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Saturday, 5 September 2009

Lawlessness in Zambia (Guest Blog)

James Q. Wilson held firm the principle that “allowing even small an infraction of the law is to endorse criminality which, in turn, leads to more serious crimes and then all-out lawlessness”.The idea of "rule of law” seems so old-fashioned not because it’s not essential. Its relic nature is due to an endemic national culture where violations of the law are literally the custom.

Current events in the nation evidence the festered fabric of our society, a by product not of “individual acts of law-breaking or isolated scandals of illegality”, as stated by Edward B. Rackley, but an entrenched mores and creed of lawlessness.

Endemic impunity gives way to : predatory governance; abuse of authority without restraint; illegally legitimized violence; and, human rights abuses. Individual acts of law-breaking have exemption, deemed inconsequential under the disguise of being necessary for “our wellbeing”. Little attention is paid to the dire consequences that are stern.

The effective safety and protection of the citizens of this country is a duty bound on the citizens themselves on insistence of a radical bottom up shift. These radical measures must be aimed decisively at reforming the legislature, increasing the efficiency of the executive and strengthening the judiciary. These activities promote the quality of governance and the rule of law. They also : promote transparency, accountability and decentralization; strengthen participation in decision-making at the national and local levels; and, ensure promotion of civil and political rights.

A corresponding value in those we elect to any public office must ensure to secure that effective national authority and legitimate local institutions are a reality. We must ensure that there is consented effort to preclude a situation were our local institutions cease to be primitive weak and ineffective. Consciously our Achilles’ heel is our good “Honorable” MPs who have tended to be mute when it mattered most to strike the hammer while the iron is hot.

The social well being of the citizens and their effective protection will be a reality only with effective civic mobilization for effective institutions that up-hold the rule of law.

The effects of lawlessness are dire if left to their vices. Even our respected judiciary would seem non effective in this kind of environment due to the fact that its legality, legitimacy and legal proceedings would be questioned. The judiciary would be threatened with being nothing short of a preserve of those wielding unequaled financial power and its legal judgments subject to the “highest bidder”. Impunity therefore becomes a cost- benefit game. And like one author puts it “the marriage of lucre to lawlessness that knows no bounds”.

Judges would be seen to be subjects of non-independence. The prosecution of cases would not inspire confidence in our respected judicial system. Most court officials even though well meaning would be labeled highly politicized And like one author puts it “their appointment and job security is not determined by their ability or professionalism but by the extent to which they have served the financial and political interests of the appointing party, its leaders and followers.

This in essence eliminates an effective well oiled institution, a high level standard of officials and government agents and compromises legitimacy. Focus is therefore on making ends in their positions to benefit themselves and their patrons. This compromises the ethos of social justice.

Effective apparatus for effective information dissemination and collaborative transparent effort is stifled without any energy spared. This insulating syndrome that has become an institutional culture exposes the motto “not for public service or civic commitment” but the self serving-hence murkiness and withholding of knowledge that is meant for the public good. This institutional culture precludes indispensable information which in turn makes the gauging of effective accountability from our leaders and institutions impossible. This perpetuates total disregard of the law, allows the abuse of power. This in turn breeds all other vices including abuse of human rights and corruption.

This in turn entrenches corruption. Unfortunately no structure or institution in the country and leader is insulated from this disease. It has its trickle down effect from its leaders on top down to the most low-ranking functionaries. Leaders without values strive in this. This provides an opportune moment for patronage. Whether recruiting, training or transferring staff; purchasing, deciding or investigating anything; collecting, registering and recording land or goods; auctioning or transporting something, bribery and other corruption is the norm.

For an effective sustainable democracy there must be a corresponding effective, efficient mechanism for the rule of law. This balance in Zambia is threatened by the lack of such institutions. This would be a good barometer to guarantee legitimacy and inspire confidence in the citizens. The negative for lack thereof is that inadequate institutions fail to meet the strain of constitutionally-accepted democratic forms of governance.

As a consequence of this weak link between weak democracy and weak rule of law, the safety net is removed. Endemic impunity, predatory governance, abuse of authority without restraint, illegally legitimized violence, human rights abuses; individual acts of law-breaking ensure. Inter-party fighting’s, suppression of the press become the order of the day. Like one author states the progenitors or architects of this wild game of “tit-for-tat are meanwhile promoted, extolled and enriched, encouraging others to follow their examples”.

The margins of freedom are seen through this lens. Employing these methods as machinery for social control under the disguise of the emblem "law and order" not only mounts to a violation of human rights but is also deep-seated progress predicament. Lack of legitimacy from the citizens and a winding confidence in the authorities and its agents is a crisis of social trust and hinders social progress.

But lawlessness goes beyond politics. What about the illegal granting of construction permits, illegal allocation of land and refusal of the authorities to intervene when they need to regulate and demolish un authorized structures? What about the disgraceful, unacceptable behavior of those who should know better like the police who put up illegal roadblocks, get your car keys and grab your mobile phone and worse still criminally remove the road license and insurance? Who intervenes?

What about dry cleaners who illegally put up storage charges? Who really regulates this wanton crime? Throughout the country people ignore or defy the laws without the fear of being prosecuted. This consortium of lawless, rich and poor, do as they please knowing they will escape unscathed. When self serving norms are entrenched more than anything else development and social advancement suffers.

However one looks at it, endemic impunity is fertile ground for the manifestation of such as predatory governance. This law-breaking culture is evidence of nothing more than what the citizens of this country have permitted. This marriage of illegal values has found fertile ground in government and its supporters. Left unchecked this abuse and utter disregard of the law will continue in our institutions, leaders present and future. And this practice they will surely weld to their advantage for a longtime to come.

We can either choose to adapt and leave our nation to the mercy of terminally ill institutions endemic with all manner of vices inimical to every one’s social well being and advancement or at the very least see to it that we secure a radical shift in how our government and institutions functions and that this should not be “effectuated in secret and without real debate”.

Probably we are so comfortable to have a government or leaders who head our institutions and have these powers and can operate without much restraint. We will not be the first and last to determine what kind of institutions we want. Other countries have done this. You the Citizens are the Master….You can decide…

Francis D Kapijimpanga
(Lusaka / Guest Blogger)


  1. Good stuff. In addition, there are also other issues which we have taken for granted and all border on lawlessness. But sadly in recent months as Zambians, much of the time we have tended to apply the law according to what suits us. Today, for example, Zambian Watchdog has a story "Shikapwasha continues threatening media". When you read the article you can see some elements of lawlessness on the part of MUVI TV but we'd rather caveat what GRZ is saying as "threatening the media". Others include the addition of "Pilferage" in BOQs by contractors. Honestly, why should I, as a client, pay for a contractor's operational lapses? I might as well pay for the contractor's broken telephone line!

    I guess it is time we defined what our value system is as Zambians. Sometimes even basics like honesty matter a lot. Bad as they could have been ideologies like Humanism really helped shape our moral standards. So, much as we can point a figure at lawlessness I feel we need to find what really makes one to be proud as a Zambian other just having a shared world heritage site in Victoria Falls.

  2. Chisomo,

    I think that I agree with you on the spirit of your comment. The only caveat I would throw at you is that you do not appear to be granting the accused with the presumption of innocence, perhaps because the accusation comes from a government Minister, which is a large part of the international indictment currently underway of the Zambian legal system. Those accused by members of the government receive "special treatment" and those who are accused who happen to be members of the current government are awarded a very different type of "special treatment". Certainly the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is welcome to enforce routine regulations on the corporations operating under its purview. One must wonder however why a simple breach of regulatory oversight in what was apparently a test of content-sharing arrangements between terrestrial and satellite broadcast entities somehow manages to rise to the level of rhetorical spin which Ronnie seems to bring to every issue he announces. Frankly I have the same problem with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, in that every story no matter how significant is announced with the same inflection of breathless anticipation of something earthshattering. It gets old, and it gets old fast. Ronnie has been the "boy who cried wolf" over and over because of his position as Government Spokesperson, which would be fine if he wasn't also the Minister in charge of providing Zambian citizens with as much access to information as possible in order to enable them to compete in the 21st century information age. Once again Ronnie is wearing too many hats, is too fond of his titles, and can't get them straight. If there has been a breach of broadcast license scope, then certainly more money is probably owed to the treasury, but this is a Ministry task, not a Spokesperson task, and Ronnie clearly can't tell the difference.

    This is never a problem in the US, because there is a "White House Press Secretary" who does NOTHING but deal with the press, and has no other job. Ronnie actually has a responsibility to the IT community in Zambia, which he forgets because he has to be Spokesperson for the Party in order to keep his job. Why again is this story in the press? That IS the story.


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