6 November 2017

Zambia: Is Pres. Lungu's War On the Judiciary a Mere Coincidence?

opinion

The debate about President Edgar Lungu sending a warning note to judges over the possibility of disqualifying him from standing in the 2021 elections has generated a lot of reactions.

President Lungu went on a walkabout on how much chaos there could be if his candidature is thwarted.

The Head of State warned against walking the Kenya route where the judges overturned President Uhuru Kenyatta's election.

Perhaps more surprising was not the weight of the words used but the timing of the sentiments that smelt of an apocalyptic flavour. Does the President know something that the public does not? Where is this judicial phobia coming from?

In any case in the matter President Lungu is pushing his weight in, he is not even party to the court process. It is Dan Pule's league of Patriotic Front aligned journalists that originated the court process seeking the interpretation of the constitution.

It is clear that Pule and his cohorts did not foresee the possibility that they may have opened a Pandora's Box that could serve the opposite purpose of why it was initiated.

Why could this be an issue at this hour? It is the timing of these sentiments that we find puzzling.

For avoidance of doubt we reproduce part of the verbal tirade as given out by President Lungu.

"To my colleagues in the Judiciary, my message is just do your work, interpret the law without fear or favour and look at the best interest of this country. Don't become a copycat and think that you are a hero if you plunge this country into chaos.

"I want to close by saying that those people who don't like peace and freedom will say 'President Lungu is intimidating the courts of law', I am not intimidating the judiciary, I am just warning you because I have information that some of you want to be adventurous, your adventure should not plunge us into chaos please!" he said.

Quite a mouthful but even more frightening to imagine that the Head of State uttered those words.

"In English there is a saying, to be forewarned is to be forearmed. We don't want to plunge this country into chaos because we are trying to imitate what's happening elsewhere. We are a beckon of peace and freedom, let us keep it that way. I was on the ballot paper as candidate and I assured that I would protect Zambia and that I will do. God bless you."

He warned against emulating Kenyan judges saying they did not care about the will of the people.

"Yes, I want to make it very clear. People are saying Zambian courts should emulate Kenyan courts and I want to be very sincere on this one, people are saying Zambian courts should be brave and make decisions which are in the interest of the people but look at what's happening in Kenya now. I am saying the courts of law in Zambia should also see what's happening, they should not behave like they are not part of our African continent. The most important thing I can say now is, 2021, I am available to stand if my party chooses me," he said.

Interestingly this is not the first time State House has weighed heavily on the judiciary which is the only remaining arm of government they do not fully control.

On November 27, 2016 State House press aide Amos Chanda did threaten the judiciary with the Kenyan parallel once again coming into play.

Chanda said, "Yes there is some discomfort in the party, remember I speak for the presidency and the President is the Head of the Party and I can say here that there is discomfort over the conduct of the Judiciary."

"The Judiciary must not be like politicians. The Judiciary must not push the Executive to push judicial reforms the Kenya style. Judges are members of society, they are not in Jupiter, their actions must be in tune with society, and they should not create doubts. There is discomfort in the party about what some judges say to members of the opposition and when we see their outcomes, it creates discomfort but not fear," he said.

Chanda added, "Let's not have the judiciary that puts itself on trial."

As students of history we only hope that these sentiments are mere coincidences of momentary lapses by those that hold the highest office in the land.

After all when everything else fails, the judiciary is the only beacon the citizenry can rely on to preserve sanity other than their ultimate power.

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