In contrast to the shortage of authentic, consistent heroes in public life, Zambia had a huge surplus of disappointing individuals and institutions in 2019, as the competition for uninspiring conduct grew even fiercer. Indeed, such is the surplus that if we are really serious about diversifying and resuscitating Zambia’s ailing economy, we will do well to consider exporting many of them alongside copper. None of the people and institutions on the list that follows would be missed.

Given Lubinda: Two things summed up the changed character of Minister of Justice, Given Lubinda, in 2019. The first was the way he treated former state employees who regularly camped at the Ministry of Justice to press for their pension benefits. Instead of responding to their plight with sympathy and understanding, he came out as callous and uncaring, dismissing them as “a very big disturbance to people who come to the Ministry of Justice” and inflicting underserved praise on himself for “allowing those people to have their meetings at the offices”. The second and most disturbing was Lubinda’s absolute willingness to serve as the handmaiden of corrupting Zambia’s constitution, exemplified by his role in the creation of the deplorable Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill No. 10, whose horrific implications appear to be beyond his own understanding. There is no doubt that the current constitution has lacunas that need to be sorted out, but instead of confining himself to correcting these innocuous gaps, Lubinda saw the opportunity as a platform for smuggling into the national law provisions that seek to secure the PF’s hold on power and consolidate Lungu’s creeping dictatorship. His earlier support for the National Dialogue Forum, a disgraced body whose creation was born out of coercion and threats, demonstrated his moral depravity without equivocation.

Zambia’s politicians appear to be so principled when outside power. Once in power, it is as if they are suddenly bitten by a tick that corrosively impairs their judgement. Few political leaders illustrate this tragic turn than the former United Party for National Development (UPND) Kabwata Member of Parliament. Many Zambians will recall Lubinda as an opposition politician committed to combating abuse, injustice and corruption. Since assuming his position as Minister of Justice, where he could make a real difference on the issues he was apparently so passionate about, Lubinda has lost his voice. There is very little he won’t do now in furthering the very ignoble things that the former Lubinda would have died opposing. Whatever changed and made Given Lubinda forget his principles, I am hoping that life’s many trials and temptations do not turn me into someone like him – a person I will no longer recognise someday. None of us is immune to that malady. Perhaps what is important is the capacity to sit down and reflect whenever we get a chance. It is those quiet moments that remind us of who we are and what we stand for. Also helpful is having a set of friends who are loyal enough to slap us back into reality whenever we stray so that we are not completely lost or end up like Lubinda.

Tutwa Ngulube: When a community rots, there are individuals whose form of public conduct exemplifies the decay; those who, without shame, compete to outshine everyone in attracting the attention of ‘the master’ at the centre, who rise to become the most vociferous defenders of much that is wrong about a political administration, and whose utterances most disgust the healthy segment of the country’s population. Tutwa Ngulube, based on his 2019 actions, moved a step closer to reaching the level of this cohort. Many Zambians now know Ngulube for many wrong reasons, including as a lawyer who is prepared to undermine the constitution for the benefit of his political interests, not public interest. His outbursts against retired Archbishop of Lusaka Telesphore Mpundu and his grovelling defence for Bill 10 were truly disgusting.

The most dangerous thing about Ngulube is that he clothes his views, however appalling, in formal education and legal training. He does not hesitate to remind anyone that he is a lawyer, a lawmaker and a man of great education or understanding – so some people actively listen when he speaks. The conduct of individuals like Ngulube is partly responsible for nurturing the development of terrible character traits in public leaders. Lungu, for instance, may have some self-doubt about his capacity to perform the job of president, but if he hears lawyers or educated people heaping praise on his ‘legendary competence’ or ‘exceptional leadership qualities’, it is easy to see how the content of his character may worsen. It is worth remembering that even Adolf Hitler, Charles Taylor and Idi Amin had choirmasters of praise who, as Ngulube is doing to Lungu, emboldened their dictatorial behaviour.

It may be that Ngulube, who is facing strong competition from Kabwe Mayor Prince Chileshe for adoption as the PF’s 2021 candidate for Kabwe Central constituency, may have reasoned that adulation for the party leader would aid his re-adoption chances.

Inonge Wina: Outside politics, Inone Wina was a dignified decent human being, a forthright and upstanding civic actor outraged by abuse, injustice, lies and corruption. In politics, particularly since her ascent to the position of Vice-President, she has retained the company of all these vices and turned out to be the Queen Mother of Zambia’s tragic march to backwardness. In 2019, she remained so silent in the face of abuse, injustice, corruption and the shrinking democratic space in the country that one may think her conscience has been stolen. Rather than advancing integrity and the cause of progress, she proved that she has no problem serving as the handmaiden to the birth of authoritarianism in Zambia. What would Inonge Wina’s former self think of her now?

I would really want to meet and ask Wina what happened to her. Was civil society or civic engagement for her simply a route out of poverty, a mere job to earn nshima and keep herself busy, one whose values or ideals she did not actually believe in? Where are her convictions? The Wina of before was a woman admired by many, and a breath of fresh air worth listening and talking to. The Wina of today is indistinguishable from Lungu and no longer respected by most. To be fair, though, she has been consistent since 2014. In Lungu’s disorderly rise to the party presidency, she was at the centre of it. In fact, Wina can be credited for the inglorious honour of having effectively bequeathed the Lungu presidency to Zambia, alongside Kelvin Bwalya Fube, that judge now on the Constitutional Court bench, and Tutwa Ngulube.

Edgar Lungu: In 2019, President Lungu, who is very good at pretending that he is a selfless and humble leader, did all the wrong things that it is almost impossible to think of other wrongdoings that he can do this year, but he is such a talented wrongdoer that he will imagine other wrongdoings that we have not thought of. The President was the ultimate failure or most disappointing public official of the year. He, treating the judiciary with absolute contempt, denounced an unfavourable judgement from the Constitutional Court that found that he had illegally kept ministers in power following the dissolution of Parliament. He, pledging to go it alone, vowed to ignore the voice of Zambians opposed to the proposed constitutional changes. He, imagining himself as the employer of everyone and in clear violation of the law, unilaterally downgraded the employment conditions of non-unionised civil servants. He, having blissful life in State House, remained totally indifferent to the plight of many, in the midst of mass unemployment and a crippling energy crisis, including the starving millions of Zambians whose predicament he refused to declare a national crisis.

The most dangerous thing about Lungu is that he is extinguishing whatever illusions about democracy we thought we had. For human beings to live well in a community together, there must be a set of rules, such as the constitution and by which every individual is bound, to regulate the behaviour of the members of that community towards one another. Taking Zambia as his personal property, Lungu has consistently shown his contempt for these rules; that he is not bound by the rule of law or the constitution. Since his ascension to power, he has effectively destroyed the vestiges of autonomy in all state institutions outside the executive arm of government for the purposes of establishing an authoritarian regime and a slide into a fearful dictatorship. We will do well to begin to see Lungu as the ultimate successor of our historical slide towards a totalitarian state or the rise of a totalitarian person in the office of president.

Likando Kalaluka: The primary job of the Attorney General is to alert the government to the possible violations of the law before they occur. At this singular task, Likando Kalaluka failed terribly in 2019. When President Lungu, for instance, illegally slashed the salaries of non-unionised civil servants without their consent, or when he demonstrated his contempt for the judgement of the Constitutional Court on the case of ministers, it reflected very poorly on the government’s chief legal advisor, who is also a key member of Cabinet. Every government decision and document that has legal implications must go through the Attorney General. It is only in rare cases where a court has to intervene to interpret the law. Where the violation of the law by the executive is consistent, it makes the position of Attorney General totally superfluous. If Kalaluka has any self-respect, why has he not resigned since Lungu appears to have no regard for his professional advise? Or is it Kalaluka himself who is simply incompetent at his job?

Zambia Police: In 2019, the Zambia Police Service enhanced its growing reputation as a PF militia funded by the taxpayers. Three most disappointing things about the police stood out last year. The first was the arrest of national asset Chama Fumba, alias Pilato, for the crime of exercising his constitutional freedom of assembly in Livingstone where he was training youths on how to effectively participate in governance. (To demonstrate the absurdity or defectiveness of the charge: how does police justify the arrest of a citizen in a church building, which is exempt from the requirements of the Public Order Act? How do they arrest a single person for unlawful assembly?) The second was the consistent failure to stop the violent behaviour of machete-wielding or gun-trotting PF cadres – be it during the beating of Kabwe council workers protesting against delayed payment of salaries or the fatal political violence that preceded the Roan constituency and Kaoma council by-elections. The third was the constant violation of the opposition’s right to assemble and conduct political meetings or rallies. All these actions underscored the institutional deterioration, loss of autonomy and politicisation of the police.

The core operational duties of a professional police service is to maintain law and order, protect members of the public and their property, prevent the commission of offences and to bring the offenders to justice. To effectively execute these responsibilities, the police must possess the authority, widely recognised by the public, as the lawful and rightful body to enforce them and to do so in a professional and impartial manner that builds public confidence in the institution and helps improve the quality of life for all citizens. It is precisely this authority that has deserted the police in today’s Zambia.

The public, rather than viewing it as an apolitical and professional body that is out to protect individual liberties of all Zambians regardless of their political affiliation, now regards the police as nothing more than a frontline force of the elites in power and their supporters, out to maintain peace violently, terrorise citizens, and obstruct the exercise of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms in order to prevent political competition for the benefit of Lungu. It does not help that the police are under the command of a Minister of Home Affairs who, in 2019, said some of the most irrational things imaginable, such as threatening to arrest Hakainde Hichilema for being confident of winning next year’s election. The net result is what we have today: an institution so bereft of public respect that it is largely a matter of discretion to refer to it as a service. More disturbingly, a two-tier system of policing has emerged under Kampyongo’s ministerial watch: one for PF leaders and cadres who are at liberty to do as they please, including beating, wounding and possibly killing anyone, and another for the rest of us who can be arrested even for what the PF thinks we are thinking, are denied their rights to assemble, and whose individual liberties are constantly trampled upon at will.

Geoffrey Lungwangwa and Teddy Kasonso: UPND Nalikwanda MP Geoffrey Lungwangwa and his 70-year old Solwezi West counterpart Teddy Kasonso defied their party’s directive to all its MPs that they should walk out when Bill 10 is restored to the order paper in Parliament for second reading. Lungwangwa in particular went on to make two ridiculous claims in support of the deplorable proposed constitutional amendment, which, for a person of his standing and level of exposure, was most disappointing. First, the former University of Zambia deputy vice-chancellor claimed that most of the terrible proposed clauses in the Bill have been addressed by the report of the Select Parliamentary Committee that was appointed to scrutinise it. Second, the former Cabinet minister under the Rupiah Banda administration asserted that having been a member of the Select Committee, it would be inappropriate for him to walk out or even oppose the Bill. On both accounts, Lungwangwa was either deliberately misleading Zambians, unforgivably ignorant, or was lying on a fundamental issue – and whichever it is, neither will do.

The Select Committee’s report has little bearing on Bill 10, which will soon be presented in Parliament unchanged, and is effectively useless as it is neither debated nor binding on anyone. The report is merely advisory and can be ignored by the executive branch of government, as many previous reports have been. In addition, MPs who were part of the Select Committee appointed to scrutinise Bill 10 are absolutely free to oppose and vote against it. This is because there is a clear distinction in procedure between reports presented to Parliament by committees for adoption and reports on bills. As Speaker Patrick Matibini previously ruled in a similar matter, “MPs who vote contrary to the recommendations of their Committee reports on Bills are not out of order. When a Bill comes up for second reading, the motion before the House is whether or not the Bill should be read the 2nd time. The report of the Committee that considered the Bill is not brought to the House for approval, but is merely used to aid members as they debate the Bill”.

One hopes that Lungwangwa and Kasonso will this year oppose Bill 10 when it is finally presented for second reading. Ordinarily, when an individual chooses to belong to a political party, they choose to abide by the rules and regulations of that organisation. Like PF MPs, Lungwangwa and Kasonso are however free to break ranks with their party on certain subjects, especially on a crucial matter like the constitution, but they should only do so in instances where breaking ranks is in the greater interest of the public.

For the year 2020, my message to ALL Zambians is simple: we commit the greatest crime by remaining silent or doing nothing to stop our country’s slide into open tyranny and authoritarian rule. We have only one country to which we all belong, and which belongs to all of us. We have a duty and responsibility to stop the current rot and prevent our descent into a darkness we may never recover from. Time is running out, fast.