Zambia

Another month, another drafting deadline missed. July 31st was meant to be the day when the Technical Committee handed over its final draft of the new Zambian Constitution to the Ministry of Justice. But guess what? Nothing happened. There was no handover. And Zambians are no closer to knowing what their next constitution will look like. Or indeed whether they are ever going to get a new one.

So what happens now?

It's been a long time coming but the Human Rights Commission in Zambia has finally decided that it will ignore the rantings of the opposition parties and churches and speak out against the discrimination of people on the basis of sexual orientation.

In all the justified furore about the absurd arrest of a Zambian opposition leader for referring to President Sata as a sweet potato (or defaming him if you have (a) lost touch with reality or (b) are in the upper echelons of the police or ruling Patriotic Front), a crucial issue has been largely overlooked.

Zambian president, Michael Sata, clearly isn’t too concerned about the campaign by civil society groups and opposition parties to have his country expelled from the Commonwealth because of his increasingly autocratic behaviour. Instead, he appears keen – as he often does – to add fuel to the fire rather than trying to douse the flames.

Most people hear little about Zambia and so assume that all is well. But it’s not.  Things are very far from well. And they’re getting worse.

And to understand this all you need to do is glance at the 2013 Risk List produced by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which groups Zambia alongside the likes of Egypt, Liberia, Syria, Russia and Vietnam. It is not an enviable set of bedfellows.

Enough is enough! The patently absurd – and just as patently politically-motivated – trial of Paul Kasonkomona in Zambia has just been adjourned again. This time until November 11th, apparently because of some faulty DVD equipment.

The writing has been on the wall for a long time. But now it’s official. Zambia’s latest constitution drafting process is going to fail – and the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of President Michael Sata and his ruling Patriotic Front.

It’s been a dreadful year for gay rights in Zambia with waves of homophobic hate speech interspersed with spurious arrests and public harassment of same sex couples. But last night an astonishing thing happened – the country’s First Lady, Dr Christine Kaseba-Sata called for an end to discrimination against sexual minorities.

Sometimes, one ‘small’ story encapsulates everything that is going wrong in a country. Take Zambia. Yesterday, the police broke up an opposition rally in the capital, Lusaka – as the police have done on countless occasions over the years. It would normally not be worth a mention except that it is a stark sign of the times – and a clear indicator of the alarmingly oppressive tendencies at the heart of Michael Sata’s government.

Sometimes despair seems to be the only response – despair that in 2013, a government Minister can promote wife beating and violence against women. Despair that after three weeks he is still in his job – unrepentant and unpunished. Despair that he hasn’t been sacked. Despair that women’s organizations are only calling for him to apologise rather than for his head to roll – as of course it should.

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