PARTICULARLY in the media, telling the truth is now an existential threat, that means it’s a threat to one’s survival, Chapter One Foundation executive director Linda Kasonde has said.
Speaking on MUVI TV’s Assignment programme, Friday evening, held under the topic ‘State of Zambia’s Governance’, Kasonde said telling the truth in Zambia was now an existential threat, citing closures of The Post newspaper and Prime TV as examples.
She also explained what democracy in a country was, adding that from her own personal test, Zambia was failing on all accounts.
“Democracy is one in which those who govern us are accountable to those that elect them; where freedom of expression can be exercised without political persecution; where there is freedom of information so that our citizens can make informed decisions; where there is freedom from discrimination based on gender or otherwise; where the elected are in all of the electorate, because those are the people who wheel the power and not the other way round. From my own personal test, I think we are failing on all accounts. Because we see things like, when institutions like the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) try and hold political elites to account, they are vilified. When people try and express themselves freely, such as the youth protest that we saw on June 22, we see police in riot gear dispatched on our streets. We have been calling for the freedom of information Act for many decades, meanwhile, while we are waiting, those that tell the truth, particularly in the media, telling the truth is now an existential threat. That means it’s a threat to one’s survival. We have seen that with the Post Newspaper, Prime TV and even with Muvi TV,” Kasonde said.
“Also in terms of discrimination, we still see that women, youths and disabled persons are not being adequately represented in political and governance structures. We also see State machinery being used in retaliation against people who annoy political elites. An example of that is the Chella Tukuta case. And of course we see tribalism and violence, meaning that not everyone is considered to be equal, some are more equal than others. These are real systemic problems that we have in our democracy. But I also like to say that all is not lost, one should always be hopeful for a better future.”
Asked why she was arguing that there was lack of freedom of expression in the country when she was able to freely express herself, she spoke about her experiences when she was Law Association of Zambia president.
“In my previous role, I did experience first-hand, the result of what happens when you speak freely and truthfully. I was vilified in the press, I was walked on, on various social media platforms, I had risks to my own personal safety where cadres came to the offices of LAZ to try and protest against me. These are the real things that have happened to me and to other people, whether on social media or in real life. If indeed we do have freedom of expression, that should never happen and yet it did,” Kasonde said.
She further said the media was not operating in a safe environment.
“I don’t think it’s a safe environment [that the media is operating in]. We have seen radio stations around the country who try to host opposition leaders being bombarded by political cadres who try and stop these programs from going ahead. We have seen people being arrested on charges of sedition for speaking on radio stations. We have seen journalists being harassed. This freedom doesn’t really truly exist, unless of course, you are speaking in tune with the powers that be, which is a very dangerous situation for our democracy, because it is important for even the ruling elites to hear what the people are saying,” Kasonde said.
On President Edgar Lungu’s eligibility to recontest next year’s elections, she said, “the Constitution says one cannot hold office for more than two terms, so that’s what the issue is. In short, the issue is that the current President has held office twice and therefore should not be eligible to stand.”
Meanwhile, Kasonde said corruption in Zambia was becoming more endemic.
“In my assessment, we are not winning the fight against corruption. It’s becoming more endemic and the levels of impunity are rising ever higher. On one hand, we have our President admitting that there are corrupt elements in his government and yet in another breath, he has stated that ACC is persecuting him and his ministers. So you can’t have it both ways. We have seen the FIC report year after year, detailing cases of corruption and yet we don’t see the perpetrators of these crimes being brought to book. We have seen the Auditor General’s Report also revealing corruption and financial mismanagement in every report and we are not seeing a decrease in these numbers. So, I fully agree with Transparency International Zambia chairperson Mr Reuben Lufuka who has said that corruption is the thief of our future,” she said.
“What we want to see is action. If indeed, as he says, there are corrupt elements, let us see them get convicted, let us see corruption reducing in the trends report.”
And Kasonde said Zambians must speak against infringement on freedom of expression.
“The trouble and reason why we have landed in the situation we are in is that incrementally, the government has been testing the waters and people have allowed it and the situation is getting worse as a result. You have got at one point to say enough is enough otherwise we will all live in a repressed state and I don’t think anybody wants that,” said Kasonde.