“Government is deeply disturbed by reports of interference in the programming of some radio stations in Mpika and Chinsali districts, where some broadcast programmes have reportedly been disrupted and some unlawful directives ordered. Government wishes to place on record that there are laws in place, with very specific provisions of who has authority to regulate broadcasting in the country. The IBA Act provides for every citizen, whether in their official or individual capacity, who feels aggrieved by the conduct of any broadcasting station, to lodge a complaint to the IBA. It is, therefore, a total violation of the IBA Act, and an embarrassment to the Government and its leadership, for any person to procure other people to storm a radio station and disrupt a broadcast programme. Government condemns, in the strongest terms, reported incidents involving some suspected PF cadres who attempted to stop a radio programme on Muchinga Radio that featured the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) leader, Mr. Hakainde Hichilema. Government also condemns the incident in Mpika district where Mr Hichilema is reported to have been barred from featuring on Mpika Community Radio. The two unfortunate incidents have no blessings from Government. Government remains committed to the promotion of citizens’ rights, including the right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed in the national Constitution, provided that the freedom is exercised within the confines of the law.”
The minister added: “I can confirm that I did speak with the Secretary General of the party last night over this incident and he is quite disturbed himself. Government has demonstrated that anybody who breaks the law will be arrested. We had a number of people arrested in Chipata who beat a journalist. So we hope that the Ministry of Home Affairs who are responsible for people breaking the law will address this matter and I am sure we will keep you posted.”
This message from the Ministry of Information was so pleasing to hear and totally unbelievable! In a normal society, this is how a good government that is committed to promoting rule of law is supposed to act. Lawlessness is a lack of law, in any of the various senses of the word; and the PF has tolerated the breakdown of rule of law for a very long time. We have witnessed anarchy at an alarming rate in this country. PF cadres have been living above the laws, undermining institutions of governance. It has now become the “new normal” that cadres from the ruling party can break laws without any consequences. Without lawlessness, PF would not be in power, actually. This is why this statement from the Ministry of Information is shockingly pleasing.
We saw a statement from PF provincial officials in Muchinga declaring that the province is a no go area for the opposition. Who tells them that PF owns some regions of this country? Who tells them that since they live in Muchinga, they own the province? This is madness. The thugs who disrupted the opposition UPND leader on radio are the ones who are in the forefront of accusing other regions of being tribal. This is how a country is divided.
And look at the reasons they had for blocking the opposition leader! They claim that the province is busy trying to control the spread of Covid-19, and no negative sentiments would be allowed to be heard from the UPND president. Now, even assuming that indeed Mr Hichilema intended to criticise the government in its handling of the pandemic, what is wrong with that? When he was donating towards the fight against Coronavirus, you were happy, but when he tries to demand accountability, you want to throw stones at him? This is wrong.
It is shameful for cadres to throng a radio station to disrupt a programme out of bitterness for a politician who holds divergent views. And this incident underscores the dangers of lawlessness. As the adage goes, “fish rots from the head.” When leaders and those who are supposed to know the law better don’t live by it, then it would be a matter of time before the entire society becomes ungovernable.
Unfortunately for Zambia, even law enforcement agencies whose activities and operations are supposed to be neutral and free of government interference do not seem to be keeping their neutrality in a way that ensures equal administration of justice. President Barrack Obama once reminded us that “Africa doesn’t need macho men (strongmen), it needs strong institutions”. That is exactly what Zambia needs.
Now government should not stop at condemning the unruly PF cadres, the law must follow them. Those who issued the directives to stop Hichilema’s programmes are well known individuals, some of them serving in this same government. They must therefore be arrested and made to account. Since the PF has not disputed that those were their cadres, they should make sure that the party officials who sponsored this act of lawlessness are subjected to the disciplinary process.