Here is an excerpt of what he wrote:
The rule of law in Zimbabwe has long been considered broken. The same can now be said of our neighbour north of the Zambezi, Zambia.
Zambia’s leadership seems intent on destroying the 50 years of work post-independence to build democracy by replicating actions we have routinely seen in Zimbabwe, notably the systematic harassment and intimidation of press, civil society and the opposition. While in the past Zambians have looked to the rule of law to protect their rights when under threat, today they find there is little prospect for protection or redress.
Zambia’s major independent newspaper has been closed, with its editor on the run; reports of intimidation and bribery of legal and electoral officials have become widespread; and, now, as of a week ago, popular opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema has been incarcerated and charged with treason.
Shocking as this bold attempt to charge the opposition leader with an offence that in theory could carry the death penalty appears, as well as the violent and shocking manner in which the arrest was conducted, if you look at the pattern of activity by the authorities in recent months and years it is less surprising.
Over time Zambia’s leadership has become more and more confident that they can sit above the law. While cases in which people have spoken ill of the president or alleged corruption in public institutions result in arrests and court charges, justice is slow and often elusive for those outside the ruling elite.
The manner in which last year’s contested election was handled by the Zambian authorities is a landmark case in this history. It’s a story of the cost of electoral authoritarianism. Today, with Hichilema behind bars, it is also testament of how the region and the international community missed a critical opportunity to stem a tide of poor governance by speaking out against an electoral sham.
When Hichilema’s party, the United Party for National Development, challenged the 2016 election result on several grounds he was advised to call on his supporters to remain peaceful and petition the outcome in the courts, as is his constitutional right. The petition was never heard, however, on the basis of a technicality that his party continues to challenge through various appeals and court submissions to this date.
The consequences of the soft approach of observers and the international community following last year’s contested elections in Zambia appears to be coming back to haunt them, however. Their cautious approach and hesitancy to challenge leadership has been taken as a near enough blank check for the elite to step by step deconstruct the rule of law.
While national sovereignty must be respected we must not forget that if the government in question is itself undermining the rule of law and the rights and safety of its own citizens then it has already undermined the grounds for sovereignty in a democratic nation. Moreover, the more states that are allowed to continue down this path unchallenged, the fewer voices there are left to speak out against such infractions and the more leaders elsewhere that will be motivated to preserve their stay in power through illicit means. DM
Tendai Biti was finance minister of Zimbabwe under the unity government from 2009-2013.