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February 26 2014

February 25 2014

February 17 2014

February 13 2014

Two Million Mobile SIM Cards Deactivated in Zambia

Mobile phone shop in Lusaka. Photo by Curious Lee (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Mobile phone shop in Lusaka. Photo by Curious Lee (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The SIM cards of over two million Zambian mobile phone users were deactivated last week, according to the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority. After spending several months pushing subscribers to register their SIMs, the regulatory body now says that those who did not meet the January 31 deadline have had their SIMs deactivated.

Most people in Zambia, a country with a population of just over 13 million, own up to three SIM cards, one for each telecommunications service provider. Zambians also use them to access mobile Internet services.

In a statement released shortly after the close of registration ZICTA announced that out of a subscriber base of 9,462,504, “a total number of 8,235,991 SIM cards have been registered while 2,215,376 have been deactivated.”

Apart from cutting off services to subscribers who failed to register their cards, ZICTA also threatened to punish any of the three mobile phone service providers MTN, CellZ and Airtel in the same statement, stating:

As is the case in any process of this magnitude [SIM card registration], some level of margin of error is expected and accepted. Any Service provider found to have mistakes within the margin of error will be requested to re-run their system. However, for any Service Provider whose errors shall be above the accepted threshold will be punished by Law.

The SIM registration process did not go over without problems. Some people who had registered at the beginning of the exercise, four months prior to the deadline, discovered last month that they were not on the final list of registered subscribers. Others had their numbers under different names and even the wrong gender.

Former Vice President Brigadier-General Godfrey Miyanda, a leader of the now-opposition Heritage Party and a vocal critic of SIM registration policy, had one of his SIM cards registered without his knowledge. The phone company later apologised.

Gen. Miyanda is among some subscribers who have threatened to take ZICTA to court for allegedly threatening their rights and freedoms pertaining to privacy, property ownership and communication. On the last day of registration, Gen. Miyanda, in what he referred to as his last post, wrote:

Fellow internet partners and the Social Media family, I wish to inform you that the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) have reminded me that by midnight this day they will cut me off from civilisation by arbitrarily deactivating my SIM cards without just cause. I have NOT committed any crime, neither is there a credible record of the prevalence and/or abuse of these communications gadgets to justify any derogation from the said guaranteed rights.

Gen Miyanda, who had written several statements on this issue, continued:

By this single act ZICTA is attaching the condition that before I can enjoy my guaranteed freedom of expression I should first apply to the Authority or their agents to be registered. By the same token ZICTA are infringing my right to privacy and other proprietary [rights]. I contend that these freedoms and liberties cannot be taken away arbitrarily or traded for a few minutes of airtime. My communications to ZICTA and the Mobile Service Providers have remained unanswered. This means that by midnight I shall not be able to communicate or use my purchased implements for such communication. In short until this issue is resolved I shall be off air, including off the internet. This is my Last Post for now.

A journalist and mobile phone subscriber who has threatened class action against ZICTA complained that local media had not covered his anti-SIM card registration fight. Kasebamashila Kaseba alleged that the media was compromised by the regulatory body which sponsored various media activities including awards and working breakfasts. He stated:

As we close and review the public and media debates, to open the court process, in view of ZICTA deadline of Friday, 31st January, 2014 for SIM card deactivation, I wish to say and may elaborate later that we may not seek an “injunction” or “judicial review” as the matter is outside the law or SI 65 of 2011. Instead, the “class action” as already mentioned elsewhere may include action against some public media houses that benefited from the ZICTA SIM card registration […] campaign of deactivation and may include “citizen’s arrest.”

January 17 2014

Zambian Police Go After ‘Watchdog’ for Publishing Draft Constitution

Lusaka skyline. Photo by Mike Lee via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Lusaka at dusk. Photo by Mike Lee via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Zambian police forces say they will employ “international legal provisions” to take into custody the operators of citizen news websites that authorities claim are threatening the security of the state.

The terse statement was issued a few hours after independent news site the Zambian Watchdog published a draft constitution that the government has written but neglected to release to the public. This violates the Terms of Reference of the Constitution Technical Committee which was appointed shortly after President Michael Sata’s Patriotic Front (PF) won the 2011 elections.

The statement issued by the police public relations unit and reported by Zambia Reports reads:

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous people have taken advantage of the cyberspace to commit crimes on the internet through defamatory comments and remarks posted on websites especially through the electronic media in the name of press freedom which end up infringing a number of state security provisions.

As such, the Police shall employ local, regional and international legal provisions to pursue the authors and publishers of such criminal, libelous, defamatory, treasonous and seditious statements and bring them to book.

Echoing recent words of Minister of Information and Broadcasting Mwansa Kapeya, who spoke of the government unmasking the identities of people behind certain citizen news websites, the police statement added:

So far, other investigations into the identities of the perpetrators of such crimes are underway and we shall expose all the people involved in these malicious and borderline treacherous activities hiding behind the anonymity of the internet.

Kapeya, a former broadcaster himself, was quoted saying:

We are concerned about some of the news that is being published by online publication most of it amounts to abuse of the social media. A lot of things are said about government officials and the President without [them being] given a chance to respond.

Another minister, Yamfwa Mukanga, in charge of communication, recently said the government was working on a law to regulate online media and hold “them” (websites and services) accountable for their actions:

We have to find a way of controlling them because they are tarnishing the image of our country. Of late, we have seen a lot of things published by online media that are [e]very negative because they publish anything.

The Zambian Watchdog reported that the government was secretly working on a law that would criminalize the act of reading the Zambian Watchdog and other similar sites. Quoting a government source, the Watchdog reported:

The Watchdog is just too advanced for the PF and because of the huge costs involved in blocking it, government now wants to pass a law in the next parliament to criminalise whoever accesses or contributes to the site because by then all data of the sim card will already have been captured. They want the attorney general to complain on behalf of the government and then later it will go to cabinet.

Commenting under the story, Watchdog reader Czar said [Watchdog comments do not have permalinks]:

That “law” is meant to scare semi illiterates. Will Sata and his gang manage to monitor every device that is used to browse the Internet. Don’t they know that you can browse anonymously using a proxy? If China has failed to do this, how will Sata and his gang succeed. Don’t they have better things to do?

Observers widely suspect that the Zambian government has been trying to shut down critical news websites such as the Zambian Watchdog and Zambia Reports for over a year. This isn't the first time government officials have spoken dismissively of the Watchdog — in July, Vice President Guy Scott said he would “celebrate” if the Watchdog were shut down. In separate statements, the government has also threatened to close down social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

January 10 2014

Arrested for Calling Zambia's President Michael Sata a ‘Sweet Potato’

When Catholic Priest turned politician Father Frank Bwalya called President Michael Sata a sweet potato on a little known community radio station in rural Zambia, he probably did not have the slightest idea that the phrase would become a global meme within a few hours and the story picked up by major international news outlets.

Fr. Bwalya, who heads opposition political party Alliance for Better Zambia, appeared on Radio Mano in Kasama, over 1,000 kilometers north of capital Lusaka, during which he said the president as crooked as a sweet potato which cannot be straightened, a common saying in the local language, Bemba. Police stormed the studios even before he could finish the interview and whisked him away. He was later arrested and charged with defaming the head of state.

A picture combo mocking the evolution of President Sata from

A picture combo mocking the evolution of President Sata from “King Cobra” to “sweet potatoes” posted on Facebook.

The Huffington Post, Yahoo and many news outlets picked up the story not because of the arrest of the priest but rather the reason behind the arrest—comparing the head of state to a humble sweet potato.

The joke was not lost on one Twitter user who came up with an imaginary conversation between President Sata and his press aide George Chellah:

Another user bemoaned the reason for which Zambia was in the international news spotlight:

Regional President for entrepreneurship organization Kairos Society Erasmus Mweene posted where he first saw the story:

Business consultant Trevor Simumba told of where he saw the story from:

News website Zambia Reports reported about the potato going viral around the world:

The story of the arrest of Father Frank Bwalya for calling President Michael Sata a potato has gone viral on a number of news websites including the Independent of UK, Yahoo, Metro UK, Yahoo, BBC and Al-Jazeera.

Several other websites in South Africa and the United States of America including the traditional Zambian websites have carried the article. The internet was also agog with various images of sweet [potatoes]

Fr. Bwalya is quoted as saying in an Al Jazeera story republished on Zambia Reports:

On that radio program, I strongly criticized the bad leadership of the president. I called him a crooked sweet potato that cannot be straightened. It is a commonly used phrase which is not insulting. It is to explain the attitude of a person who doesn’t want to be advised who doesn’t want to be counselled.

No stranger to police harassment, Bwalya spearheaded the “Red Card” campaign before the 2011 elections signifying the intention to kick out the then ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy out of government in favour of President Sata’s Patriotic Front.

Shortly after the PF formed government, Bwalya, who has since taken sabbatical leave from his priestly duties, was appointed board chairman of the power utility company Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation, but resigned the position within one year of being appointed and went on to form political party Alliance for Better Zambia.

January 06 2014

Minister Offers $2000 Reward To Unmask Zambian Watchdog Editors

A Zambian government minister has offered a US$2000 reward to anyone who can unmask the identity of people behind independent media website Zambian Watchdog for writing stories and printing pictures alleging infidelity against him.

In a counter-offer, the Zambian Watchdog has offered iPads and other tablets to people with what they call “credible information” on an alleged extra-marital romantic affair of Miles Sampa, Zambia's Junior Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry. Sampa, a senior member of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), sued the independent social news website Kachepa 360 (which is no longer available online) for defamation and was awarded US$50,000 in damages by a United States court early last year.

The Minister made his offer after the Zambian Watchdog published a story alleging that he recently travelled to the Northern provincial town of Kasama to dish out money to party cadres to stir trouble after local parliamentarian Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba announced his resignation as Minister of Defense.

The Watchdog quoted Sampa as saying:

I don’t care whether they are hiding in London or wherever they are. I recently won damages in the United States and I have no qualms about pursuing people that spread falsehoods [in reference to the Watchdog]

Sampa continued his commentary on his Facebook page, insinuating that these news items were a form of “cyber crime”:

I am making an appeal to all upright and noble people. If anyone knows the name and address of a man or woman, local or abroad, that writes or is an agent for Publishers of falsehood or are into character assassination on the Internet or Facebook for political expediency or just for fan [fun], please inbox me those details or text to [number given]

A reward of K10,000(rebased) [Zambia recently rebased her currency by removing three zeroes from it] or $2000 if abroad will be availed to Senders of bonafide details sent.

Full confidentiality is guaranteed to all informers and reward will be via Western Union if not in person. My hobby for 2014 and on behalf of all those who feel they are victims of this cyber crime, is to locate the abusers so they can see the inside of a court room nearest to their physical address anywhere on this planet.

Sampa added:

Those who enjoy defaming other people be it politicians, should be brave enough to validate their stories in court.

The Zambian Watchdog reproduced Sampa’s post on its Facebook page and in its response, stated:

We (Zambian Watchdog) are also appealing to anyone who knows any of Miles Sampa’s current concubines to tell us. You can ‘inbox’ us just here or email to editor@zambiawatchdog

If you send us credible data, we shall send you an Ipad or Kindle for you to continue browsing the Watchdog. But make no mistake, a courier will deliver the Ipad or Kindle to you but you will never know from which direction it came from.

And for you Sampa, take notice that we [are] with you.

Commenting on the Zambian Watchdog Facebook post, Kaluku Musumadi advised Sampa to stay away from the fight with the news website:

This hide and seek (Tom & Jerry) between Miles and the ZW Dog will be getting out of hand. Miles must just learn to ignore such because the more he “pulls his sleeves to clinch a fist,” the dog is also jumping for another bite of him. Learn to ignore certain media nonsense and their attention on you will eventually shift to other hotter subjects.

Several Zambian journalists have in the past been arrested on trumped up charges on suspicion of being linked to the Zambian Watchdog.

 

Related stories, all by Gershom Ndhlovu

Minister Ridiculed Over Website Closure Statement

Another Journalist Arrested in Zambia

Journalist Charged With Sedition in Zambia

Zambia: ISP Faces Backlash Over Blocked News Site

Zambia: VP “Would Celebrate” Shutdown of News Site

Zambia: Minister Threatens Editors of Online Watchdog with Treason Charge

January 04 2014

Botched Bureaucracy Mars SIM Card Registration in Zambia

SIM card. Released to public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

SIM card. Released to public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In autumn of 2012, the Zambian government issued a new policy requiring citizens to register their mobile phone SIM cards, using their real identities. Some weeks ago, officials began threatening to deactivate services on mobile phones with unregistered SIMs.

Two days before the December 31 SIM card registration deadline, thousands of people flocked to registration centers to avoid losing their mobile phone service. Thousands more, who had registered their cards when the exercise began in September, discovered their records had gone missing from the national SIM database, leaving them at risk of losing their service.

Amidst mass confusion, one subscriber reported the CEO of Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA), the regulatory agency behind SIM card registration campaign, to the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) for professional misconduct by misinterpreting the law on SIM registration.

Many mobile phone users reported errors in the registration process. On the Facebook walls of some subscribers who registered their SIM cards in the early days of the campaign, Ministry of Finance public relations officer Chileshe Kandeta, wrote:

SIM REGISTRATION…is it goodbye to my beloved sim cards. [...] Maybe, coz [because] I registered my numbers several months ago at Manda Hill [shopping mall in Lusaka]. Upon checking to make sure everything is ok, I discover that I have not been registered on the system. AGONY!

Commenting on Kandeta’s status, Sonnile Nsakali Phiri wrote:

Esp[ecially] on MTN. I made 3 attempts, where I was only “partially registered”. I'd to go and make noise at the Arcades centre to somebody at the till before she punched a few times on her pc then I was fully registered. Meanwhile, the girl doing the sim registration had been holding on to the forms for 4wks instead of submitting them

Jean Serge wrote:

 Yesterday, I did registration for the 5th time! at the time I do try *538# , the feedback is that I am not registered. My registration slip serial number is 11 00 71 47 and my Dealer Code : HQ

During the last-minute rush in the capital, Lusaka, Facebook activist Gift Tako Linyada Mbewe poked fun at stereotypes in his commentary on the drive:

OK THERE ARE SOME BEHAVIOURS WHICH WILL NEVER LEAVE AN AFRICAN.

OK I PARKED AT ZAMPOST [Lusaka Main Post Office] AND STARTED WALKING TO CAIRO CHEMIST. AT ZAMPOST, I SAW A LONG QUEUE, VERY LONG. SO I ASKED, “WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE?”, SOMEONE ANSWERED, “WE ARE REGISTERING OUR SIM CARDS BEFORE TOMORROW THE DEAD LINE”. WHAT!? KEKEKEKE [laughter]!!!
AFRICANS WITH LAST MINUTES. I THINK THE GOVERNEMENT IS ALSO TO BLAME, WHY DO THEY LIKE TO EXTEND DEADLINESS? ANYWAY, THEY ARE ALSO AFRICANS.

AS FOR ME, I DONT EVEN REMEMBER HOW LONG AGO I REGISTERED MY SIM CARDS…

Journalist and researcher Kasebamashila Kaseba has taken matters further by reporting ZICTA managing director Margaret Chalwe-Mudenda, a lawyer herself, to LAZ, a body regulating legal practice in the country, alleging that she has misinterpreted the statutory instrument SI 65 of 2011 on SIM card registration and deactivation.

Kaseba, in his letter to LAZ, wrote:

In a follow up to my letter to ZICTA Director General dated 15th November, 2013 copied to Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) and in accordance with the Chapter 31 LAZ Act on professional ethics of lawyers, I write to file a complaint of professional misconduct against the ZICTA Director General (Ms) Margaret Chalwe-Mudenda with regard to ZICTA interpretation and implementation of SI 65 of 2011 on SIM card registration and deactivation.

In view of the above, I write for your attention to the fact that Director General Chalwe-Mudenda, a lawyer by profession, thus answerable to LAZ, despite my letter on professional and legal issues, neglected, failed and refused to cite, publish or accordingly communicate SI 65 of 2011 on SIM registration that threatened extreme punishment of deactivation. Instead, ZICTA emphasised misinformation, miscommunication of its countdown and deadline while spending public resources on issues outside the law.

Instead, ZICTA emphasised misinformation, miscommunication while spending public resources on its countdown and deadline which are outside the law.

A government junior minister in charge of communication, Colonel Panji Kaunda, extended the deadline for SIM card registration to February 15 when subscribers would lose all services on unregistered cards, while ZICTA initially maintained the December 31 deadline, but has now moved it to January 31. Confusion reigns.

A few days into February, the nation may be counting the number of people who will have had their SIM cards de-registered.

 

December 21 2013

Zambia: Register Your SIM Card, or Lose Your Service

Mobile phone shop in Lusaka. Photo by Curious Lee (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Mobile phone shop in Lusaka. Photo by Curious Lee (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In autumn of 2012, the Zambian government issued a new policy requiring citizens to register their mobile phone SIM cards, using their real identities. Now they are threatening to deactivate services on mobile phones with unregistered SIMs.

Mobile service providers in Zambia mainly offer pay-as-you-go services, meaning that mobile phone customers can acquire SIM cards anonymously and pay for air time as needed. Many Zambians also rely on their mobile phones to access the Internet. This is critical, given that dial-up and broadband services are not only expensive but poorly distributed throughout the country.

Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) stated that citizens must register their SIM cards by December 31, 2013, or they will begin to lose certain services. Phones will be fully de-registered by February 15, 2014 if owners do not comply with the registration order.

An MTN call to its subscribers to register their SIM cards.

An MTN call to its subscribers to register their SIM cards.

Citizen media website Zambia Reports quoted Communications and Transport junior minister Colonel Panji Kaunda saying subscribers would have a window of up to February 15 when their SIM cards would be completely de-registered.

Kaunda reportedly said that 5,360,093 SIM cards were registered as of December 16, out of a total of 10,343,527 mobile phone subscribers in the country.

On Facebook, media worker John Chola, apparently after receiving a promotional message from one mobile phone service provider, wrote:

“Your number will be disconnected if it is not registered by December 31, 2013. Visit your nearest MTN Agent or Zampost to register your SIM card today!”
Isn't this appaling and silly coming to one who has done so more than twice and even made several stopovers to verify with a particualr service provider? Go ahead cut them off, am out!

One comment on Chola’s post by Mwamba Kanyanta reads:

[…] I have been opting out on as many promotional messages as possible from these carriers. Receiving a message like the one ba (Mr) Chola got can be very irritating considering that he had just done the needful.. Does the law oblige a subscriber to disseminate the ZICTA message? If I register my sims, I shouldn't be made to preach to my neighbour about sim registration. In fact, campaigns of threats never yield tangible results. By January, no single sim will have been blocked. Bet?

When ZICTA announced SIM card registration last September, the agency warned that failure to register SIM cards after the deadline would result in SIM deactivation, leaving subscribers unable to communicate. The action by ZICTA was in apparent compliance with the Information Communication Technologies (ICT) Act No.15 of 2009 and the Statutory Instrument on the Registration of Electronic Communication Apparatus No. 65 of 2011.

When ZICTA initially faced resistance from mobile phone users, it explained that the mandatory registration of SIM cards was being done to create a security data base for users.

November 21 2013

Zambia’s ‘King Cobra’ President Publicly Calls Ministers, MPs Fools

Recently, Zambian President Michael Sata called one of his senior ministers a fool on national TV for failing to repair a presidential guest house in the country’s second largest city Kitwe, about 400 kilometres from the capital Lusaka.

President Michael Sata addressing parliament. Picture used with permission from Lusaka Times.

President Michael Sata addressing parliament. Photo used with permission from Lusaka Times.

This incident came barely a few weeks after President Sata told off his Vice-President Dr. Guy Scott and some ministers in remarks that were also broadcast on national TV.

Below is a video posted by YouTube user Matongo Maumbi showing Sata rebuking one of his ministers:

Sata is known for his abrasiveness and disregard for protocol at both local and international functions, actions which seem to be sending Zambians cringing each time he appears in public.

But it is the president’s latest remarks on November 20 while on a campaign trail of a by-election in the provincial capital of Luapula, Mansa, about 1,000 kilometres from Lusaka where he insulted members of parliament from the region that have raised questions on the state of the 76-year old-leader who was elected into office two years ago.

Quoting community radio station Yangeni, the Zambian Eye reported:

President Michael Sata has said his Members of Parliament from Luapula Province are foolish.

Radio Ya[n]geni, a Community Radio station in Mansa reports that President Sata said this when he addressed a public rally to drum up support for the Patriotic Front (PF) candidate in Mansa Central Constituency by-election at Muchinka Primary School Grounds today.

President Sata said next year, 2014 [the next elections are scheduled for 2016] the people should give him Members of Parliament with brains because the current crop of Parliamentarians are foolish.

Commenting on social commentator Proud Aushi Musamba Mumba’s page, Barbara Chanda wrote:

we have doctors close to the president who cant tell the trruth because of fear of retribution this is not sata as hes known hes definetly not well yes he can rant but not to this extent unfortunately us africans too are a bit mental we will start jumping up and down like poisoned rats to encourage him and say hes proactive and encouaging [his members of parliament] to work when everyone is shaking like a leaf scared of being sacked they cant make any decisions because they might offend him! [all sic]

Before President Sata’s trip to Mansa, citizen media website Zambia Reports wrote about what was expected of the head of state:

The President, who is spontenous in his public appearances and produces some made-for-stage theatrics, is expected to address rallies with his first call set for Muchinka grounds in Mansa. Mansa residents may just enjoy a portion of the drama from their Head of State.

In the Kitwe incident, in which Communications, Works and Supply Minister Yamfwa Mukanga was lambasted, the Zambian Watchdog reported:

President Micheal Sata today again went ballistic when he publicly insulted Communications, Works and Supply Minister Yamfwa Mukanga over the presidential Lodge in Kitwe’s Ndeke township. […] Mukanga was blasted like a small boy in front of his juniors and television cameras as he (Mukanga) kept smiling without anything to do in front of the Zambian president nicknamed ‘king cobra’.

At an earlier function to commemorate Armistice Day, which falls on November 11 every year, President Sata laid into Mukanga and other officials. Mainstream media the Post reported the story:

Where is Yamfwa Mukanga? Why is there no water here and the grass is not green? Why haven't you done anything on Dr Chiluba's [Zambia's second president] grave…Kale sana nakweba (I told you a long time ago) […] I will do it myself if you can't put a house on Chiluba's grave.

Zambia's Vice-President Dr. Scott was yet again on the receiving end:

You the Vice-President are in charge of this place, why is it that the flowers and the grass are withering and there is no water? You Roland Msiska also, why is the grass here in this poor state and yet you operate from here?

At another function, Sata published admonished his vice president for sending a junior minister outside the country to officiate at a function of a company that imports second hand cars, asking:

“You sent your deputy minister to glorify second-hand vehicles. This was your speech which your deputy minister read. Why should we glorify second-hand vehicles, and you say we have a Vice-President?”

October 31 2013

Radio Licences in Zambia Cancelled Because of Opposition's Access

The truth is out.

Since 1991, when Zambia enjoyed a liberalised business–and by extension, media–environment, consecutive governments have promised the freeing of radio and TV for private stations to compete with state-run Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), which runs both radio and TV channels. But they have dragged their feet in opening up the airwaves apparently for fear of opposition having access to them.

As the ruling government ramps up pressure on online publications by blocking some citizen media websites and arresting independent journalists, more fear factor was unwittingly brought out by President Michael Sata on October 28 when he lambasted Information and Broadcasting Permanent Secretary Emmanuel Mwamba for issuing national broadcasting licences to two private radio stations and granting operation licences to non-Christian radio stations.

Emmanuel Mwamba, recently dismissed as Information and Broadcasting Permanent Secretary. Picture used with permission from the Zambian Eye.

Emmanuel Mwamba, recently dismissed as Information and Broadcasting Permanent Secretary. Picture used with permission from the Zambian Eye.

In the last 22 years, several radio and TV stations have opened, but have mostly been restricted to particular regions, with some submitting applications to expand their coverage nationally. These applications have been pending with hope for approval increasing with the new Patriotic Front (PF) government, whose manifesto promises the “opening up of airwaves”, especially given that President Sata, as an opposition leader, was never given any positive coverage, if covered at all.

Last September, Sata brought on Mwamba, from the restive Western Province where part of the population is fighting for secession, as the head of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

With gusto, Mwamba, a journalist better known for his role as press aide for Zambia’s second president, the late Frederick Chiluba, went into overdrive cancelling his predecessor’s projects such as the digital migration tender, and announced major changes in the public media. Among his accomplishments in the short time he was civil service head of the Information Ministry was granting the wishes of the some radio stations to broadcast nationally. He also allowed some Muslim-affiliated radio stations to start test transmissions. Notably, he pushed for state-controlled media to have a strong online presence.

Mwamba however burnt his fingers on the issue of licences.

He was told off by President Sata for thinking that he was cleverer than previous permanent secretaries who never approved any of the controversial applications, least of all allowing private stations to broadcast nationally. He said:

You Mr. Emmanuel Mwamba, do you think all the Permanent Secretaries before you were stupid not to issue the licence to Radio Phoenix? You want [opposition United Party for National Development Hakainde Hichilema] HH to be using the same radio station while sitting… Are you the only clever permanent secretary? Was the previous government foolish? […] Do you know why they [applications] were pending? Are you aware that Radio Phoenix has been bought by outsiders and that can endanger national integrity? Do you know why previous government had only allowed ZNBC to be the only national broadcaster?

After Mwamba was lambasted by President Sata, who also cancelled national licences of Radio Phoenix and QFM and operating licenses for non-Christian radio stations, a statement followed shortly that he had been transferred from the Information Ministry to Cabinet Office in the same capacity but in an unspecified role. Two days later, he was fired from the civil service altogether.

Civic organisation Operation Young Vote, through its executive director Guess Nyirenda, issued a statement condemning Sata’s stand:

The directive by the President to have the licenses revoked less than a month after the PF Government issued them through PS [Permanent Secretary] Mwamba is not only retrogressive but also a confirmation of the PF’s desire to keep Zambians starved of the much needed information that would ensure media growth and democracy […] The President’s categorical expression of fear for the opposition and Hakainde Hichilema (HH) in particular on being on Private National Media is testimony that the PF stands ready to disregard their manifesto when it suits them and further not to allow Zambians access rich, correct and true information on which to base their decisions now and in the future.

A reader on citizen journalism website Zambian Watchdog questioned the reasoning behind the cancellation of the radio licences, saying:

But w[h]at is wrong with the issuance of nationwide broadcasting licenses? I remember when President Sata was still in the opposition, he perpetualy [sic] complained about the limitation of both RADIO and TV coverage. Could it be that he was speaking purely out of ignora………… [ignorance].

The whole affair, including Sata's utterances on the cancelled licenses, explains why the Freedom of Information Bill, renamed Access to Information Bill, has never been enacted into a substantive law for years and also why the ZNBC and Independent Broadcasting Acts (IBA) have not been fully operationalized or just recently operationalized in the case of the latter.

The Freedom of Information Bill or the Access to Information Bill as it is now known, once enacted into law, is supposed to allow citizens in general to access publicly held information on any matter in writing and where this information cannot be released, a reason is supposed to be given to the person requesting it. Subsequent administrations have given security as one of the reasons to delay its passing.

On the other hand the ZNBC Act, which has only been partially operationalized, is supposed to make the national broadcaster into a public institution running independently with board members not being answerable to government. To date, ZNBC is still directly controlled by the ministry of information through the permanent secretary who is also a member of the institution's board.

The IBA Act provides for the establishment of an independent board to look into matters of broadcasting through licencing and monitoring of compliance of laws and regulations of all broadcasting stations but, incidentally, government still controls most of the functions of the Independent Broadcasting Authority.

October 20 2013

Zambia's President Increases His Salary, Blames Opposition MPs

Even before the echo of the voice of Zambia's Minister of Finance, Alexander Chikwanda, died down from his budget presentation in parliament in which he announced the freezing of civil service wages for two years, citizen media website Zambian Watchdog unearthed a Statutory Instrument dated 8 October 2013 that increased President Michael Sata's salary along with other constitution office holders.

President Michael Sata addressing parliament. Picture used with permission from Lusaka Times.

President Michael Sata addressing parliament. Picture used with permission from Lusaka Times.

This is one Statutory Instrument government would have wished was buried among the documents citizens don’t get to know about for the furore it has caused has led to President Sata to offer to forego the 10 per cent increment on condition that opposition members of parliament also give up their share.

Breaking the news of the presidential increment, the Zambian Watchdog, which has been blocked by the Zambian government, reported:

Three days after increasing the salary for Sata and his ministers, Minister of Finance Alexander Chikwanda told parliament when he presented the 2014 budget that there will be a wage freeze for civil servants for the next two years and that there would be no recruitment for public workers […] Sata’s latest increment of his salary was done right in the middle of nurses and midwives’ strikes to ask for better pay.

President Sata’s latest salary rise marked the third time his earnings have gone up since he assumed office in September 2011.

Labour Minister, Fackson Shamenda, a former head of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, justified the presidential salary increment by saying President Sata was the least paid head of state in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, saying:

People should be happy when we improve the living standards of others. Surely, in the world world today should we be proud that our president is the lowest paid in the region.

President Sata’s press aide George Chellah issued a statement, coinciding with Shamenda’s, in which he explained the procedure:

The procedure is once the Standing Orders Committee has determined what increment to award, the Minister of Finance issues a Statutory Instrument […] In fact, this year, the Committee, which includes opposition Members of Parliament met and came up with an increment of 10 per cent taking into account the national resource and notwithstanding the fact that the civil service was awarded increments ranging from 0 per cent to more than 150 per cent.

Another minister, Edgar Lungu, in charge of internal affairs, communicated the president’s willingness to forego the increment:

The President is saying that’s fine, but we have talked to the opposition UPND and MMD and they are saying we are with you and are actually saying it’s not enough, So you go and ask your opposition members of parliament why they are condemning the increment when they gave him that money through the standing orders committee.

On the contrary, Mywage website showed that President Sata was actually one of the highly paid heads of state with the Zambian Watchdog reporting:

According to a compilation by ‘My Wages’, Sata was until last week [before his salary increment] getting an equivalent of 845.436,00 South African Rands annually or 3.382,00 South African Rands daily.


Writing on the Zambian Watchdog website, Michelo Hansungule, a Zambian law professor resident in South Africa, called on President Sata to cancel the salary rise:

The president must denounce and cancel the increase and take responsibility as a leader should instead of childishly throwing the ball to a committee of Parliament. This should be easy for him to do given that he has exonerated himself and his executive preferring to blame a committee of Parliament and particularly opposition members of Parliament  in the committee which means if he is to be believed the decision is not his and someone is putting tax payers money on his account without his consent.

There is a general impression that for the man who spent 10 years in opposition and probably spent a fortune organising the Patriotic Front (PF), a party he single-handedly formed and runs as a personal fiefdom, he will spend his time in office recouping what he spent all those years running its affairs.

October 16 2013

Once Welcomed Malawian Judge Faces Time In Zambian Jail

A Malawian High Court Judge who was invited to chair a judicial tribunal appointed to probe two High Court judges and one Supreme Court judge in Zambia sometime last year in a curious twist of fate now risks going to jail for contempt of court after ignoring Zambian High Court orders.

The Malawian judge might end up in a Zambian prison cell if found guilty. Photo released under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)  by Flickr user

The Malawian judge, Lovemore Chikopa, might end up in a Zambian prison cell if found guilty. Photo released under Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) by Flickr user

The Malawian Judge, Lovemore Chikopa, has camped in Zambia for over a year waiting to hear the cases of High Court judges Nigel Mutuna, Charles Kajimanga and Supreme Court judge Philip Musonda, who has since resigned, for alleged professional misconduct. In the same period, Zambian President Michael Sata appointed two other tribunals to probe two High Court judges Emelia Sunkutu and Timothy Katanekwa.

The tribunal appointed by Sata, who invited Chikopa from neighbouring Malawi to chair it, has been hit by legal challenges at every turn with the three judges fighting their case in court.

In this latest development, the High Court in Ndola, Zambia’s third largest city about 400 kilometers from the capital Lusaka, stopped the tribunal from going ahead after Mutuna and Kajimanga challenged the tribunal’s constitutionality. An earlier challenge in May 2012 saw the three judges seek an injunction to stop the tribunal.

Musonda was granted leave to seek judicial review by High Court judge Florence Lengalenga over the Chikopa tribunal following his resignation as a Supreme Court judge. Chikopa had, however, wanted to continue hearing Musonda’s case.

Whether out of ignorance or impunity, Chikopa continued sitting even after he was handed the order to stop him from going ahead.

The story was reported by both Zambian and Malawian online media. Reported the Zambian Watchdog:

Judge Lovemore Chikopa and his secretary Magaya Katunasa are expected to appear before Ndola High Court judge Mwiinde Siavwapa to answer to a charge of contempt of court and explain why they should not be sent to jail or suffer other sanctions for disobeying a lawful court order […] Lawyers representing judges Nigel Mutuna and Charles Kajimanga are preparing final papers for the committal of Chikopa and Katunasa for their disregarding of an order stopping their tribunal.

Zambian Reports, questioning how the tribunal which has faced criticism right from the beginning would continue with such obstacles, wrote:

It still remains to be seen how the ‘kangaroo’ tribunal will proceed in light of these developments […] However, Chikopa, who has been holed up in Zambia after being imported from Malawi, on government money has shown more than usual zeal to go on with proceedings regardless of the obstacles.

Nyalubinge Ngwende, on his blog, Brutal Journal, criticizes the president for allegedly trying to protect his friends who owe the Development Bank of Zambia, which lends money to businesses, over 14 billion Zambian Kwacha (about 2.6 million US dollars) in a matter that was handled by judges Mutuna, Kajimanga and Musonda at one point or another. Nyalubinge pointed out:

The Lovemore Chikopa tribunal is one obvious case of President Sata trying to punish judges for his friends […] Mutuna, Kanjimanaga and Musonda are victim of their bold decision in a case in which Mutembo Nchito (now DPP [Director of Public Prosecution]) and Fred M'membe (owner of the Post Newspaper and confessed friend of Sata) were told to pay back K14 billion they had borrowed from a public bank, Development Bank of Zambia.

Nchito and M’membe ran an airline, Zambian Airways, which later went burst.

Ngwende also quoted what Sata said when appointing the Chikopa Tribunal:

My office has received numerous complaints about Justices Philip Musonda who is a Supreme court Judge, Charles Kajimanga and Nigel Mutuna who are High court Judges, from the Law association of Zambia, Lawyers within the judiciary and members of the public […] The terms of reference would be based on the allegations that the trio interfered with a case involving the Post newspapers, Development Bank of Zambia (DBZ and JNC holding limited and Mutembo Nchito.

In the meantime, Zambians, especially those that have seen the Chikopa Tribunal as an unnecessary undertaking and a waste of public resources, await the day the Malawian judge would stand in a Zambian court as an accused person and probably end up in a Zambian jail as a convict.

October 14 2013

Zambia: Careful What You Say — the President is Listening

Early this year, Zambian President Michael Sata warned Chief Jumbe of the Kunda people of Zambia's Eastern Province that he knew what he said in his bedroom.

Speaking at the opening of the House of Chiefs, a gathering of over 30 traditional leaders in Lusaka (who represent some of the country's 73 ethnic groups), President Sata said:

Every 24 hours I know what happens everywhere you go, in your bedroom all the 24 hours of the day […] Why did you criticize my introducing Paramount Chief Mpezeni [one of the two senior most chiefs in Eastern Province]? What did you want me to do? I was introducing the chief to the people and you saw something wrong with that.

Sata’s outburst not only surprised the nation but also reinforced citizens’ fears of widespread surveillance by the current government, which came into power in September 2011. To make matters worse, only a few weeks earlier, a listening device was found under the throne of Lubosi Imwiko II, the Litunga (or leader) of the restive Barotseland region, whose citizens are agitating for secession from the rest of Zambia.

Surveillance camera stencil art. Photo by Paul Lowry via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Surveillance camera stencil art. Photo by Paul Lowry via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Zambia Reports, an independent media website, reported that one of President Sata's “favorite pastimes” has become “listening in to telephone conversations of selected people including his cabinet and deputy ministers.” The article continued:

[s]ources indicate that it is an elaborate scheme using state of the art portable devices obtained from China and Russia enabling the president to listen to conversations in real time as opposed to being handed a recording as has been the case previously […] The gadgets vary in size with the one being used almost looking like an ordinary internet modem and is user friendly.

Reader Mpangula Mputyu commented on the story, referring to the almost reclusive life Sata leads:

[…] Will this country develop when the man in state house is busy napping and listening to things that do NOT add value to development of Zambia […] Is it reason Sata is always at State House and not moving OUT.

The reported eavesdropping by President Sata lends credence to reports from early this year that followed the dismissal of foreign affairs minister Given Lubinda who was disciplined by the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party. Lubinda has been a member of the Central Committee for policy and decision making, but was subsequently dropped from Cabinet based on evidence that was allegedly obtained through telephone surveillance mechanisms.

The PF government, in office since 2011, allegedly has blocked critical citizen media websites such as the Zambian Watchdog and Zambia Reports in a bid to stop them from reporting on abuse political corruption and reportedly has contracted with technicians from China to monitor the internet. It has also introduced measures for mobile phone users to register their SIM cards.

In an effort to extend surveillance to street level, the Zambian government attempted to install CCTV cameras on the streets of the capital, Lusaka, but was forced to abandon the project  amid suspicions of kickbacks by the officials involved and complaints from citizens that the cameras were not worth the US$210 million that they cost the government.

Before long, Zambians may find Big Brother watching and listening in on their every move.

October 11 2013

Only Six of 250 Student Lawyers in Zambia Passed the Bar This Year

First Liberia, now Zambia.

Recently in Liberia, all the students who wrote a university entry examination this year failed. Now comes the news that in Zambia, out of 250 students who sat for post-university law practice examinations at the Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education, better known by its acronym ZIALE, only six passed.

The news of the grim result was announced by lawyer Maureen Mwanawasa (@mwanachilembo), former first lady and widow of Zambia's third president, the late Levy Mwanawasa, in a tweet to her followers:

A US-based Zambian Twitter user Miss Bwalya (@missbwalya) wondered why the majority of ZIALE students failed:

Mrs Mwanawasa (@mwanachilembo) proffered an explanation:

One user, Grieve Chelwa (@grievechelwa), a Zambian PhD student, had a different view about the high failure rate:

The issue of ZIALE's high failure rate was investigated by a parliamentary sub-committee in 2012:

your Committee observes that the admission criteria into University of Zambia School of Law is different from that obtaining in most private universities, in the sense that at private universities students are admitted straight from grade 12 without passing through the Humanities as the case is at UNZA [University of Zambia]. As a result of this the general quality of law graduates from the private universities is poor hence their inability to perform at ZIALE. Your Committee recommends that enrollment into the various Schools of law should be done as per Universal Standards whereby students first go through the humanities or already have a first degree.

Speaking at a call day, when lawyers are formally admitted to the bar, in 2011, retired Chief Justice Ernest Sakala said then:

The immediate reaction of an independent observer of the situation at ZIALE must be that there is something seriously wrong with the system that fails all the trainees it purports to have trained [...] Statistically, it is practically impossible that out of 145 students that ZIALE accepted for training only a handful were actually of a grade that ZIALE actually excepted.

In a letter to the Zambian Watchdog, one anonymous writer complained:

The failure rate at the Institution has reached alarming proportions hitting a 90+ percent high, as at the last sitting. The aspirations of many Law graduates to become legal practitioners have not come to fruition because of the high and deliberate failing of students at ZIALE.

The writer continued:

The “ Five Year” ban on students who fail to clear after three (3) attempts is no longer in the National interest and needs to be reviewed or better still abolished. This would entail amending Rule 23 of The Legal Practitioners Act Chapter 30 0f The Laws of Zambia.

A comment on the letter by some calling himself “Cheers” read [comments on the website do not have permalinks]:

ZIALE must undergo reforms, how do you allow the same person to lecture, set and mark the exams? and the same person is likely to compete against a student on the market who passes bar exams. Zambian Lawyers are selfish thats the reason why one man law firms die togather with the owner. No one among the Lawyers admitted to the bar is interested in reforming ZIALE and thats typical of us Zambians.

October 07 2013

Zambia's Ex-First Lady's Facebook Page Faked for Alleged Scholarship Scam

A person who created a fake Facebook account in the name of Zambia’s former first lady Maureen Mwanawasa recently appeared in court for fraud.

Mwanawasa, the wife of Zambia’s third president, the late Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, who ruled for seven years until his death in 2008, runs a non-government organisation called the Maureen Mwanawasa Community Initiative (MMCI), which helps underprivileged people in society. The NGO was very active when her husband was in power and received support from a number of organisations and individuals. It has since scaled down its operations and it is only active in one or two areas, notably Kapiri Mposhi where it runs a school for underprivileged children.

Details about the case are scant, but Mwanawasa, a lawyer herself, appeared in court and tweeted her reasons for her attendence in response to questions from Twitter users:

Zambia's former First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa. Image source: Maureen's Twitter account.

Zambia's former First Lady Maureen Mwanawasa courtesy of her Twitter account.

The Zambian Watchdog reported a potential scam in January 2012, but it is not clear if it is related to the present court case. Quoting whistleblower Laston Nyirenda, the website reported:

I am friends [on Facebook] with the said person and they started sending me messages purporting to be Mrs Mwanawasa and started asking me to lend them $2000 and send it to the person named Florence Lucky who they said is based in Madrid, Spain and want me to send the money using western union. They even provided me a Zambian phone number I can call stating that it is for the former first lady if I want to confirm and when I called the number, the person who answered is based in [the city of] Kitwe and it is not even Mrs Mwanawasa.

After Mwanawasa made it known on Twitter that she was in court, one user asked the former first lady how it felt to be cross-examined:

She responded:

Mwanawasa’s tweets did not give a lot of details about the case such as the name of the culprit and where she is based.

The former first lady, however, is not the first high profile Zambian who has had her profile faked. Recently, a Facebook page in the name of the country’s Vice President Dr. Guy Scott, cropped up sending “friend requests” to people who usually comment on political issues on the social networking site.

When the Facebook page purported to belong to Dr. Scott emerged, citizen media website Zambian Eye reported about it, although there were questions on its authenticity:

The all (whole lot) of Guy Scott to be sending friendship requests to every Jim and Jack on Facebook. Doesn’t take you to be a genius to figure out this[these] are accounts operated by the PF fake generals [ruling Patriotic Front supporters who call themselves by that name] on Facebook that want to use it to collect data. Wake up people.

Dr Scott was latter quoted by the Zambia Intelligence News, saying:

I opened an account in 2011 for campaign purposes and I have not opened any account since then. I have not used it since then so everything else that is propping up now is fake. The whole thing is a fraud. It is basically fraudulent.

September 25 2013

Lawyers Seek Ouster of Zambia's Chief Justice

Battle lines have been drawn between the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ), a statutory board that governs law practitioners, and President Michael Sata’s government over the continued tenure of Acting Chief Justice Lombe Chibesakunda, who in ordinary circumstances should be making history as the first female head of the judiciary in the nation’s history.

Justice Chibesakunda, 69, was appointed to act in the position after the previous Chief Justice Ernest Sakala stepped down early in 2012 because he was above the retirement age of 65 and had himself been sued by one lawyer on account of age.

President Sata submitted her name for ratification by parliamentary select committee, but was rejected. She, however, continued holding office much to the chagrin of individual citizens and civil society and LAZ itself.

An unfazed Minister of Justice Wynter Kabimba, who is also the ruling Patriotic Front Secretary General, blamed the select committee for failing to submit a report to the full house of 158 members knowing fully well that the ruling party had a small majority for the possible ratification of Justice Chibesakunda if the matter went for a vote.

In its High Court petition, which was presented after LAZ members marched in protest from LAZ offices some two kilometres away to the High Court, LAZ is arguing:

[…] Lombe Chibesakunda at the time of appointment had reached retirement age as Supreme Court Judge, President Sata could have only extended her contract as Supreme Court Judge nothing higher than that.

On the second ground, LAZ argues that even if Chibesakunda had her contract renewed by Sata, she was illegally on contract because the law says a Judge’s contract ca[n] only be renewed once.

LAZ argues that former President Rupiah Banda renewed Chibesakunda’s contract in 2009 to run to May 2012 therefore there was no need for President Sata to renew her contract for the second time.

LAZ gave the government and the acting Chief Justice a one month ultimatum for her to vacate the office failure to which they were to take legal action. Meanwhile, President Sata, at the swearing of tribunals to probe the conduct of two high court judges, alleged that criminals in the judiciary were making the work of Justice Chibesakunda difficult.

Blogger Munshya wa Munshya, who has been following Justice Chibesakunda’s saga very closely, wrote in one of his posts:

In the case of Justice Chibesakunda, she has not been ratified by parliament and on that basis alone; she must recuse herself from further exercising the functions of that office. Indeed, the process of ratification itself does impose upon our system specific procedures that must be met before one could assume the role of chief justice.

Opposition Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) Member of Parliament Vincent Mwale, writing on the Zambia Reports citizen media website, stated:

I have participated in ratifications of many Judges, Commissioners as well as many other Constitution Office holders, in the process of these ratifications others have been rejected but never in my time as an MP has Parliament discussed names of these rejected […] I therefore find it strange that Hon Kabimba is expecting a report of the Select Committee of a nominee who has been rejected to be submitted for debate in Parliament.

He added:

I have been a member of Parliament for 7 years now and the entire time I have been an MP there has never been a time when Parliament has discussed nominees rejected by its Select Committee. Past Presidents as well as President Sata have always withdrawn the names of nominees rejected by Parliamentary Select Committees.

Allegations abound of why President wants Justice Chibesakunda, who is president Sata's relative, to pass judgments on cases involving elections results in favor of the ruling party. One blogger, reporting what opposition MMD president Nevers Mumba said, wrote:

Mumba has recently made a blatant accusation that Chibesakunda is insisting to stay as chief justice in order to influence the overturning in the Supreme Court parliamentary election results petitions appeals brought by some losing Patriotic Front parliamentary candidates.

The nation will be waiting for the outcome of the case with baited breath.

September 09 2013

Minister Wins Damages Against Zambian Gossip Website

A US court has awarded Zambia's Deputy Commerce Minister over US$50,000 in a defamation suit against social news site Kachepa360, hosted in and run from the United States.

Kachepa360, which ceased operations nearly two years ago, targeted high-ranking officials, business people and celebrities, exposing alleged infidelities and other scandals. In local dialects, the word Kachepa carries connotations of rumour mongering and gossip.

According to the Zambian Watchdog, Kachepa owner Chisala Mulenga suspended activities on the site after her parents, who reside in Zambia, received threats from individuals targeted by the site. Deputy Commerce Minister Miles Sampa, whose “sexual exploits” had been highlighted on Kachepa, filed the suit in the United States, where Mulenga resides. The case was heard before a court in the state of Massachusetts.

After Minister Miles Sampa announced the court victory on Facebook, the story was picked up by citizen media websites Zambia Reports and Zambian Watchdog. On his Facebook page, Minister Sampa wrote:

In order to vindicate my name from perennial slanderous and unsubstantiated allegations directed at me by the online publication Kachepa360, I took up the matter in the USA courts of law where the defendant is domiciled.

After months of deliberations, the case was awarded in my favour against the promoter of the Publication Kachepa360, Ms Chisala Mulenga, and I have been awarded damages amounting to USD $50,000 at 12 % interest from November 2012.

Explaining why he pursued the matter in the US, he stated:

Although I welcome criticism, I believe that the journalism profession should be unbiased, factual and professional regardless of the location of their residence or the medium used to disseminate their information.

I decided on pursuing this matter in the relevant courts abroad to demonstrate that accountability is a standard for all, even for online publications which may feel that they are beyond the reach of the Law.

On Facebook, social and political commentator Proud Aushi Musamba Mumba challenged Sampa to sue the Zambian Watchdog instead of what she called a “small fish”:

Lol Hon Miles Sampa instead of suing big guns writing and accusing him of being corrupt he sues a small fish in the pond that people don't take serious or pay attention to as she clearly states “Kachepa 360.” Meaning it is based on rumours. Let him sue ZWD [Zambian Watchdog] that informs the nation on things they want carpeted.

Zambia Reports accused Sampa of using the suit as an opportunity “to warn those running critical websites in Zambia…not to hide behind the veil of anonymity as the law could catch up with them.”

Independent and citizen media websites in the country have faced a steady stream of attacks in recent months, leaving major sites including the Zambian Watchdog and Zambia Reports increasingly difficult to access within Zambia. Critics suspect the attacks have been perpetrated by government authorities — in July, Vice President Dr. Guy Scott said he would celebrate if the Zambian Watchdog was shut down, and there has been much discussion of tensions between news outlets and government officials online.

Although Kachepa 360 held a slightly different category, providing readers with more guilty pleasures than transparency about government activities, the case could set a chilling precedent for other independent sites that scrutinize government officials. Now that a government Minister has successfully trounced Kachepa 360, what site might be the next victim?

August 21 2013

Zambia Arrests Dozens After Secessionist Movement Appoints Local Leader

More than 45 members of a group agitating for the secession of Zambia’s Western Province have been arrested a few days after one of the prominent members of the movement was declared by the group to be the administrator general of the region.

After Afumba Mombotwa was sworn in as the first Administrator General in an act that was captured on video and posted on YouTube by Barotse Post, two government ministers, Geoffrey Mwamba for Defence and Edgar Lungu for Internal Affairs, rushed to the Western Province which the activists call by its pre-colonial name, Barotseland. The two ministers led members of the defence forces in conducting routine security checks in some parts of the province.

Mombotwa, whose actions are being described as treasonous, was not one of those detained. His whereabouts remain unknown.

A screenshot from a YouTube video showing Afumba Mombotwa taking oath of office as the first Administrator General  of Barotseland.

A screenshot from a YouTube video showing Afumba Mombotwa taking oath of office as the first Administrator General of Barotseland.

Declaring the end of the union of Zambia and Barotseland, Mombotwa said in the nine-minute clip:

[…] For all these years what has been missing in Barotseland was statehood. And the moment that which is missing is put in place, then Barotseland ceases to be a stateless nation. I believe some may be confronted with the question, what is the state? […] Whereas a nation is organic, state is artificial. It is something that is formed. Nation develops naturally.

Although the Barotzish entered into the Barotseland Agreement of 1964 in good faith, the Zambians merely intended to circumvent the Barotzish in order to rob them of their sovereignty. However, Barotsish should now rejoice because the time for domination and subjugation is no more […]

Although brewing for over 20 years, the Barotseland issue boiled over in 2011 when activists from the Lozi people there demanding the restoration of the Barotseland Agreement of 1964 fought running battles with government forces in January 2011, resulting in a couple of deaths.

The 1964 Barotse Agreement gave formal recognition of the authority of the Litunga, king of the Lozi, whose predecessors signed agreements with explorers and colonial governments. These agreements entitled the kingdom to royalties from minerals mined from faraway Copperbelt Province.

Lozi loyalists started clamouring for the restoration of the agreement around 1992, just after the defeat of Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s first president who signed the agreement a few months before independence with the reigning Litunga at the time and the British government, the departing colonial authority.

In December 2012, President Michael Sata ordered soldiers to go and kill members of a group calling itself the Barotse Liberation Army. When the soldiers went to Western Province, they did not find these fighters.

What is not clear, however, is whether the Lozi Litunga, Imwiko Lubosi, is supportive of moves by his subjects to secede from the rest of Zambia. Internal Affairs Minister Edgar Lungu was quoted by state-owned media that security was beefed up at the palace in the provincial capital Mongu. Said Lungu:

I want to state for the record here that we shall provide all the security the Litunga needs in order to ensure continued stability in Western Province and the Litunga in particular.

One of the members of the newly appointed government narrated to the Barotse Post how his house was raided by Zambian security services:

Yes my house was invaded by Zambian criminal and lawless foreign security forces. I hear that they were hoping to find His Excellency Rt. Hon. Afumba Mombotwa in my house. However, I was away in Mongu at the time, as you may be aware that the raid happened the day after Rt. Hon. Afumba Mombotwa named our inaugural transitional government.

Commenting on YouTube to the swearing in ceremony of Mombotwa, Kabaso Nkandu simply wrote:

drama in my beloved nation

Sizyongo Munenge asked:

Whats the currency for Barotseland?

August 09 2013

Minister Ridiculed Over Website Closure Statement

Readers of citizen news website the Zambian Watchdog, in a cat-and-mouse game with government authorities who seem eager to close it down, are laughing at a minister who recently claimed that the popular website can no longer be accessed in the country.

Deputy Minister Ronald Chitotela happy with

Deputy Minister Ronald Chitotela happy with “blockage” of Zambian Watchdog. Image from Zambian Watchdog

Deputy Labor Minister Ronald Chitotela, at a function of a parastatal company under his ministry, told attendees:

[W]e are glad that the Zambian Watchdog is no longer accessible in Zambia and this has forced them to use an Australian company host to anchor their evil articles. That website used to bring confusion in this country because of its writings. I only hope that there is no one here from that website.

Observers widely suspect that the Zambian government has been trying to shut down critical news websites such as the Zambian Watchdog and Zambia Reports for over a year. This isn't the first time government officials have spoken dismissively of the Watchdog — in July, Vice President Guy Scott said he would “celebrate” if the Watchdog were shut down. In separate statements, the government has also threatened to close down social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Readers reacted to the minister’s statement with malice and even contempt at his apparent ignorance of how the Internet works, and the particular situation of the Watchdog. While the website does not show where readers post their comments from, many openly indicate that they are accessing it from within Zambia.

BWANA (Barrister with a nil achievement) wrote [individual comments on Zambian Watchdog do not have permalinks]:

I think this issue of blocking the ZWD [Zambian Watchdog] is a misnomer. Lately the site has been freely accessible; moreover people can use circumventing tools such as Ultrasoft to log in.

A reader, MK gave out instructions of how to access the website:

All those struggling to access zambianwatchdog, please download Opera on your devices and you will be smiling.

Another reader, Oldmadala had this to say:

Do these pf [Patriotic Front, the ruling party] goons know that ZWD is very much accessible within Zambia? Am not even using proxy myself and am accessing the site without any problems. From the look of things, Chitotela thinks one has to go to ‘Australia’ to access the site, what weird thinking! In this era of ICT a Minister still thinking the stone-age way?

On Facebook, the Zambian Watchdog has attracted over 40,000 “likes” since earlier this year, when it resorted to using the social networking site attacks on the site went full throttle. On the ZWD Facebook page, the minister’s story attracted even more comments.

Facebook user Alick Gwanu wrote:

To think you can completely block an un disputably NEEDED and POPULAR social media as the Zambian Watch(The Dog) is illiteracy and warped thinking of the worst order. It is showing on FB. What a collection of leaders.

Nicholas ShiKaunda Shiliya stated:

I guess my Hon d[eputy]/minister has not heard of facebook! To me I have not noticed the difference- the ZWD is still there and though am not on its side, I get another perspective of things.

However, not everyone shared these views — some took the opportunity to be critical of the Watchdog's work. Ephraim Mwepya had no kind words:

Quite frankly, the Zambiwatchdog, whether blocked or accessible represents the worst of gutter journalism

It thrives on half truths, concocted lies, character assassination and slander without its victims having recourse to justice, that's gutter journalism! !!

While readers may disagree on the quality of the Watchdog's reporting, it seems that attempts by the government to shut down alternative news websites, combined with the curious migration of previously critical newspapers such as The Post to the government propaganda bandwagon, have only served to increase the popularity and reach of the ZWD and other similar sites.

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