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Opposition MP arrested in Zimbabwe over alleged treason2 minutes read

Sikhala was “formally charged with attempting to overthrow the government unconstitutionally”

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Opposition MP arrested in Zimbabwe over alleged treason
Zimbabwean lawmaker and vice-chairman of the opposition MDC party, Job Sikhala. (File photo)

Zimbabwean lawmaker, Job Sikhala, vice-chairman of the opposition MDC party, was arrested and charged with treason on Tuesday for allegedly saying he wanted to oust the president.

Sikhala was “formally charged with attempting to overthrow the government unconstitutionally,” his lawyer Obey Shava told reporters, saying his client denied the charges.

Some Zimbabweans hoped the fall of long-time autocrat Robert Mugabe in 2017 would usher in a more tolerant climate as President Emmerson Mnangagwa sought to attract foreign investment.

But government critics have been frequently targeted by the police and security forces as the country’s economy tips into crisis.

Sikhala, an outspoken senior official in the Movement for Democratic Change party, allegedly said in a speech at a rally on Saturday that the party would unseat Mnangagwa before the next election.

“We are going to overthrow him (Mnangagwa) before 2023 — that is not a joke,” Sikhala was quoted as saying.

He faces a maximum 20 years in prison if convicted of treason.

The ZANU-PF government reacted furiously to Sikhala’s remarks, with spokesman Nick Mangwana describing the speech as an “insurgent rant”.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) group said that Sikhala was 21st person to be arrested and charged with treason since January.

Seven rights campaigners were arrested at Harare airport last month and charged with subversion on their arrival from the Maldives, where police allege they attended a workshop on how to topple the government.

Misconstrued statement –

After protests in January, triggered by a doubling of fuel prices, Mnangagwa warned that the authorities would target rights groups deemed to be anti-government.

The authorities blamed the protests on the MDC party and non-governmental organisations that they said were backed by Western nations.

Zimbabwe’s police and army have often used brutal force, including live ammunition, to crush dissent.

Mnangagwa had promised a fresh start for Zimbabwe after decades of repression, international isolation and economic decline under Mugabe.

The MDC said Sikhala’s remarks had been misconstrued and that the party pursued only peaceful and democratic means to solve Zimbabwe’s “national crisis”.

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What next for Zambia Bill 10?

Court dismisses petitions by the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) and Chapter One Foundation Limited for lacking merit

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What next for Zambia Bill 10?
Zambian President Edgar Lungu signs new constitution in Lusaka. Photo: AFP

The Constitutional Court of Zambia on November 29 missed a golden opportunity on Zambia’s constitutional debate to pitch tents with the populace by inking its name in gold for posterity. The contentious bill has created a stir in Zambia’s political landscape and has continued to trend on Zambia’s social media space with mounting petitions against the passage of the bill by the country’s National Assembly. 

Zambian musician, Chama Fumba, also known as Pilato had recently triggered a yellow card social media campaign to protest against corruption and raise public awareness about the proposed legislation which he said could crumble the country’s democracy.

While the Zambian government is subtly trying hard to push the bill through parliament to change the constitution, civil society groups including the local chapter of Transparency International in Zambia contend that the changes sought will effectively increase presidential powers in ways that will be inimical to democracy through the concentration of powers in one arm of government. 

The Constitutional Court had in its judgment last week said that there was nothing in Article 128 or any other provision in the Zambian Constitution that affords it jurisdiction to interrogate the contents of a Bill or to declare it unconstitutional while it was still undergoing legislative procedures.

Judge Enock Mulembe in a lead judgement on behalf of six others said the Constitutional Court had no jurisdiction to hear a matter concerning the bill which was nothing but a mere proposal or an intention to amend the law thereby endorsing the earlier decision of the Court of Appeal in the 1972 case of Nkumbula versus the Attorney General in which the Court stated that “it would be premature to come to Court before the Bill had been given its third reading.”

The court thereby dismissed the petitions, for lacking merit, by the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) and Chapter One Foundation Limited which had challenged the government’s decision to alter the Constitution of Zambia through the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 10 of 2019.

Justice Mulembe said although the Constitutional Court had a very wide jurisdiction, the jurisdiction was still limited by the Constitution itself in Article 128 and could only exercise it based on the powers given to it by the same Constitution.

The judge said whereas the court sympathised with the reliefs sought by Chapter One Foundation, the remedies were not available to it because the court did not have jurisdiction.

In the words of seasoned academic and historian Sishuwa, “the bill is the gravedigger of Zambia’s democracy and the country’s worst constitutional amendment since the achievement of independence in 1964,” 

Proponents say that Bill 10 will ensure the delimitation of constituencies, which will take development closer to the people. It also seeks to increase the number of days in which a Presidential Petition could be heard. The current law prescribes 14 days while Bill 10 proposes 30 days.

Why is Bill 10 problematic?

The biggest problem with Bill 10 changes to the constitution, which has passed the first reading in parliament, is that it centralises powers in the executive and dilutes the powers of other state organs, such as the National Assembly and Judiciary, to offer effective checks and balances. The proposal increases presidential powers by allowing the President to nominate Judges and Ministers, change electoral policies and increase controls over the Central Bank.

Critics say the introduction of deputy ministers in Bill 10 is one that would balloon the Zambian government’s expenditure in an era that countries across the world are working towards leaner governments. The lack of clarity in the composition of the parliament also gives opponents the opportunity to throw more punches at the proposed legislation.

Many who are against the reforms worry that the bill will sail through parliament, which is dominated by President Edgar Lungu’s ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party, and eventually be signed into law.

The centralisation of powers in the executive remains the crux of the matter and this has made civil society groups to kick against the amendment. When power is overcentralised, a country expects unquestioning obedience to its leadership and therefore segues into despotism with a lasting consequence for societal growth and development.

Many make the common mistake of thinking that elections alone mean a democracy exists. But while elections can be tools for responsiveness and accountability, polls could also be manipulated by dictators as we have seen across Africa, to drive a pretentious democracy to promote personal ambitions through the use of gullible parliaments that have been caged. Many countries abound across the globe that are not democracies but hold elections. This is the underlying problem with Bill 10.

Another problem with Bill 10 can be characterised by asking the question: is an independent institution stronger if established and provided for in the Constitution or subsidiary legislation? 

Basically, any law should only be changed to enhance democratic governance. This means that such a law should only be changed to strengthen institutions, promote social inclusiveness and participation, promotion of civil liberties, and the protection of rights. But where such a law is altered to eliminate or downplay executive accountability by promoting the concentration of powers in one arm of government, then the alarm bells would naturally ring.

Many believe that President Lungu is terrified about the likelihood of being hounded or prosecuted for criminal misuse of power, corruption, and misappropriation when he exits the presidency.  To protect himself, instruments and processes such as Bill 10 are now being infused through cronies to ensure that he remains in power or through the backdoor. To further safeguard himself, a pliant successor that will be loyal to him and his inner circle may be under consideration if the rumour of a third term presidency fails hence the haste to pass Bill 10 amendments.

One loophole that would be exploited once the constitutional amendment is passed is that because the number of parliamentary and judicial seats are not stipulated in the constitution outright, the President or ruling party, through a simple majority vote in parliament, would then create new seats in the party’s stronghold, or increase the seats of the nominated members of parliament. This could open the country to further constitutional deviations in favour of the ruling party at any time. 

Although Zambia has been historically stable, Lungu’s government has shown an increasingly inflexible posture towards critics and members of the opposition. Hakainde Hichilema, the president’s main political opponent was jailed for four months following allegations of treason, after failing to concede defeat in the 2016 presidential elections. 

Moreover, Zambia’s media has been worse off for it in the past few years, with licenses of some station broadcast stations critical of the government withdrawn or suspended. 

There are already allegations of a third term presidency through a constitutional amendment. Opponents say Lungu’s attempt to procure the third term is part of a strategy by a clique in the ruling class seeking to ride on his presumed popularity to control levers of state to retain their positions of influence for the purposes of unchecked aggrandisement. 

The likes of Tourism minister, Ronald Chitotela and Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya, who double as Members of the National Assembly are also rooting for Lungu hoping that, in the event that Lungu stands in 2021, either of them might be nominated as running mate – a position that would give them great leverage in a future presidential bid.

Although the battle has now shifted to the National Assembly, the founders of democracy make clear, distinctions on the separation of powers but Bill 10 seeks to ensure that the executive swallow other arms of government thereby setting cinders on the feet of democracy. 

The people of Zambia must deploy people’s power to voice out their demands and let politicians realise ultimately that power lies in the hands of the people. It must prevent the regression of democratic ethos, lest it slips into another Zimbabwe.

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Botswana executes murderer by hanging despite global pressure

Mooketsi Kgosibodiba was hanged at Gaborone Central Prison “in the early morning hours”, prison services announced

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Botswana executes murderer by hanging despite global pressure

Botswana on Monday hanged a 44-year-old man for murdering his boss, despite mounting criticism from rights groups and the European Union.

Mooketsi Kgosibodiba was hanged at Gaborone Central Prison “in the early morning hours”, prison services announced, in the first execution since President Mokgweetsi Masisi was elected to office in October.

In 2017, Kgosibodiba received a death sentence for the 2012 murder of his employer and his appeal was dismissed in 2018.

Two other people were hanged last year in the face of global condemnation with Amnesty International describing Botswana as the “only country in Southern Africa that consistently executes people”.

“There is no space for the death penalty in a country like Botswana,” said Amnesty International’s Deprose Muchena after Masisi’s election.

Muchena praised Botswana’s “great leadership role” in “denouncing impunity for human rights violations on the African continent” and encouraged the new government to change course on executions.

Masisi’s predecessor, Ian Khama said last year that the death penalty was one tool to combat a rising murder rate and added that the government had “no plans to either abolish the death penalty or impose a moratorium”.

Executions across the world dropped by almost one-third in 2018 to the lowest figure in a decade, said Amnesty.

The death penalty in Botswana has been enforced since independence in 1966.

Amnesty says executions are often undertaken without prior notice — with even family members of the condemned notified only after the execution.

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Namibia decides: President Hage Geingob wins election to secure second term

Geingob won the country’s presidential elections with a diminished majority of 56.3 per cent

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Namibia decides: President Hage Geingob wins election to secure second term

Namibian President Hage Geingob on Saturday won the country’s presidential elections with a diminished majority of 56.3 per cent, the worst performance of any ruling party candidate for nearly 30 years.

Geingob was declared president of this week’s vote, retaining his position and the ruling South West Africa People’s Organisation’s (SWAPO) long dominance of power, despite a recession and a corruption scandal that has fuelled popular discontent.

SWAPO presidents have traditionally won by over 70 per cent in presidential elections since the country’s independence in 1990.

Geingob, 78, and his liberation party movement SWAPO both lost support compared to the previous national elections in the vast desert nation in southwest Africa, where he claimed a sweeping 87 per cent in the 2014 election.

Accepting the results, Geingob said there was always one winner in  elections but that “democracy was the biggest winner.”

“It was peaceful and tough,” he said.

His strongest challenger, independent candidate Panduleni Itula, won 30 per cent of the vote, while the Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) candidate McHenry Venaani bagged 5.3 per cent.

Itula, the country’s first presidential independent candidate, won in key economic urban areas such the capital Windhoek, Walvis Bay and Swakopmund at the coast.

Itula is popular among the country’s youth, nearly half of whom are unemployed and have grown frustrated with the regime.

“He (Itula) has acted as a lightning rod for frustrations and for people that are unhappy with the president,” said Graham Hopwood of the Institute for Public Policy Research, Namibia’s main think-tank.

Out of 11 presidential candidates, only two, including Geingob was present at the election announcement event, a clear sign of protest from opposition who have alleged electoral fraud.

The electoral commission announced SWAPO won 65 per cent of the national assembly seats, down from 80 per cent- losing its two-third majority in parliament.

The PDM, formerly the Democratic Turnhalle Alliance (DTA), increased its national assembly party representation from 4.8 per cent to 16.55 per cent, securing 16 seats, according to the electoral commission.

While the Landless People’s Movement(LPM), a new political party that is tapping into people’s frustrations over a lack of access to land, came third with 4.9 per cent which earned them four seats.

Around 1.3 million people out of Namibia’s 2.45 million inhabitants were registered to vote. Half are younger than 37 and many were born after independence. 

Statistics from the electoral commission show that more than 800,000 people voted in the presidential elections, a 60 per cent voter turn-out.

The latest results comes at a time of economic hardship and a 150 million Namibian dollars (US$10 million, 9.1 million euros) fishing corruption scandal that has led to the resignation and arrest of two top politicians – minister of fisheries Bernhard Esau and justice minister Sacky Shanghala. The two are currently detained, pending their bail application on Monday.

Namibia’s president has also come under fire since he became the head of state five years ago with some voters accusing him of pumping money into bloated administration and granting contracts to foreign companies rather than boosting the local economy which has been in a recession since 2016.

The election was “generally peaceful, well organised and conducted in a professional manner,” the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc said Friday.

Commonwealth observers echoed that assessment and said the polls were “carried out in a largely peaceful and orderly manner”. 

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