, we instead have a locally grown autocracy. Otherwise, the similarities with the colonial system of government are quite startling – a government of the elite, by the elite, for the elite.”
Mwitwa stated that there was an erosion of equality of opportunity.
“In the early days of independence, people ascended to positions of power and influence mainly on the basis of selection by merit, especially as measured by educational achievement. But nowadays, the elite class is largely self-perpetuating from one generation to the next, with the elite purchase of expensive education, and with the intra-elite selection for employment and promotion,” he stated. “Elite class membership now supersedes educational level. Lack of separation of powers can especially be seen between the Executive and Parliament, where the ruling party typically has an overwhelming majority so that Parliament becomes a rubber stamp for executive decisions, and has virtually abdicated its primary role of holding power to account. Whereas the Mung’omba Constitutional Review Commission and the Technical Committee on the Drafting of the Zambian Constitution established that people wanted a separation of powers by having ministers appointed from outside Parliament, Parliament itself quashed this popular demand as part of its wholesale ‘amending’ of the Draft Constitution in 2016.”
Mwitwa also stated that the current debt burden had eroded the economic and political independence.
“The current debt burden has seriously eroded our economic and political independence, and even eaten away our sovereignty. With the conditions attached to donor funding and loans, donors and creditors have achieved influence over investment priorities, over government policies, and over foreign immigration,” he stated. “In some cases foreign creditors are even able to demand the transfer of national assets to foreign companies in lieu of unpaid debts. The thirty (30) per cent of the budget now going to debt servicing has drastically reduced government expenditure on education, health and social services, with poverty levels now sinking to colonial levels.”
Mwitwa stated that the erosion of the rule of law had become a main means for the repression of political criticism and the oppression of opposition parties.
“The main principle of the rule of law is that all people shall be equal in law and before the law. Therefore, it is a reversal of the rule of law to try to ‘fix’ perceived and actual political opponents by first looking for a law (however trivial or archaic) that they have abrogated, and then bringing them before a court to answer charges,” he stated.
Mwitwa further noted that the police State had greatly contributed to the unconstitutional powers assumed by a dictatorial type of governance.
“The development of a police State has greatly contributed to the unconstitutional powers assumed by a dictatorial type governance. The police service, which is supposed to be a professional institution guided by the constitution and the law, is instead found to be taking instructions from the government and even directly from the ruling party,” he lamented. “This is in large part due to the infiltration of this once-professional body by party cadres. Gross misuse of police powers is most notably revealed in the misuse of the Public Order Act (POA), where the police prohibit and sometimes brutally attack public protests and opposition party meetings, and even arrest people, on the pretext that such meetings do not have a police permit. However, there is no requirement for a police permit in the POA. In this way the ruling party effectively ‘outlaws’ public organisation and mobilisation of political opposition and contributes to the perpetual stay in power of a dictatorial government by inducing fear in the citizenry through reckless conduct of some police officers who seem to specialise in violating people’s right to lawful assembly and freedom of expression.”
Mwitwa noted that corruption was the main reason the ruling elite had maintained their positions.
“Massive corruption is the main means by which the ruling elite maintain their position as a wealthy ruling minority. Every year the Auditor General’s Report reveals massive misappropriation of public funds by the civil service and each report is traditionally followed by lack of action against the culprits by way of administrative disciplinary action, let alone by bringing criminal charges,” he observed. “This situation is but a one off-shoot of the de-professionalisation of the civil service and its infiltration by party cadres. Far more serious, and far less transparent, is the siphoning by the political elite of large slices of foreign loans intended for massive infrastructural projects. Many of these projects have doubtful investment value and some are obviously mere prestige or vanity projects with no observable economic return from the investment.”
Mwitwa stated that corruption had become the fuel for ruling class maintenance.
“Corruption has become a central necessity for keeping the ruling class in power. Unlike the former racial elite, whose whiteness was the basis of superiority, wealth is the basis of the superiority of the present ruling elite. And wealth, unlike whiteness, has to be constantly maintained,” stressed Mwitwa. “But wealth is not merely a matter of social prestige, it is also necessary for maintaining a system of patrimony – especially a corrupt system of maintaining the political support of big business by giving contracts, favours and concessions. Perhaps even more expensive is the cost of buying votes during election time, involving both the cost of bribing voters and the cost of various forms of election rigging. All of these three aspects of ruling class maintenance involve massive theft from the public purse.”
Oasis Forum conveners include Fr Emmanuel Chikoya – General Secretary (CCZ), Mwitwa – president (LAZ), Sara Longwe – NGOCC board chairperson and Fr Cleophas Lungu, the ZCCB secretary general.