As far back as multi-party legislative issues were presented in 1991, Zambia has had a majority rule government that in African circles can really be praised for functioning admirably enough, if not as perfectly as that of South Africa or Ghana.Last month, however, the opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was arrested on trumped up treason charges. Hichilema who is the leader of the opposition United Party for National Development (UNDP) had been found guilty of blocking the president’s motorcade during a ceremony.
The Conference of Catholic Bishops – one of the most influential bodies in the country, was quick to react, publishing a statement soon after that stated;
“Our country is now all, except in designation, a dictatorship.”
Considering the fact that the bishops rarely speak out publicly, their outcry is certainly drawing some attention to Zambia’s situation. Their words are also made more valuable because they cannot be accused of political bias. The bishops were seen in the past to be sympathetic to the President’s party, the governing Patriotic Front.
In their statement, the bishops point as their reason for the caution, the Hakainde Hichilema’s arrest. They said that the government has not yet provided any evidence to substantiate the treason charge.
They also lament the fact that the Constitutional Court has failed to effectively hear the opposition’s election petition, believing the judiciary have “let the people down”.
The next thing that they point out is the politicization of the police force which has resulted in the violation of citizens’ rights. That concern extended to the media which have supposedly been entrapped in a “culture of silence”.
Only time will tell if the Conference of Catholic Bishops is spot on about this, all eyes are on President Edgar Lungu to see if he relents and releases the opposition leader in the face of the public outcry.