From key issues that include poor sanitation infrastructure, a poor educational system and no support for the vulnerable in society, Zambians continue to be subjected to a multitude of socio-economic issues that could easily be resolved through better policy making. As those in power enjoy lavish lives the poorest and vulnerable in society continue to suffer. With each new leader that Zambia has had, the need to protect and serve citizens has gone further down the list of priorities for those in power.
In a continent that has its fair share of examples of extremes, Zambia has been comparatively unexceptional and is often ignored by international media. In recent months however, Zambia has caught the attention of international media for a series of events that have led many to conclude that the country is becoming increasingly authoritarian. Last year, Hakainde Hichilema, the opposition leader who has for a long time criticised the government as he strongly believes that they did not legally win the election was held in prison for several months on treason charges after his convoy failed to make way for the president’s motorcade. The opposition leader was finally freed in August 2017 after the state prosecutor dropped all charges.
The arrest of musician and activist Fumba Chama, who is also known as ‘Pilato’ is yet another shocking demonstration of the extent to which the government will go to crack down on citizen’s freedom of expression.
In September 2017, activists staged a protest outside the Zambian parliament to highlight the abuse of public funds particularly in relation to the controversial purchase of 42 fire trucks at an alleged cost of $42 million. The group was immediately charged with disobeying of lawful orders and released after several hours. The trial which is known as “42 for 42”is expected to start on Monday 24 June 2018.
Activists who peacefully protest injustice and poor policymaking through various forms of expression are not criminals. A state that does not allow citizens to speak up is not a democracy.
Women Silent No More
To stand up and speak up against the need for policy makers to better protect citizens, the non-partisan “Silent No More” or “Kwatha” (which means “it’s over” in Nsenga) campaign was created by frustrated Zambian activists to campaign for a better Zambia for all. This campaign brings together women from varying backgrounds who share the view that their socio-economic conditions can be drastically improved by those in positions of power.
In order to make a stand, a peaceful public introspection was meant to be held on Friday 18 May 2018. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the event was put on hold. In the meantime, the campaign still has momentum as these women continue to refuse to remain silent about socio-economic issues affecting them and policy makers continued inability to effectively lead and protect Zambian citizens.
Although the campaign is led by women, it is open to all and has attracted engagement from both men and women. On a general global scale, it does go without saying that although it is essential to privilege the position of both men and women in society, women are disproportionally affected by developmental issues. Despite the global adoption of gender policies that are aimed at ensuring that men and women equally participate and benefit from the development of states, most guidelines still remain gender blind.
Through social media platforms, through #kwatha , Zambian citizens have over the past few months expressed what they are saying no to. With the governments worrying reactions to indiviuals speaking up social media does serve as a safer platform.
In the absence of effective and inclusive policies people will continue to be left behind. The role of activists groups such as this one is therefore important in reminding citizens that the countries current state of affairs should be better. In an increasingly hostile environment that does not react well to citizens speaking up various groups of activists who continue to speak up are very brave.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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