OUTGOING US Embassy in Zambia interim Chargé d’Affaires David Young says Zambia needs to get rid of the Public Order Act.
And incoming US Chargé d’Affaires Martin Dale says President Hakainde Hichilema’s visit to the US hails a new beginning for the US-Zambia partnership.
At a media briefing, Tuesday, Young said the Public Order Act undermined democracy.
“One of the other things we have raised as a concern very strongly is the Public Order Act. We have emphasized to the new government of President Hichilema, his advisors, his minister that the POA is one of the laws that undermines democracy more strongly. The bottom line is if you are in government, if you are in power, you like the POA, if you are in opposition, you don’t like the POA. But we need to level the playing field so that all parties; UPND, PF, DP, Socialist Party, MMD, everybody will have the chance to compete fairly going forward. So, I think one of the legal reforms that I hope and trust that Zambia will take up and focus on is either repealing or dramatically amending the POA,” Young said.
“I think the POA has got to go. I think that is one of the things that if I can look on across the border and see that the POA is done away with, I think that will be a really positive thing to strengthen Zambia’s democracy. A lot of SADC countries, a lot of countries across Africa don’t have a law like that. You don’t need it anymore. You got a lot of great things from my friends, the British but you don’t need to keep that one anymore. Get rid of the POA.”
And Young said it would take a year and a half for Zambia to have an Ambassador.
“I am finishing my 20 months serving in Zambia, it has been my second time here in the country with my family and we have thoroughly enjoyed my second home of Zambia. It has been an absolutely wonderful experience. People often ask about when the next US Ambassador will come, bottom line, it is going to be a long time. It takes about a year and a half between the time a person is selected and they go through the process to get approved as Ambassador,” he said.
“I am actually bound for Malawi, where I will be the US Ambassador next but I depend on the US senate to confirm my appointment and that takes a long time. It was over a year ago that I was selected to be the US Ambassador to Malawi and I am still not there yet. With regards to an Ambassador coming to Zambia, there is a person that is being selected but they have to go through the background checks and all the vetting before they will be able to arrive here. So what that means is it’s going to be quite some time. Martin will be the Charge of the US mission in this period.”
Young said Zambia was almost brought to a crisis on the eve of the presidential elections over a provision on what happens if a presidential candidate withdraws from the race.
“With regards to constitutional reforms, legal reforms, I think every country can improve and every country can strengthen its democracy. I think one thing we saw in the campaign season was that there was unusual little corks in your constitution like there are in ours, but in your constitution there is a provision and the big question is if somebody drops out of the presidential race after they are on the ballot as a candidate, will that cause a delay in the presidential election? That is a question that you need to look [at] because I think that it almost brought Zambia to a crisis on the eve of the presidential election in August,” he said.
Young said the US-Zambia relations had been solid.
“As you all know, US- Zambia relations have been really solid. We have worked very well together on health cooperation, education, so many different areas but in the last couple of months, we kind of took it to a new level. As you know well, President Hichilema visited Washington DC and New York for the opening of the United Nations US Assembly. He was the first Zambian President to go to the White House since 1992. We are cooperating in four broad areas, we do a lot of work together supporting democracy and good governance, we work together with the new government on supporting economic revitalization and creating jobs and helping create more trade and investment between our two sides. We work together on health and human investments in people. We also work together on peace and security because Zambia provided a lot of peacekeepers around the continent,” he said.
“Our health cooperation keeps 1.1 million Zambians alive, that is an amazing impact of our friendship. When you think about being an all-weather friend, think about keeping 1.1 million people alive who are HIV positive. It is one of the proudest things that I feel good about as an American Citizen, as an American diplomat, that we have cooperated together to save lives of children and mothers and to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV, that is an extraordinary achievement.
Young said Zambia was recognized as one of the strong democracies in Africa because of the peaceful transfer of power between parties.
“The other experience that jumps out of mind comes from last August. I think I went out with other members of our team and observed the voting in August for the Presidential and general elections. I talked to certain young people who were first time voters who had been in line for eight hours but they weren’t giving up. They were standing in line to cast their votes for the first time because they believed in democracy. I think that is an extraordinarily powerful thing. And it is one of the things that binds together Zambia and the US as fellow democracies. Former president Lungu fought hard in the race, he lost this vote this time. It is the third time he had run against HH but he recognized the vote and the will of the Zambian people and he agreed to transfer power peacefully and he did not pursue a petition and he showed up on inauguration day, I think that was a very special thing, I think that is something I take away from your democracy,” he said.
“No matter who you voted for, or which party you voted for, the powerful thing is that people came out to vote. They stood in line on a day that demanded dedication and they were committed to making their vote count. I think that is an extraordinary part of a heritage that our countries share as democracies. Zambia today is recognized as one of the strong democracies in Africa because three times you had had transfer of power peacefully between parties. I salute members of the UPND and members of the PF for helping facilitate that back and forth, that is a powerful legacy of Zambia.”
When asked if the Embassy had received a letter from the PF over President Joe Biden’s remarks that youths in Zambia voted out a corrupt regime, Young responded in the affirmative but maintained that the embassy did not take any sides in the elections.
“I receive a lot of letters at the US Embassy. I received one letter that is kind of what you are talking about. I would say that we believe very strongly that people spoke in the election and they came out and voted in big numbers and youths were a big part of that. As President Biden said at the UN General Assembly, youths campaigning, youths voting, youths staying in line for eight hours at the time was a very powerful example of Zambian democracy. I would say I have had several meetings with friends in the PF over the last days as I have been finishing up my time in Zambia. I have told several of them that you know Zambia needs a strong multi-party democracy and the PF has a role to play,” Young said.
“The PF has a place in Zambia’s multi-party democracy. I think a number of the leaders in PF are working to kind of understand what happened in the election and respond to that, but to be responsive to people’s concerns about democracy, about the economy, about improving the lives of Zambians. But I would just want to say we don’t take sides in the elections. So we are not for UPND, we are not for PF, we have never been. We have been for the Zambian people, for democracy, we want to support that and we will continue supporting that going forward.”
Asked to comment on PF’s complaints that there was a witch-hunt and their members were being harassed, Young said justice needed to be balanced.
“With regards to going after people of one party or the other, justice needs to be balanced, it needs to be fair. If people commit crimes, then the law will hold them to account and that should happen no matter what party you are from, it shouldn’t be tilted to one party or the other. The law should be brought to bear when people break the law because it is justice, it is a deterrent, it prevents from happening in the future,” he said.
When asked if his country would cut aid if Zambia did not support gay rights, Young responded in the negative but said there was need for tolerance, respect and love for one’s neighbour.
“The US and Zambia have deep bonds of friendship that have gone back decades and they will go forward for decades. We are going to work closely together on our cooperation to provide health access to all people. To make sure that we support the education of your children. We are going to work together to support peace keepers from Zambia to provide security across the continent. That cooperation will continue. We are very excited and very enthusiastic about where this relationship with President Hichilema is going and we are very hopeful. I have been very appreciative and talking with him about a tone of commitment for human dignity and tolerance. You know we don’t have to agree on everything but I think we can agree on tolerance and respect and love your neighbor,” said Young.
Meanwhile, Dale said the US was ready to partner with the new dawn administration.
“With His Excellency President Hichilema’s visit to the US, it definitely hails a new beginning for the US-Zambia partnership. So, we are truly excited about this partnership and the tremendous potential that we have going forward. In particular, His Excellency has made it very clear on this message of economic prosperity and jobs for youths. And the US as a partner, we stand ready to partner with the new dawn administration to really realize these dreams and aspirations that you all have for your country,” said Dale.