Time for International Action on Zambia

robert-amsterdam-zambia-sata-cddrThis article was originally published in the Zambian newspaper Daily Nation.

After 16 months under the Patriotic Front (PF) government, it is fair to draw some conclusions regarding its performance.

It is time to acknowledge that Zambia’s democracy is in crisis, and the future of the multiparty system is under threat.  It is time to recognize that President Michael Sata’s administration has refused to observe the law, and when informed of violations, has neglected to take corrective measures.  As such, it is time for the people of Zambia to request action from the international community before it is too late.

Some supporters of the PF will attempt to reject any international criticism.  They will ask what right do foreign governments and organisations have talking about Zambia’s sovereign affairs?

But this is not a valid argument for several reasons.  For one, when a government is behaving illegally and in violation of its own constitution, the international community becomes responsible for the protection of the basic rights of the people.

Laws exist for a reason.  In a democracy, the rule of law is the bedrock of the social contract that provides legitimacy to elected representatives.  We have these laws to define limits on the power of elected officials over the freedom of citizens, and when this balance is disrupted (as is the case in Zambia today), the issue is no longer purely domestic, but a matter of international concern.

Additionally, the sovereignty of Zambia belongs to the Zambian people, not to the minority interest group in State House at any given moment, and as such, many international treaties, conventions, and diplomatic agreements can be invoked in defence of the people against the aggression of the state.

The vast abuses of power that have taken place under President Sata and the PF are indisputable.  Over the past six months, the Coalition for the Defence of Democratic Rights (CDDR), in cooperation with other civil society groups and opposition party members, has carefully monitored and investigated violations of rights for presentation before international bodies.

It is difficult to begin to think of the PF as a ‘government’ when citizens are not even informed of the whereabouts or health condition of their president.  Operating more like a self-interested economic cabal, State House has been running on autopilot, with presidential statements being issued that seem to be written by someone else, democracy being undone, corruption allegedly being tolerated, while opposition leaders face constant harassment and arrests by police.

Many of these concerns were raised in a recent Pastoral Letter signed by some of the nation’s most prominent religious leaders.  The bishops wrote, “Unfortunately, looking at what is happening around us, it would seem to us, that the ideals of a politically plural society have not been fully understood and appreciated by those that aspire for political leadership in our successive Governments.”

The letter continued, “Much as we acknowledge that there are by-elections occasioned by deaths of office holders, we are also increasingly seeing more and more by-lections motivated by greed, individual interests and a selfish propensity for political dominance. This is being done without care, serious prior consideration of the views of the electorate and sensitivity to the colossal amounts of money these by-elections are imposing on our economy.”

The PF’s attack on democracy began shortly after the 2011 presidential elections when they petitioned the results of all the parliamentary seats they had lost to the opposition.  Not just one or two or a half dozen, but instead they petitioned 51 seats, which is unprecedented in Zambian history, and also logically impossible.

The next step in the PF’s strategy to transform Zambia back into a one-party state has been the alleged bribery and co-optation of opposition MPs to switch parties and vacate their seats.  The upcoming by-election in Mpongwe was caused by MP Gabriel Namulambe’s decision to switch allegiances to the ruling party.  Namulambe was under pressure with a corruption case in court, which presumably will now disappear because he has joined the PF, where even the Secretary General Wynter Kabimba has refused to answer his own corruption allegations.

Meanwhile, the police, acting under instructions from State House, are cracking down on basic liberties such as freedom of association and freedom of expression, with repeated arrests of government critics.  Apparently, it is now seen as “illegal” to disagree with President Sata, as shown by the arbitrary and unlawful arrests of journalists like Chanda Chimba III and others, while political leaders such as Nevers Mumba and Hakainde Hichilema are repeatedly arrested and denied the opportunity to function as opposition parties.  .  These illegal arrests were recently cited by the South African newspaper Mail & Guardian, raising alarm bells across the region.

This established pattern of unlawful conduct by the PF represents several unambiguous violations of Zambia’s international treaties.  At the African Union level, the Sata government has clearly violated Article 13(1) of the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.  At the United Nations level, the current Zambian government is in clear violation of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and political Rights (ICCPR).  And at the Commonwealth level, the authorities have violated the principles of the 1991 Harare Declaration.

In coming weeks, the CDDR will present formal appeals before a number of international organisations detailing the nature of these violations.  The goal of these efforts is not to embarrass, provoke, or benefit any individual or special interest, but rather create incentives for the current leadership to recognize its boundaries, respect the law and the constitution, and abandon their campaign to erase political freedoms and human rights in the name of the one-party state.

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18 Comments

  1. Chris Timonde
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Mr Amsterdam you are misleading people by choosing a photo that depicts our president either as a military man or as a dictator, none of which is true. Labelling of people calling for the removal of ex-President Banda’s immunity as ‘useful idiots’ is deeply insulting, and even beyond your jurisdiction as a lawyer. Mr Banda is nothing but one of Zambia’s most corrupt ex-presidents. Let the immunity be lifted and the law take its own course, after all the MAJORITY of Zambians want to see just that. Zambians are not stupid Mr Amsterdam, and they also understand that you — as a Lawyer — are simply doing your job, but do not take them for a ride.

    • Lemekani Unelo
      Posted February 22, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

      Chris, are you a state agent working for GRZ? We are not stupid. Before you post some of these things, read and understand what you are responding to. Its the touch of ignorance that you are exhibiting that worries people like me. Nowhere in Mr Amsterdam’s statement did he call Zambians stupid. Its people like you who are actually playing that role of useful idiots. What evidence do you have to show that Banda is corrupt when the state itself after 16 months in office has failed to bring a credible case against him? What makes you think the current president Michael Sata is clean? We all can tell he is just as corrupt if not more. He has turned Zambia into his personal animal farm.

      • Chris Timonde
        Posted February 22, 2013 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

        Even if I am an agent of GRZ, so what? Maybe it is you who’s an agent, how about that? It is an elected president’s duty to root our corruption, just like Mwanawasa did. It is you who must think before posting anything. What makes think the current president is clean? Maybe it is your duty to prove that he isn’t, why ask me that?

        • Lemekani Unelo
          Posted February 25, 2013 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

          The way to root out corruption is creating and strengthening institutions like the ACC. It is not the job of the president to be hounding former regime members. It is the accuser who has the burden of proof because of the presumption of innocence principle. Claiming that Zambians saw how corrupt the RB regime was in neither here nor there. What matters is what can be proved in court based on specific charges and not some silly speculation from interested parties like politicians in the sitting govt.

          In case you havent realised, Banda was booted out for other bigger reasons like the Barotseland issue and his poor handling of dissent within MMD.

      • Chris Timonde
        Posted February 22, 2013 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

        BTW I personally am not happy or do not agree with everything the current government is doing or how, and neither must you. Zambia is not Animal Farm just because you or Amsterdam think so! The problem with some of you people is that you live in a Dream World. Nothing is perfect in Zambia, we are still a very poor country, struggling, but some things call for pragmatism. Sata is not perfect, but I see nothing wrong in the current government following up on traces of corrupt deals engaged in by the previous administration. If Sata and his PF are corrupt today or were corrupt yesterday, it will also be their turn to face the music tomorrow. I hope that helps.

        • Prof. W
          Posted February 22, 2013 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

          That’s fair enough, Chris, you are of course entitled to your opinion.

          However I think you are missing the fundamental point being raised by Amsterdam – you can’t prejudicially declare that Rupiah Banda was “corrupt” (which both Sata and Kabimba have already done) without first going through the formal process of a trial.

          What Amsterdam is pointing out is that THE GOVT HASN’T EVEN SAID WHAT EXACTLY HE ALLEGEDLY DID WRONG? Was it oil deals? Was it privatization? Was it some kind of embezzlement? Just give me something here.

          The refusal to define even one single allegation or area that they believe corruption occurred makes it impossible for him to defend himself. They just say corrupt corrupt corrupt over and over again because they clearly want to attack their political opponent.

          • Chris Timonde
            Posted February 22, 2013 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

            From my knowledge, RB is wanted for questioning for alleged corrupt activities. The government certainly has its own grounds to want to lift his (so-called) immunity. Remember Chiluba?). When someone is wanted for questioning, it mustn’t be a must to reveal details of the charges, what for? RB is running, along with his son(s), but for how long? Never forget that to every story, there’s usually an opposite version. One fundamental point you yourself are missing is that Zambians SAW how corrupt the RB regime was, no wonder they wanted change and booted out RB, and no wonder MMD is currently in disarray, almost dead. Zambians have always wanted to see corruption cases prosecuted IN THEIR LIFETIME, not later!!! Think of Chiluba, but it was clear during RB’s rule that anti-corruption was only a paper tiger. RB even disbanded the ACC. So you tell me you yourself are sure RB never did anything wrong? Rethink your position. Zambians simply want to see the charges/cases heard, and there are many Zambian community leaders interested in seeing justice, I don’t even need to remind anyone of that.

    • the sinks
      Posted February 23, 2013 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      Ironically, if you don’t understand the situation in our country the best is not to comment. Am a patriotic Zambian who is born and bred in this country. Being called a useful idiot by a foreigner is an absolute insult. How such a foolish lawyer should call an entire sovereign state an nation of idiots amazes me. Where does he get his courage to say such things. Am beginning to believe we a dealing with a racist who has no place in the modern global village. We can and will tolerate such nonsense but only to a certain extent. The purported political crisis is neither there no here. Honestly we have a set of misguided politicians trying to create a situation out of true reality. The truth of the matter is the opposition is disjointed and that Government has a right to protect our sovereign state from both external and internal enemies. Amsterdam I know the promise of a healthy perk is there, but don’t start a battle you will fail to quench. It is not yet your call and we as Zambians know how Rupiah behaved when he was in power. If this is the way you think you will gain the sympathy of the media, it is a storm in a tea cup. In Bemba we say ‘ mwikala patalala mwine apatalalika’. He who stays in a peaceful place makes it peaceful by himself. Mr Amstedam the new world does not need slave minded rhetoric deep rooted racists like you. We are not interested as a country. Go to your called lonely home and start teaching the about your stupid ideas on human rights better animal rights.

      • Lemekani Unelo
        Posted February 25, 2013 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

        Have you ever heard the saying that if you want to hide something from a black man, put it in a book? If you had only spent 5 minutes Googling the phrase “useful idiots” you would not be peddling the crap you are throwing around here.

  2. Chris Timonde
    Posted February 22, 2013 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    https://www.facebook.com/notes/zambia-daily-mail/rb-amsterdam-in-blowback/438000046294014

    RB, Amsterdam in blowback

    by Zambia Daily Mail on Friday, 22 February 2013 at 22:01·

    SIMPLY explained by scholars, a blowback is described as a consequence of a covert (under-cover) operation that is suffered by an often innocent and unsuspecting civil population.

    To the innocent civilians suffering the blowback, the effect typically manifests itself as “random” acts of political or social disturbances without a discernible, direct cause; because the innocent public – in whose name the intelligence agency acted – are ignorant of the effected secret attacks that provoked revenge (counter-attack) against them.

    This is the same explanation resources such as Wikipedia give regarding the theory, which might appear remote to Zambian readers but is actually a reality right in front of our very own eyes as the Robert Amsterdam, Rupiah Banda “idiot” and “backward” saga deepens, angering many Zambians – the unsuspecting civil population.

    Amsterdam has bragged on his website that he is capable of manipulating the media to gain sympathy for his clients, and maybe in some cases in the past, he has succeeded in manipulating issues.

    Riding high on some ‘success’ in the past, he sought to use the same method to defend Mr Banda and his fugitive son Henry, here in Zambia.

    The tactic, however, appears to have blown back or back fired right in his face. It has gone terribly wrong after he chose the wrong words to use as he gets desperate for a daily dose of 15 minutes of fame.

    He called Zambians “idiots” and the country’s leadership “backward” in what has been seen by many solid analysts and thinkers as down right, racist, condescending and even patronising.

    Zambians are angered by the unwarranted insults leveled at them and now Amsterdam is cowing away in his rare shy cocoon and claiming Information Minister Kennedy Sakeni twisted the facts when he placed him on the spot for the derogatory and racist remarks… No way!

    This is not the first time Amsterdam is insulting Zambians using the skewed knowledge of Zambia he has gained from arguably compromised sources such as those being probed for graft and those that are bitter poll losers.

    He has insulted citizens of this nation, its leaders, journalists such as The Post publisher Fred M’membe and even our very own DPP Mutembo Nchito at will because he feels they are settling scores with his wealthy clients and subsequently rocking his boat.

    Zambians are normally a tolerant lot of people with lots of time for all sorts of people, normal or eccentric. We have been known to turn the biblical “other cheek” in some instances.

    However, history is replete with examples of Zambians going wild when pushed too far such as in the way Amsterdam has done with his new cheap racist shots.

    Like one lawyer Paulman Chungu once said, “Soccer is played on a soccer field and legal battles are fought in court…if Mr Amsterdam thinks he has a case, let him bring his clients to court and have his day instead of issuing inflammatory media statements.”

    But now we know what we never knew about Amsterdam before and the “media” and “legal” twists he employs to gain sympathy.

    His tactic is to infuriate governments pursuing justice and forcing them in a corner to make statements he may use at some voluntary international organisation to make a case against the complainants.

    His tactic has boomeranged today and the only losers are his wealthy clients, the Bandas, who must be paying him tonnes of money to keep him in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

    We side with Mr Sakeni when he says Mr Banda must take responsibility for calling Zambians idiots and not Amsterdam because he who pays the piper, calls the tune.

    It is doubly shameful that Mr Banda has lowered himself to insulting the people who gave him the one rare shot to become President of this great nation.

    Amsterdam, once referred to by Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba as a mercenary, we can forget. He’s a foreigner interested only in money.

    Mr Banda, on the other hand, owes the nation gratitude and an apology. He must show responsibility and apologise for the racist words coming out of his US-born and trigger-happy Canadian lawyer.

    Zambians deserve loads of commendation for holding it together and must act decisively against those that get paid handsomely – maybe using taxpayers’ money – to divide them.

    Amsterdam must reflect on his racially charged condescending statements.

    This is a blowback.

    • Prof. W
      Posted February 22, 2013 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

      Why are you posting further lies here? You KNOW for a fact that Amsterdam never called anyone an idiot. This is truly pathetic stuff you are peddling here.

      • Chris Timonde
        Posted February 22, 2013 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

        I am posting this to let you see how other ZAMBIANS view this matter. Your opinion of RB (or (Amsterdam’s) is certainly not the majority’s. We are discussing alleged corruption committed by RB and the MMD, we are not talking about whether Sata/PF is a dictator/dictatorship or not. This case is about corruption, not dictatorship. Don’t mix up the two.

        • Prof. W
          Posted February 23, 2013 at 3:22 am | Permalink

          If you want to know how ZAMBIANS view the matter, you would not quote the PF media!! Yes, this is definitely about dictatorship. Why the public order act? Why arrest Nevers and HH so many times? Why let Kabimba run away from the ACC? Why let Nchito and M’membe steal millions from DBZ?

          You don’t have any answers to these questions, you don’t have any serious specific allegation against RB, and you cannot be taken seriously. I also seriously doubt that you live in Zambia, judging by your complete detachment from reality.

  3. Banda4Live
    Posted February 23, 2013 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    There is blatant manipulation in Zambia’s media by the ruling party, which day by day is losing its legitimacy and turning into their ideological father, ZANU-PF.

    Why do they only tell us lies when the kwacha is crashing, mealie meal prices shooting through the roof, violent, thieving cadres taking over our streets?

    Shame on the PF, shame.

  4. Chris Timonde
    Posted February 23, 2013 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Well, keep your opinion to yourself, you have that right; but so also do the people of Zambia (or those who choose so) have the right to know the full truth behind these alleged financial escapades and, if necessary, have the (alleged) crooks penalised in any possible way! Running from the law is an offence, counter-productive, and I find it almost comical that a foreigner like Mr Amsterdam can claim to have any first-hand knowledge of the political machinations and goings-on in a sometimes very corrupt country like Zambia, feeble as our governmental structures still are. Power is indeed sweet, easily abusable and ultimately corrupts (those in power, especially in a weak “democracy” like ours) , ask the late Dr. Chiluba. Goodbye!

  5. Truth
    Posted February 23, 2013 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    Lots of PF-paid trolls lurking around here – don’t feed them!

  6. joe
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Chris Timonde we know you are a minister in dictator micheal sata’s government. just wasting money on bye elections, bribing opposition mps when people are dieing in hospital because there is no medicine. have mercy for the poor you claim to stand for. don’t fool people because time is catching up with you thieves who misled the Zambian people. God bless the poor people of zambia

  7. Posted March 6, 2013 at 12:56 am | Permalink

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