Friday, 29 August 2008

HOUSE CAN DISSOLVE ITSELF

By Gershom Ndhlovu

It is good that Justice Minister George Kunda has restated the legal position regarding the election of a president following the demise of an incumbent, in this case President Mwanawasa who died in Paris, France after suffering a stroke in Egypt almost two months ago.

When emotions are high like they currently are, people, particularly politicians, are likely to make irrational statements, suggestions and decisions.

What is worrying though is that people are talking about a presidential ‘by-election’ without talking about the possibility of dissolution of the National Assembly so that the president so elected should start on a clean slate with a new set of Members of Parliament with a fresh five-year mandate from the people.

While Kunda stated the constitutional provisions in the event of the death of an incumbent by citing the relevant articles including Article 88 which he cited in passing, what he did not explain was the provisions of subsection 9 (b) which gives the National Assembly the power to dissolve itself.

The article in question states that ‘the National Assembly may, by a two-thirds majority of the members thereof, dissolve itself.’

This would not only be constitutional, but it would also add a moral dimension to our political dispensation when the MPs seek a fresh mandate but the incoming president goes in with MPs with a fresh mandate.

This is not only a costly venture but that is the price we should be ready to pay to not only entrench constitutionalism and the rule of law, it would also enhance democracy in the nation.

I am very sure that donors would be willing to fund the exercise if only to help entrench democracy on the continent where the rule of law is a rare phenomenon in most of the countries. This is the only way the west can promote the much needed democracy in Africa. 

One could of course argue that the National Assembly may not have sufficient reason to dissolve itself, but consider the implications of a new president say from the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) elected as head of state when his or her party only has a sprinkling of members while the MMD and the UPND retain their current numbers.

Imagine what task he or she would have to face with the “opposition” MMD with its majority members. He or she would have such a torrid time he would be forced to dissolve parliament sooner rather than later, thereby going round in circles.

Our Members of Parliament, particularly those in government, should be magnanimous enough to look beyond their gratuity that is due in 2011 instead of mollycoddling their positions. They should take steps towards dissolving themselves to give chance to the new president Zambians will elect in November to start afresh.

It is not like this issue is not addressed in the Constitution. It is all there in black and white as I have shown above. Of course the issue that comes immediately to mind is the readiness, or more appropriately the lack of it, of most of the political parties but more so the ruling MMD to find candidates acceptable to their parties membership through national conventions, congresses or councils, whatever they call them.

To borrow former President Frederick Chiluba’s words, this is the beauty of democracy, to test their popularity when they least expect it.

The argument that the life of this parliament runs up to 2011 when the next election is due, while perfectly constitutional, is morally wrong because the main player, President Mwanawasa, is no more and there is a precedent of the life of parliament being curtailed in 1991 when President Kaunda called an impromptu election, cutting short his tenure by two years.

The challenge that the MMD faces should actually provide it with an opportunity for regeneration in terms of its democratic credentials by sanitising itself from past tendencies of presidents anointing or intending to anoint their successors.

The late Mwanawasa himself hinted at picking a person he wanted to succeed him and, surprisingly, former Commerce Minister Dipak Patel is already alluding to it by discounting some people and hinting at those he would like to take over. Well and good, let MMD members in particular, and Zambians at large, pick the person they want to represent them with a new set of Members of Parliament, fair and square.

 

 

Obituaries of President Mwanawasa have been written, condolence messages sent, but I still write my belated message.

At this point, it would not be far-fetched to describe Mwanawasa in terms of blind men and an elephant who are asked to touch the beast in different areas and described it. Of course, they all describe it in terms of the parts they feel rather than the entire elephant. Such was Mwanawasa. He was understood differently by different people.

I must admit I am one of those who warmed to Mwanawasa at a stage when it was too late, a few weeks before he died, in fact.

Mwanawasa personally impressed me with the way he handled the Zimbabwean issue which, I am sure, galvanised other leaders on the continent to criticise Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe in an unprecedented way not known in Africa before.

I had keenly followed the events in Zimbabwe and what the Southern African Development Community (SADC) was doing about it and I had started wringing my hands in despair when Mr Mwanawasa broke ranks with other regional and Africa leaders at large by laying into our neighbour when he described that country as a “sinking titanic.”

Who knows, had President Mwanawasa continued for the last eight weeks of his mandate as SADC chairman, a desirable solution would have been found in Zimbabwe where MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai would have had a role.

Mwanawasa had character. Zambians can only honour him by choosing someone who will match him in the manner he handled issues relating to plunder, corruption and even in international relations where he was not afraid to rub people the wrong way if only it could improve people’s lives wherever they could be.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

POWER STRUGGLE IN POWER VACUUM

*Following the passing on of Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa, I have decided to post this week's column on the blog four days earlier than usual and a day earlier than it is published in the National Mirror. I wish to express my sincere condolences to President Mwanawasa's family and the Zambian people at large for the death of the man who showed extra-ordinary courage in the manner he handled national issues. The country needs a leader with similar attributes if we are to move from where Mr Mwanawasa has left off. May His Soul Rest In Eternal Peace.

By Gershom Ndhlovu

I found the following extract in a story in one of the dailies very interesting. It clearly shows the power struggle that is brewing in government in the absence of President Mwanawasa who has been admitted to a Paris hospital for close to seven weeks now.
…And Mr Mulongoti has said there is no acting Vice-President in the country because the incumbent, Rupiah Banda, has continued to carry his position while acting as head of State in the absence of President Mwanawasa.
Mr Mulongoti, who is Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, said in an interview in Lusaka yesterday that there was no one acting Vice-President because the appointing authority was not around.
“There is nothing like that. The appointing authority is not here. In fact, appointments of such nature should be announced to the nation. So, it must be dismissed because it doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Minister of Defence, George Mpombo, was quoted in the media yesterday as having allegedly referred to himself as acting Vice-President.
And when contacted yesterday, Mr Mpombo, who is also acting leader of Government business in Parliament, said the issue was being blown out of context.
“I wouldn’t want to comment on this matter. But all I can say is that the issue is being blown out of context. In the latest Cabinet set up, I am number three, so that should tell you something,” he said.
This is the sort of confusion that can and should be avoided at any cost if the leaders on the ground adhere to the constitution, Article 36 in particular, which is clear in such a situation. The ping pong about who is doing this and that or who is where in the hierarchy is undesirable for now.
We would all like to see President Mwanawasa completely healed and take up the mantle again, but from what the minister of health, Brigadier-General Dr Brian Chituwo told the nation in his ministerial statement (which, strangely, was disputed by fellow Cabinet ministers among them Mpombo) recently, he will not be discharged very soon.
One does not need to be a professor of political science to see the vacuum that has been created by President Mwanawasa’s absence and the ensuing power struggle. What those in control of the situation should realise, and the sooner the better, is that Zambia is bigger than an individual and it needs to move forward in all areas. It should not necessarily be bogged down by the absence of one man receiving treatment in far away lands.
To call for the invocation of the provisions of the Constitution should not be a question of loving or not loving President Mwanawasa as some shallow-minded politicians want to put it.
The presidency of a nation should not be treated the way you would treat a company chief executive who is away on sick leave and someone is acting in his capacity. There are major decisions to be taken which an acting president cannot take such as firing a recalcitrant minister. In fact an acting president, on his own, cannot remove anyone appointed by the substantive president.
Who are we as a nation going to listen to if not Vernon Mwaanga, the seasoned politician and diplomat who correctly read Dr Chituwo’s statement and, accordingly, advised, albeit cautiously, on the way forward?
Taking a position of denial in this matter will not help the nation at all. Yes indeed, we need prayers and even the miracles that Foreign Minister Kabinga Pande referred to recently, for the recovery of President Mwanawasa but, unfortunately, those are outside what the Constitution provides for.
It is imperative for Cabinet headed by Acting President Rupiah Banda, Chief Justice Ernest Sakala, Speaker Amusaa Mwanamwambwa and others in government to provide leadership by advising on the way forward regarding the constitutional replacement of President Mwanawasa. If a decision were to be made now, Zambia would have an elected leader by November or latest, December.
The Medical Association of Zambia has not been very helpful in the manner it has been making ‘political’ statements regarding the appointment of a medical board to assess President Mwanawasa’s condition. It would have been better for the association to remain silent and await a decision by Cabinet to set up a medical board of Zambian rather than French doctors to advise on President Mwanawasa’s future as head of state going by what the association’s president would want us believe.
According to MAZ president Swebby Macha, a medical board must wait until President Mwanawasa recovers, which from all indications, will not be soon.

***

At the height of fugitive Xavier Franklin Chungu as Director-General of the Zambia Security and Intelligence Service, or the Office of the President (OOP) as it is commonly known, officers in the organisation nicknamed Faustin Kabwe as FAKE. Whether this was by accident or by design, I will never know.
On a few occasions, I found myself covering functions that had to do with Chungu and Kabwe especially Mansa’s St. Clements Boys’ Secondary School, their alma mater, through an association called SCOBA or St. Clements Old Boys Association. It is from there that I made a few friends in the Intelligence and came to learn Faustin Kabwe’s nickname, FAKE.
It is at functions like these that one learnt the true meaning of the word “extravagance” because the dictionary definition falls far short of what these people exhibited during these excursions which usually involved intelligence officers from Lusaka, Copperbelt and Luapula Province gathering in Mansa for what, ostensibly, was a private function graced by the OOP DG.
I am not surprised that FAKE is now behind bars for a matter involving the sale of Ndola Trust School for which he organised a donation of computers by Systems Innovations, a company that installed security systems at various government institutions and its name has now come up in various court cases involving plunder.
FAKE has been smoked out, but there are many more people with dubious dealings who need to be smoked out. Strangely, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Kabinga Pande, thinks that those who fiddle with the books in foreign missions do so as a matter of administrative oversight.
No Sir, they need to join FAKE at Chimbokaila.

Friday, 15 August 2008

“MEDIA SELF-CONTROL VITAL”

By Gershom Ndhlovu

I reproduce a response I received from last week’s column, “MECOZ out of order” from Bestone Ng’onga, Media Trust Fund executive secretary.

I have just been reading your article in the National Mirror and thought I should put you in the know because you seemed misguided and accused your brother, Beenwell (Mwale), for nothing.
MECOZ, as you rightly put it, was a reaction to the move by Government to regulate the media and it was established to show the Government that the media can regulate itself.
In the Consultative Meeting held at Cresta Golfview Hotel in
Lusaka on July 24, 2008, the agenda was to re-look at the MECOZ constitution to strengthen it and give it the teeth it deserves.

Get me right, it was not about who regulates who. However, during the deliberations on the draft Constitution, some members of the meeting assisted by our learned lawyers present argued that if MECOZ was to gain the credibility it deserves in ensuring press freedom, ethical conduct of media practitioners etc, it needed to have some enforceable powers.

In its current state where its constitution says it should be non statutory, voluntary and self-regulatory, it would be difficult for it to enforce the codes on the journalists and media organisations and institutions because any media personnel or institution found wanting would choose not to abide by MECOZ adjudication and may even decide to withdraw, thereby condoning unethical behaviour especially from such people who
claim to be journalists and yet they are not, but tread on personal agenda.

Mr. Ndhlovu, do not tell me you do not know about such people who have tarnished the image of our profession.
During that debate, members of the meeting resolved that to give MECOZ the teeth to ensure the media self-regulate themselves, it needed to be given legal powers to adjudicate cases brought to it by the general public and thereby reduce the time and cases of legal redress through courts of law.
It was resolved that MECOZ should be legislated like the Law Association of Zambia, the Zambia Institute of Certified Accounts, the Engineering Regulation Board so that the Government would have no excuse of imposing itself on the media. This does not mean Government would be involved in the running of MECOZ but this would entirely be the media baby. 
This was a proposal that needed to be debated at the Annual General Meeting because the Consultative Meeting had no mandate to change the Constitution, but was just called to deliberate the Constitution before the AGM.

Actually PAZA offered to finance the AGM at which the issue of self-regulation and statutory arrangement would be formally debated and either adopted or rejected. Beenwell and Sister Nyondo were just following the debates of the media fraternity and were not the originators of the ideas. Mind you, only the Post Newspaper missed the meeting, the rest of the media institutions were represented and were participants in the debates.
The Government has made it clear that it does not want to regulate the media because the media should do so themselves. However, if the media continue to be fragmented and fail to come up with some form of self-regulatory arrangement, then like in
Kenya, the Government would be too glad to impose its rules on the media and curtail the freedom we are enjoying.
In
Kenya for instance, the media from the private did not want to work with the media from the Government side and therefore their Council could not perform. The Government has now imposed its own rules and regulations on the media and the same media which had been given chance are now crying foul.
In short, no decision has ever been made concerning the direction of MECOZ. The media practitioners have just been brainstorming, period. You know what happened at the Mail. Do you want every Jim and Jack to call themselves journalists when they have never seen the entrance to any journalism class where you had to spend four years to be called a Journalist?
What you should be doing is to propose the best ways of making MECOZ strong and effective instead of condemning your own baby. Do not be like administrators who fear media regulation because they are not journalists. Only a thief fears law.

I still want to disagree with Mr Ng’onga, a former workmate at the Zambia Daily Mail. The best media regulator is the market and not some state-regulated busy bodies who want to even prescribe what words to use when writing stories.

Discerning readers would not want to associate themselves with nondescript rags of newspapers which do not adhere to media ethics. For starters, how many newspapers have folded up on the Zambian market because of their poor news presentation? Plenty.

We have had newspapers of all hues and shades, literally, but because they did not respect other people in the way they reported and readers and advertisers simply stopped giving them business.

The business aspect aside, developments in New Media Technologies in which there is convergence between print, broadcasting and other forms of (mass) communication, present forms of mass communication will just be made nonsense of.

Some people will argue that Zambia and the rest of Africa have not reached that stage yet, but we need to be futuristic in our outlook of developments in the media. No too long from now, the present way of managing print and broadcasting media will change so radically, newspapers and broadcast media in their present form, and similarly the law as it is, will look ancient.   

As others have argued before, media practice cannot be equated to medical practice, legal practice or even engineering practice. I suppose these professions do not have as many laws as govern journalism practice which has to contend with laws of civil and criminal libel, state secrets laws, copyright laws and similar legislation.

What also sets journalism apart from other professional fields is the fact that it borders on personal liberties. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, and just about everyone with an opinion to share, contribute articles to newspapers. I hope that the proposed MECOZ law will not require them to obtain licences first.

Friday, 8 August 2008

MECOZ OUT OF ORDER

By Gershom Ndhlovu

It is either Media Ethics Council of Zambia (MECOZ) members who are advocating statutory regulation of the media are not journalists, or they do not understand media history in Zambia and the rest of the world or they are simply government plants.
Firstly, I say they are not journalists because genuine scribes all over the world would never seek statutory control of their profession because where the state controls the media, even the little freedom that they enjoy is lost to bureaucrats who issue licences by denying them to those considered anti-establishment.
Genuine journalists in the Press Association of Zambia, Zambia Union of Journalists, Media Institute of Southern Africa, Post Freedom Committee and the Zambia Media Women’s Association have for the last 10 years or so been fighting for the enactment of laws such as the Freedom of Information Act, Independent Broadcasting Act and similar laws.
It will not be far-fetched for all journalists and citizens of goodwill to question the motive of a section of MECOZ membership who are calling for statutory media control if not for their immediate benefit.
When a majority of media practitioners met at Lusaka’s Andrews Motel in 1998 to formulate MECOZ, the idea was to avoid government control of the practice of journalism in Zambia. Ten years later, those ideals are still valid and it is a question that ought not to be raised at all.
Secondly, I say that they do not understand media history in Zambia in particular and the rest of the world in general. In Zambia just over a quarter of a century ago, visionary journalists like the late Patu Simoko, Charles Mando and a whole host of them, resisted intentions by the then UNIP government to introduce a Press Council Bill that was to radically change the way journalism was practised and it was not easy then.
Those journalists, some of them still alive, risked the wrath of the Kaunda regime which, strangely, gave in to the journalists’ demand for the bill to be withdrawn. For those who remember, that is how the Press Association of Zambia was born which was at the time when not even the Zambia Union of Journalists was in existence.
To understand how statutory control operates, one does not need to go far. Zimbabwe just across the Zambezi River should provide the example we need as to what extent legislated control deals with the media and related issues.
Zimbabwe’s Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act whose ominous acronym is AIPPA, has dealt a near-mortal blow to journalism and its practice in that country. Both local and foreign journalists are jailed willy-nilly for doing or trying to do their job. There are other laws such as the Broadcasting Act, Public Order and Security Act (POSA) as well as the law related to interception of communication which serious affect the way the media operate in Zimbabwe. As for POSA, a journalist can even be arrested for covering a procession deemed illegal!
Now, if this is what advocates of statutory control of the media want in Zambia, they are certainly sounding the death knell for the burgeoning media, albeit under difficult circumstances, in the country.
Thirdly, it would seem that the advocates of media control are government plants because senior government officials have always advocated statutory control to cage “wayward” newspapers and “misguided” journalists who always question government policies and expose the misdeeds of those in power.
In the last several years, it has not been uncommon for journalists to ingratiate themselves with people in the corridors of power not as sources for stories, but rather as the politicians’ agents to fight for positions or similar favours.
Some journalists have clearly been Intelligence operatives who have openly boasted of their connections with the “Red Brick” and it is not therefore surprising that those people are seemingly “winning” the government fight for controlling the media.
Freedom once lost, is difficult to regain. Once the MECOZ members who are calling for statutory control lose the little freedom they are enjoying today and tomorrow become victims of the same draconian law they want enacted, it will be very difficult for them to reverse the situation.
Today’s practising journalists should not only carry on the vision of the Patu Simokos and Charles Mandos who fought against the Press Council Bill then, they must ensure that government enacts media friendly laws rather than laws that will encumber the practising of journalism by future generations.
The position of MECOZ leadership of chairperson Sr. Rose Nyondo and executive secretary Beenwell Mwale has become untenable if they are truly part of those who want the state to control the media. If they are not aware of these resolutions, they are not in charge and they must, as a matter of principle, step aside.

***

Everyone in the country knows that President Levy Mwanawasa has been in hospital for over a month now, but it is sounds quite odd to read stories in which he is being quoted as having said this or that in a speech read for him by this or that government official.
Much as government officials want to maintain a fa├žade that Mwanawasa is still in control of government, it surely is bad public relations on their part to attribute statements to a person who is most likely not aware about what is going on around him.
Reading the stories in which statements are attributed to Mwanawasa at first gives an impression it is an old story and then that he is back in office before it dawns on one that the man is still admitted to Percy Military Hospital in France.
There is something surreal about the stories when they appear in the newspapers quoting Mwanawasa. Surely, whoever is in charge in government should work out another way in which stories should be attributed rather than the way it is being done now.
The nation obviously appreciates the effort being done to try and make things look as normal as possible even as Mwanawasa undergoes treatment outside, but the state PR wheels are definitely spinning in the wrong direction.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

THE ZIMBABWEAN HANDSHAKE

By Gershom Ndhlovu

 

The handshake between Zimbabwe’s political arch-enemies Robert Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai is just that, handshake. How many such handshakes has the African continent seen and agreements arising from such just unravelling because one part has not fulfilled its end? Many.

One such handshake was between long time Angolan political foes President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and UNITA leader, the late Jonas Savimbi shook hands at various fora signifying the end of hostilities but each time, one group or the other broke the truce and took to arms.

Savimbi was the worst culprit at breaking truces until he got what he deserved, death at the hands of government forces. Symbolically, no bullet has been fired between MPLA and UNITA since then.

The most famous handshake was the 1994 one at State House in Lusaka at the culmination of talks led by the indefatigable diplomat Ivorian Alioune Blondin Beye who died in a plane crash midway when dos Santos and Savimbi shook hands and there was hope in the rest of the world that Angola was truly and finally on the path to peace. But nay, Savimbi had other ideas. He went back to the bush to continue fighting.

The question for Zimbabwe is how genuine are the parties to the Memorandum of Understanding? The problem in Zimbabwe is that some people in the ruling ZANU-PF, particularly defence and security chiefs may not be genuinely interested in a settlement that would mean them losing their clout.

Again, it is difficult to trust President Mugabe because he may be going in these talks just to buy time for himself and his cronies who are under intense international pressure in the manner they handled the last elections which they clearly stole from the MDC and what with text-book “changing” inflation levels?

This is the same Mugabe who emasculated ZAPU and its leader Joshua Nkomo in the 1987 agreement after many of its supporters were killed in the infamous Gukurahundi purge which saw over 20,000 Zimbabweans mostly in Matabeleland dead at the hands of the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade. The commander of that brigade, then Colonel Perence Shiri, now General, is still authoring the MDC annihilation script.

The MDC with its rallying cry, “Chinja Maitiro” or, loosely translated, change your ways is doomed to be a has been political party while the ZANU-PF leadership will continue to not only plunder Zimbabwe, but suppress the Zimbabweans even more than colonialist Ian Douglas Smith ever did.

The point, surely, is that the international community led by Britain and America should not take their eyes off the ball on the Zimbabwean pitch because an African solution seems to have been found. That lull will prove to be fatal when the rest of the world wakes up to find that Mugabe is firmly in power, Morgan Tsvangirai is a diplomat in an Asian outpost and the killing continues.

The truth of the matter is that SADC facilitator, South African President Thabo Mbeki has not succeeded in his efforts to seek a political solution in Zimbabwe. Success can only be measured if ZANU-PF starts respecting results of elections whose polls are freely cast and results swiftly announced and winners and losers take their respective places.

The realistic thing is for the International Criminal Court prosecutor to place Mugabe on the wanted list like it has done to Sudanese president Hassan Al Bashir for the mayhem in Darfur where thousands of people have died.

Still on Zimbabwe, I wonder on whose side that country’s first true freedom fighter, Mbuya Nehanda, who in the 1800s said “my bones will rise” is because ZANU-PF keep on claiming her name even as they brutalise the people.

I am very sure that when Mbuya Nehanda fought the whites then, she did not have in mind the situation currently obtaining in Zimbabwe today. What would be shocking to her is that black Zimbabweans are killing fellow black Zimbabweans and stealing from them the same way whites stole land and cattle from them.

****

I was shocked and saddened to receive a message on the passing on of Post columnist Joseph Chanda whom I had the privilege of working with at the Zambia Daily Mail in Ndola when I was Chief Reporter and he was a correspondent.

What separated Joseph from other correspondents was his determination to get a story where others did not see one. He went on to get a job at the Times of Zambia Ndola before he moved on to the Post.

Behind the scenes, we continued exchanging e-mails on some of the write-ups we both did—my comments on his columns and his comments on my columns. RIP, mate.