Juliet Mphande, a human rights, media and peace activist from Zambia, writes:
ZAMBIA IN CRISIS
On June 8, 2014, Zambian deputy minister of foreign affairs Gabriel Namulambe made a well-orchestrated media performance in response to visiting United States of America state department officials. The deputy foreign affairs minister, without delving into what was discussed in the meeting, proclaimed to the world that he had informed the visiting delegation that “Zambia will not legalise gay rights as they are against Zambia’s Christian values enshrined in the nation’s Constitution.”
The questions that crossed my mind after reading all the media headlines were varied but I was stuck on the following; What was really discussed in these meetings to prompt Namulambe to prostrate himself before both state and privately owned media and issue an ill-timed statement? I further analysed the statement and found many discrepancies — first of all, Namulambe is not the chief government spokesperson and neither is he home affairs minister; what could have provoked him to speak to issues that were not within his ministerial jurisdiction?
Surely, the ministers for home affairs and information are capable of doing their own jobs without assistance from a ceremonial cadre called a deputy minister in foreign affairs and, secondly, why did Namulambe fail to disclose to the general public the full extent of other non-classified issues that were raised in the meeting in question? These questions and more led me to the conclusion that there was more to this statement than what met the eye and, yet again, Zambian politicians were quick to invoke the “Christian nation” clause and homosexuality for political gains.
Contrary to the image that Namulambe portrayed, I doubt that these closed-door meetings with the U.S. state department were fixated on decriminalisation of homosexual conduct and, if I am allowed to speculate, these meetings may have touched on the poor performance of the Patriotic Front (PF) government on civil and political rights and the resulting long- and short-term impact on the country’s social, cultural and economic performance.
Namulambe’s intentions, like with most African politicians, was to mislead the Zambian public into thinking that the meetings he held with the U.S. government focused on discrimination of homosexuality and, in so doing, discredit the U.S. government in the eyes of the public and gain some leverage in the ongoing civil and political discourse in the country.
Familiar words for despots and dictators
Sadly, for Namulambe this angle is not a new phenomenon at all as it has been used by many despots and dictatorial governments before him and, in particular, by previous governments in Zambia and could not be sold to the majority of right-thinking Zambians except to some hard-up factions of faith-based communities that are in bed with the ruling PF government and only in the business of jumping onto the bandwagon to commend government for taking a “strong” position towards defending the “Christian values and norms’”supposedly enshrined in Zambia’s Constitution.
This is the same contentious “Christian nation” clause that was hastily inserted into the current Constitution by late former Republican President Fredrick Chiluba, who was later convicted on corruption charges in a United Kingdom court. Chiluba is incumbent President Michael Sata’s former master.
Few have since bothered to ask Namulambe to disclose to the nation the full extent of the key issues that were discussed in his meeting with the U.S. state department that largely concern the general welfare of all Zambian or to inform the nation on what Zambia’s continued relationship with the US government onwards meant.
Then two state-owned papers, Times of Zambia and Zambia Daily Mail, carried specific homophobic opinions and columns to support the government’s position that bordered on inciting violence against sexual and gender diverse persons and human rights defenders. [Times of Zambia: “Govt. stance on gay rights should be supported”; Zambia Daily Mail: “Homosexuality, unnatural act”]
Injustice in the court
Prior to Namulambe’s issuing these divisive comments, judgment in Zambia’s first sodomy trial was adjourned yet again, from May 30 to June 23, on flimsy grounds but it was however reported by state media that final judgment was supposedly set for June 16. I refuse to believe that this was a mistake. In my own theory, I suspect that this may have been an attempt to confuse foreign media and Zambians on the date on which the final verdict would be delivered, if at all.
Fast forward to June 23. Judgement in this case was adjourned for what may appear as the 100th time owing to the unexplained absence of the presiding magistrate, John Mbuzi, who in fair comment has played hide and seek throughout the entire trial. This is the same magistrate who denied the co-accused bail more than a year ago on the pretext that the co-accused had violated their right to bail. Once again James Mwape and Philip Mubiana [jailed since May 2013, awaiting the end of their trial on sodomy charges] have been denied their right to fair trial in their own country and as the old cliché goes, “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
The “no gay rights” proclamation made earlier in the month by Namulambe was an attempt to sway Zambians from focusing on pertinent issues that are prevailing in the country — notably, the shrinking space for civil and political rights, particularly the right of every Zambian to be treated equally before the law and to be free from discrimination, the right to public opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, to mention but a few.
Against this backdrop there’s a robust campaign that is being driven by Zambian civil society, faith-based organisations, political parties and the general citizenry to demand for the release of the nation’s final draft Constitution, which has been withheld from stakeholders for an extended period by the PF government. All this, despite the ruling PF’s campaign promise to deliver to the Zambian people a new Constitution within 90 days of assuming power — a promise they have negated post their election in September 2011.
Ruse to divert attention
It is therefore important to realise that the continued arrests and vilification of persons on account of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity are a mere ruse to try to deflect the nation from discussing pertinent civil, political, social and economic issues that Zambian people are currently grappling with on a daily basis.
Under the PF regime, Zambians have had to contend with a runaway economy, propagated by unsound fiscal policies that include heavy borrowing, removal of maize and fuel subsidies, spiraling commodity prices, shortages of medicines, to mention but a few, and all costs have been passed on to the Zambian consumer.
It is ironic that a so-called populist “pro poor” government has done the worst job at ensuring equitable and equal distribution of wealth as well as attempting to employ more radical reforms in the health and education sectors and a leaning towards sustainable job creation for the youth but instead, the PF government have done nothing but contribute to a growing class divide between the rich and poor and has further proposed to increase the retirement age from existing fifty five to sixty five in a bid to safeguard jobs for the ruling elite most of whom are of an advanced age.
Corrupt judiciary in bed with parliament, executive
Mwape and Mubiana — Zambia’s “uncelebrated” incarcerated duo — are victims of a corrupt and defunct justice managed by an inept and partisan Justice minister while the Zambian courts are left to the devices of an illegal acting Chief Justice and a partisan Director of Public Prosecution. It would therefore be in order to refer to Zambia these days as a nation without practical separation of powers involving the three arms of government: Parliament is in bed with the executive and so is the judiciary.
Namulambe’s words, however, were very clear and spoke to an agenda that the Zambian government has been pushing all along — to vilify those with real or perceived differences and use them as cheap fodder for their own political gains. Under the PF government, no cow with a dissenting voice is sacred. Blatant anarchy and a real lack of respect for the rule of law are the current norm. Indeed, dictators and despots have found salvation in bigotry, hate and intolerance.
Why obey an unjust law?
I therefore write this opinion to challenge all Zambia’s citizens to rally behind the unsupported voices in the country — notable faith leaders, civil society, politicians and ordinary citizens, to mention but a few. Sanity will not be restored until all Zambians begin to participate in the political process of their country — to question and challenge the status quo of arbitrary arrests and detention, discrimination, exclusion and selective application of the law and to call to account each and every one of their elected and/or nominated public officials — and, in so doing, demand that government respect all fundamental civic and political rights for all Zambians.
Demanding civic, political, social, economic and cultural liberties should not be the privilege of the few but must be the duty of all Zambians. In the words of St. Augustine, an unjust law is no law at all. On this premise, I urge all right-thinking Zambians to disobey the numerous oppressive laws that the current PF government is invoking and, in so doing, demand the right of equality of all before the law without distinction of any kind. This right also applies to those facing numerous charges of violating the law on account of their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.
This blog’s previous articles about the case:
- Zambia report: Police arrest married gay couple (May 6, 2013)
- Zambia: 2nd arrest in 2 days for gay couple (May 7, 2013)
- Amnesty Int’l demands freedom for Zambian gay couple (May 8, 2013)
- Jailed gay pair in Zambia abused; at risk of rape, disease (May 9, 2013)
- Gay in Zambia: 6th week in jail for 2 awaiting trial (June 5, 2013)
- Zambian pair’s sentence could be 14 years for gay sex (June 10, 2013)
- Zambia: Sister and police testify against gay pair (June 11, 2013)
- On the scene in Zambian courtroom in anti-gay case (June 11, 2013)
- Zambia: Setback for prosecution in gay trial (June 24, 2013)
- 4th month in jail for gay couple facing Zambia trial delays (July 18, 2013)
- 5 months in Zambian jail as gay trial falters; no eyewitnesses (Aug. 30, 2013)
- Amnesty to Zambia: Release 2 men facing gay sex charges (Sept. 11, 2013)
- Justice delayed, justice denied for 2 in Zambian gay trial (Sept. 17, 2013)
- No bail, no trial; 5+ months in Zambian prison on gay charges (Oct. 19, 2013)
- ‘Our lives are in danger’ – new threats to Zambian activists (Oct. 24, 2013)
- In Zambia, ‘trial by ambush’ in anti-gay case (Oct. 28, 2013)
- No bail; 6 months in Zambian prison on gay charges (Nov. 9, 2013)
- 8 months in Zambian prison on gay charges; no bail (Jan. 23, 2014)
- 9 months in Zambian prison on gay charges; no bail (Jan. 30, 2014)
- Zambia’s growing intolerance towards LGBTI persons (Jan. 31, 2014)
- 10 months in Zambian prison on gay charges; no bail (March 4, 2014)
- Zambian LGBT rights at risk in May 30 verdict (May 21, 2014)
- Verdict delayed in Zambian anti-gay trial (May 30, 2014)
- Verdict delayed again in Zambian anti-gay trial (June 23, 2014)
- Zambia: Police raid suspected gays without warrants (76crimes.com)
- Zambia LGBTs seek liberties of ‘every other citizen’ (76crimes.com)
- 43 anti-LGBT violations in Zambia; ‘accident waiting to happen’ (76crimes.com)
- Zambian First Lady seeks dialog; media prefer gay-bashing (76crimes.com)
- Zambian advocate rebukes anti-gay clerics (76crimes.com)
- Zambia’s growing intolerance towards LGBTI persons (76crimes.com)
- Zambian gays face ‘unprecedented’ harassment (76crimes.com)
- Zambia risk: Clerics with gays’ blood on their hands (76crimes.com)
- Zambian activists seek halt to gay manhunt (76crimes.com)
- Justice minister wants no justice for Zambian gays (76crimes.com)
- Report: Two more arrests in Zambia for gay sex (76crimes.com)
- Zambia arrests activist after gay rights appeal on TV (76crimes.com)
- Zambian activist must stand trial for opposing anti-gay law (76crimes.com)
Selection of others’ articles about homophobia in Zambia:
- Feb. 29, 2012: AllAfrica.com: Zambia: Ban’s Comments On Gay Rights Spark Bitter Debate
- March 1, 2012, Gay Star News: Zambians outraged over UN gay rights call
- April 5, 2013, Lusaka Voice: Homosexuals attempting to register their marriage should be arrested: Edgar Lungu
- March 24, 2013, Daily Mail: No same sex marriage in Zambia
- April, 7, 2013, Daily Mail: Cage the gays!
- April 9, 2013, O-blog-dee: Zambian police hunting homosexuals and arrest HIV/AIDS activist
- April 23, 2013, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa: Sowing poisonous seeds in Zambia
- April 23, 2013, Jonathan Turley blog: Wynter of Discontent: Justice Minister Declares “No Room For Gays” In Zambia
- May 21, 2013, Zambia Reports: Go to hell, Edgar Lungu tells gay rights activists
- July 12, 2013, Pink News: Gay man faces death threats in Zambia after UK civil partnership
- June 28, 2013, City Press (South Africa): Obama brings gay rights cause to Africa
- July 2, 2013, Lusaka Times: Obama’s homosexuality call is a non-starter in Zambia: Fr. Chiti