21 February 2013

Zambia: Sakeni and Amsterdam Clash Over 'Idiots'

A war of words has opened up between officials of the ruling Patriotic Front party and Robert Amsterdam, an international lawyer who advises the former President Rupiah Banda and the Coalition for the Defence of Democratic Rights (CDDR).

The verbal spat began on Tuesday February 19th, when Amsterdam published a lengthy statement attacking the PF over its calls for the removal of former President Banda's immunity, which the lawyer described as "politically motivated" and an example of "selective justice."

Amsterdam's statement also took aim at the government's double standards on anti-corruption, citing the cases against Minister of Justice Wynter Kabimba and Minister of Defence Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (which were suddenly dropped the next day), as well as the acquittal of Henry Kapoko, who stood accused of corruption at the Ministry of Health.

"This wholesale undermining of rule of law is being guided by Fred M'membe of the Post Newspaper and his former business partner, Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo Nchito," Amsterdam wrote in the statement. "The two men have already allegedly abused their powers to force the government to help them avoid paying back debt to Development Bank of Zambia, and now, they are asking citizens to play the role of 'useful idiots' to support lifting immunity without even knowing why."

Following headlines in the state-owned media which claimed that Amsterdam was calling all Zambian people "idiots," Minister of Information Kennedy Sakeni released a statement (published on Zambian Watchdog) condemning Amsterdam for the insult.

"Zambians are not idiots and the former President should not hide under Amsterdam," Sakeni stated. "When he was privileged to serve as President of the Republic of Zambia, was he presiding over idiots as he is calling them now. And when he was campaigning for the Presidency during the 2011 tripartite elections, was he campaigning to lead a pack of idiots?"

Amsterdam then responded to Sakeni's statement, describing it is "defamatory" and intentionally misleading.

The arguments between Banda's team and the government stem from a complaint submitted on behalf of numerous opposition groups before the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which claimed numerous violations of rights and requested the suspension of Zambia from the Commonwealth until an independent investigation could take place. The calls to lift former President Banda's immunity began the following week, after the Jan. 25th filing date.

According to Wikipedia, "in political jargon, useful idiot is a pejorative term for people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they do not understand, and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause," and was often used to describe Soviet sympathizers in Western countries.

According to the Zambia Daily Mail article which prompted Sakeni's statement, Charles Mubanga, a Lusaka resident, was quoted saying, " You begin to wonder whether this man is a lawyer or a plain racist...How can he use words like 'backward', 'idiot' to Zambian citizens who want Mr Banda investigated...we must lodge a diplomatic complaint against him because he has gone too far."

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