The brutal force which our police service has continued to use in their clampdown on drugs in Lusaka’s Chibolya compound is a source of concern. Yes, Chibolya is a drug haven and many youths there smoke marijuana for pleasure and whatever other Rastafarian reasons. But there are also a lot of innocent citizens who reside in Chibolya who have never smoked a joint before. They reside in Chibolya by nature of the fact that their parents and forefathers lived in that compound, and their families have not been fortunate enough to migrate to Kabulonga.

That is why we find the mechanism which our police is using to clean the township of drugs, very inconsiderate and against human rights. We have witnessed these night raids which police conduct in Chibolya and the destruction that they leave behind. The operation is done in a manner that you would expect if our security wings were ambushing a terrorist territory, and in a foreign country.
During our coverage of these joint operations, we have seen that when police arrive in Chibolya (usually in the middle of the night) they break into people’s homes, shops, bars, shebeens, churches, schools, name it; and they leave unjustifiable collateral damage. During these operations, police officers use the judgment of their eyes to determine if the person they meet is suspicious looking and make a split-second decision to pounce and apprehend.

They don’t care if the poor young man is from taking a dump in a pit latrine behind a tavern, they catch. You might be innocently returning home late from selling michopo at Stanly’s Bar in town, police won’t buy that explanation. What is worse is that when the poor residents of Chibolya see these rag-dressed paramilitary officers, they start running – guilty or not – because of fear. Meanwhile, in the eyes of the officer, if you are running you are guilty, so they chase, catch and arrest. Ironically, if you don’t run, it means you don’t know what is happening because you are probably too high on weed, so they still arrest.
In fact, during these raids police don’t arrest, they beat. They brutalise suspects and throw them into their vans like logs without any regard for their human rights. By the time the operation ends in the morning, police would have burnt down several structures believed to be smoking joints, and arrested hundreds of youths. Sadly, only 10 or 20 would end up in court. The rest would be released after days in torturous detention.

Police destroy the smoking dens on Chibolya’s Gaza Strip during a joint operation with the DEC on May 29, 2014 – Picture by Joseph Mwenda

It is not a crime to be born in Chibolya. Those who live in shanty compounds cannot be perceived guilty by circumstance. It cannot be denied that there are stacks and piles of various narcotics in Chibolya, including illegal arms. But there has got to be a much more effective and civil way of policing the crimes in the township than this indiscriminate harassment of citizens.

Chibolya is not the only township where crimes are rampant. Matero compound is even notoriously nicknamed a city within a city because of its association with fraudulent activities. We were not as surprised as the Teaching Service Commission was when they discovered hundreds of teachers with fake degrees because they say there is no qualification you can fail to buy in Matero. We have never heard of any police raids in Matero to clean the township and apprehend the perpetrators of these crimes. You can find any type of common illicit drugs on Devil Street in Emmasdale, sold by teenage boys, but there has never been a joint operation to stop this. And even if police raided all these townships in search of drugs, the traders would not stop because they are jobless and that’s their source of livelihood. They will continue throwing Seven Spirits in prison, but once he comes out, he will go back to drugs because his family has to eat.

We agree with the Police and the Drug Enforcement Commission that the illegal drug trade in Chibolya has to come to an end, but we would like to remind Inspector General Kakoma Kanganja and DEC director general Alita Mbawhe that bigger crimes are happening at Plot 1, Independence Avenue. The major crimes which affect millions of Zambians are those happening along Brentwood Road where Cabinet ministers reside. If you can be bold enough to raid those houses and search, you would realise that what you are doing in Chibolya is a waste of time. Chibolya does not produce cocaine and there are no cannabis fields in that shanty township. It is merely a transit hub. So if you cannot shutdown the source of these drugs, then you are being hypocritical.

We say this because Chibolya residents do not consume all the drugs in their possession. They supply to the rest of Lusaka; Woodlands, Rhodespark, Kabulonga, Roma and all the other affluent suburbs you can think of. In fact, we find it funny that our officers are forced to turn against their friends in Chibolya. There are Drug Enforcement Commission officers who smoke ganja supplied by Chibolya. Even the Inspector General knows that there are many high-ranking police officers who use the herb and they also source it from Chibolya. If Mr Kanganja thinks this is a barbaric allegation, we challenge him to invite the Medical Association of Zambia to conduct random tests on his police officers starting from Force Headquarters. Those results should be made public for all to see that nayeve buju amabema dobo, probably before that night operation in Chibolya!