Warnings, promises and lessons for Zambia and the ‘Unpatriotic Front’

By Anonymous Doctoral Candidate

It is indisputable that Edgar Lungu and the ruling Patriotic Front’s style of governance may now be brewing a potent form of tyranny as evidenced by a troubling pattern of events since his and his party’s ascent to power. We foresee this country morphing into full authoritarianism. Our neighbourhood and continent and much of the Third World has various potent forms of this epidemic of authoritarianism. Examples; Angola, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia. However, today, I briefly draw on the political history of Romania under Nicolae Ceausescu, and the Philippines of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, to inform on Edgar Lungu’s Zambia, and his misruling party, the Patriotic Front.

Nicolae Ceausescu, a Romanian leader, after perfecting the hangover tools of communism, became an accomplished tyrant, much like Edgar Lungu after melding (or welding) PF’s thuggery into the institutions of the State. Ceaușescu became increasingly brutal and repressive even as the economy went into dire straits. His actions drastically lowered living standards, precipitated, and intensified unrest in Romania. Together with his extensive cult of personality, the Romanian people by December 1989, had had enough of his excesses. They revolted against Ceausescu’s rule. Unable to withstand the tsunami of demonstrators, Ceusescu ordered security forces to fire on anti-government demonstrators. But the tide of change triumphed over bullets and tear-gas. Ion Mihai Pacepa, a three-star general, Ceausescu’s confidante and a senior member of the Romanian political police (Securitate, State Security), defected to the United States in 1978. It was a terrible blow to Ceuscescu, which compelled Ceaușescu to reconfigure—and in some sections—overhaul the architecture of the Security.  But Ceusescu could not   prevent the onslaught of history. Security forces and law enforcement who had now become full converts “for—and had decided to do—the right things” could no longer standby. They osscilated towards the revolution almost en masse. Some had been moved by the voice of the suffering people—most, their own relatives. With the people, they united against Ceusescu to prevent the hijack, the personalization and Ceausescu’s cult personality from metastasizing into the post-Ceusescu political arrangement, and the future of Romania. They poured onto the streets of the capital, Bucharest, and other cities. Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, fled the capital in a helicopter, but were captured by the armed forces. The couple opted to die together; they were immediately executed by firing squad.

Cross over to the Phillipines—in the era of dictator Ferdinand Marcos who had the Phillipines under martial law from 1972 until 1981. There, the revolution in the Phillipines too was triggered by a momentous desire for change after Marco’s excesses. In the then Phillipines, as it is now in Zambia, the ground was skewed against the people, with the state and other institutions, firmly under the beckon of Marcos—the authoritarian leader and his coterie of “advisors and friends”—much like the Kaizer Zulus, Mumbi Phiris, Amos Chandas, Bwalyas and before his fall from grace—the Kambwilis of Zambia. In Marco’s Phillipines, as it is Edgar Lungu’s Zambia, state-directed thuggery and violence was the norm. In fact, even during the elections preceding his ouster, Marcos, like Edgar Lungu, played by the same manual: Marco’s campaign freely and vastly allocated themselves state resources–money, pliant “law enforcement”, and adequate stocks of tear-gas, and bullets. Even the country’s Air Force was on standby to swing into action at Marco’s call against “state enemies”—his own citizen.  Like Zambia’s Edgar Lungu, Marcos, ensured that the Philippine’s national broadcaster (then GTV) refused to tolerate campaign ads and political messages for the then opponent, Corazon Aquino. Marco’s even staffed the Commission on Elections—its elections body—with his bootlickers, with the Commissioners acting more-or-less the same way as  those in Edgar Lungu’s “Independent” Electoral Commission of Zambia. Where Edgar Lungu’s Electoral Commission fiddled with numbers and soiled the processes to inflate his “winning” margins under the direction of criminally-skewed PF functionaries, Marcos too reportedly had a direct line to the Philippine’s Commission on Elections (as some have suggested that Edgar Lungu had), in which he commandeered the Commission round the clock to skyrocket the vote tally to his tally and pronounce him the winner.

Similarly, like UPND pronounced HH a winner by their “independent tally”, Corazon Aquino’s National Movement for Free Elections-NAMFREL, called their lady the winner. However, unlike the present Zambians, the Phillipinos like the Romanians had decided that enough was enough. Under a forward-looking coalition of Catholic churches, the army, and other assortments of groups like in Bucharest (Romania), they took to the streets of Manila in floods. On February 25, 1986, under the heat of the People Power Revolution, Marcos and members of his family, escaped justice, took off to the United States, and found a home Hawaii, in the United States.

We therefore see that in the authoritarian eras of Marcos and Ceausescu, as it is in most African pretend democracies, democratic rights are pretend rights. They slowly disappear or dictators amplify the myth of human rights. Elections Commissions are a joke as are Commissioners or “selectors” themselves. Journalists practise their trade at great personal risk, are harassed, killed, exiled or betray the trade and are patently pro-idiot governments of the day. Government tenders are for a few who are politically connected to autocrats. The organs of the state, too, are at the beckon of the autocrat and the supporting cast of corrupt party functionaries. The parliament is flexed, and the judiciary is compromised to the pleasures of a hollow and vengeful autocrat.

But it turns out, under a determined patriotic people, and applying the concept of diminishing political returns for dictators, the Kafkaesque manoeuvres of autocrats and their supporters hasten the arrival of their sudden expiry or departure dates. A different future is, therefore, possible and desirable.

From the foregoing—albeit brief political history of Romania and the Phillipines in the terminal stages of their presidencies, Zambians, Edgar Lungu and his misruling PF party could internalize important lessons and implications.

First, a leader who becomes or exhibits a troubling blend and pattern of incompetence, chaos and disregards or rises above the rule of law and good governance for self-serving ends, ignites a deep yearning among the people to reclaim their country immediately, and in certain cases, at a potentially great individual cost and sacrifice, especially for the people and the leader.

Second, and related to the preceding point, when the incumbent contaminates the presidency and posterity, it is a clarion call for the people to prevent state stagnation at best and, potentially, state degeneration. In other words, there is a fierce urgency of now (Dr King’s phrase) for the people, and as former President Barack Obama counselled, “to be the change they are waiting for”—for the birth of coalitions to sweep aside the present decadent order and begin prospecting for a transition to a new government, that will mend and resurrect collapsing institutions of the state so vital for an orderly and peaceful democracy, stable and predictable future.

Third, the success of coalitions and the promise of a new and a pro-people, law-abiding, and constitution-respecting government will require Zambians to overcome and galvanize around a common ideal: to save the country from an errant leader and his thugs, for the future they desire. To be clear, the people must be determinately peaceful, and must exercise the greatest restraint against potential provocation from the petty-visioned elements of the present order—who resist collective and collaborative change. As Dr King eloquently put: “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral; begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So, it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” (1967, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?. p. 67.)

Fourth, the men and women in the police, army, and a few individuals in the ruling party with worthy brains (looking past an incumbent clueless vision-less “leader”) will decide to uphold a country’s constitution—by defending and insisting that, notwithstanding the Public Order Act—itself a relic of the colonial oppressive past, the citizen’s freedom to assemble and to peacefully demonstrate is sacrosanct.  The members of security and law enforcement cease taking orders from a tyrant and their ruling-party indoctrinated and intoxicated superiors, and cheer on, and join the peaceful protestors seeking change, without recourse to arms. In other words, they now recognize that their collective futures with those of the protestors wanting change are intertwined. They sink or rise together.

Fifth, and lastly, while the above accounts show that the exit strategy for Marcos was exile in America, and for Ceusescu, a cruel end to a life of cruel presidency, it is unlikely now that any African leader can live a life of comfort in exile—given the concept in law known as Universal Jurisdiction; every country under the planet could potentially become a court for trying crimes committed while in Office. Their citizen in the diaspora are equally de-legitimizing tyrants abroad through a host of arsenals such as exposing them, their associates, and seeking to restrict the movements of a tyrant and his crew in their global travels. The diaspora see the order and peace they enjoy abroad and seek to replicate the same order “back home”. Regarding immediate justice or mob justice against the incumbent, Africans have seemed forgiving to the incumbents the past few decades (except for Samuel Doe who met a terrible cruel slow death). The international criminal court (ICC)—against protests from the incumbents, and general reservations against certain of its procedural aspects—has now become the destination of “leaders” who violate human rights and commit crimes against humanity. Charles Taylor (Liberia), Slobodan Milošević (Serbia), Laurent Gbago (Ivory Coast) have “been processed” through ICC.  Omar Bashir (Sudan) is as likely as Salva Kiir (South Sudan)—as should Dos Santos of Angola, and Yoweri Museveni—to  appear before  ICC Judges in the near future. One would think that these few cases and the ICC court itself would make incumbent thuggish leaders reflect long and hard about their misgovernance templates. Unfortunately, to our shock, temporary power creates a thick fog of arrogance  that deludes a leader into thinking that “it will not happen to  me”. Often, these leaders are “locked-into” and numbed by thought processes of their incompetent thinking herd of lawless party functionaries to “just ignore ICC”.

However, it is dangerous for incumbents to bet that the disciplinary or justice template applied to other leaders in other contexts will be applied to them in equal measure. The more the incumbent leaders and the thugs in their ruling parties “dig their own pits” through increased disregard for human rights, abuse of state institutions, particularly, through misuse of the police and the army to harass their political opponents or other dissenters, the more likely their citizens will unite to summarily push these “leaders” into real pits as a cost-effective measure to the country and to the ICC. The argument will probably be that it acts as “signal” to other tyrants and their supporting crew and those who replace them that a similar fate awaits those who arrogate themselves the ignorance of disregarding the sanctity of human life, the importance of good governance and the rule of law.

Saving a country such as Zambia from a tyranny, and preventing its impacts from degenerating the country may be a cure that lies in the hands of forward-looking “tribeless” citizen. The cases from Romania and the Phillipines are certainly potent history lessons, promises and warnings for tyrants and resisters alike whether in Zambia or wherever tyrants ply their trade. They teach that tyrants who misuse and abuse legitimate arsenal of state violence at their disposal cannot stop a determined people. The arsenal and resources of the state are unlikely to preserve or save a thuggish leader from the people united in peaceful rebellion against a vengeful, clueless and power-thirsty ruler—and whose hour has come. In other words, someday becomes a huge payday. If I were a thuggish leader in Zambia or anywhere I would be apprehensive of the future and the potential of the people to finally wake up from slumber. Afraid. Yes, very afraid.

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