Zambia: Pre-2021 Election Witch-hunt begins, Lungu’s Key Opponent in the Throes of Accusers

The 2021 Presidential Election in Zambia was always going to be highly controversial and marked by deadly battles likely to be fought in ways already so common in Africa. First, President Edgar Lungu’s candidature is already a cause for concern. Many political observers think the Constitution bars him from seeking a new mandate, while his supporters say he qualifies. Attempts to doctor the Constitution to his favour through Bill N0. 10 faced setbacks in Parliament in June 2020. The President was, therefore, left with either going the way Ouattara has done in Ivory Coast (outlawing his key opponents) or starting a proxy legal war against them.

Little wonder, therefore, that the leader of the most populous opposition party in the country has been hit by someone militating in the opposition as well, allowing the government the opportunity to come in as a neutral player barely seeking to guarantee legality “in the name of the people of Zambia”.

Edith Zelewani Nawakwi, leader of the Forum for Democracy and Development, playing the agent provocateur  (C) Alchetron

That is how the leader of Zambia’s United Party for National Development (UPND), Hakainde Hichilema finds himself in court, demanding USD3 million in character defamation charges from Edith Zewelani Nawakwi, leader of the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD).

In the last few days, Ms. Nawakwi featured as a guest on various media platforms, claiming that Mr. Hichilema dubiously acquired his wealth during the privatization period in the 1990s. On August 27, 2020, she was featured on a radio programme entitled “The Hot Seat” on Hot FM radio station which also broadcasts on kwithu FM radio station and, one of the most popular stations in the country, which could also be accessed internationally through the internet and other platforms.

In addition, Ms. Nawakwi also participated as a guest on 5Fm Radio's 'The Burning Issue' programme. In her utterances, the former Finance Minister in the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) government said she was ready to testify in court regarding the allegations about Mr. Hichilema. She wondered what would happen to the country's public assets if Mr.  Hichilema is given the mandate to rule the country.

Pushing her aspersions further, Ms. Nawakwi said if Mr. Hichilema managed to dubiously acquire his wealth when one Minister was 'sleeping', what would happen when the whole country goes to sleep at night. She insisted that if the government had the tools to carry out the privatization process, they would not have hired Mr. Hichilema who ended up benefiting from the process.

“HH should not depart from real issues by his continued cyberbullying and doing all sorts of memes on his Facebook pages because what he did amounts to theft of public assets. He was like a baboon in a maize field and he is a shame to his profession,” Ms. Nawakwi said.

She stated that at no point did it occur to her that Mr. Hichilema was a confidence trickster when he was engaged by the government to be a Consultant during the privatization process.

“You can't call yourself smart because people you are advising didn't understand the document you are advising them on. Little did I know that when he was talking about Sun Intercontinental Hotel, he was talking about himself and he should explain what he did to have shares in the Hotel and how much money he paid,” she charged.

In reaction, Mr. Hichilema aka HH has demanded that Ms. Nawakwi publish a detailed retraction and apology, which should be equal to the same measure of the defamatory statement. Without signalling a denial of the accusation against his person, the Opposition leader implied in his demands that Ms. Nawakwi’s pronouncements were baseless.

In a letter addressed to Ms. Nawakwi dated September 2, 2020, a copy of which  was obtained by Timescape Magazine, Mr. Hichilema through his lawyers, Malambo and Company, said the accusations and actions by Ms. Nawakwi had caused him irreparable harm that could not be repaired in monetary terms.

“You will note that he has been put to great expenses and inconvenience on account of your conduct…this entails that our client has incurred and continues to incur great expenses both locally and internationally in order to mitigate the harm that you have caused to him...” the letter reads in part.

The Counsels essentially gave Ms. Nawakwi a 24-hour ultimatum for his demand of an apology and redress to be met, noting that failure to do so the case would be taken to an appropriate forum for him to protect his interests.  

“Our client further demands in view of the pressing nature of this matter, that you address his demands within 24 hours hereof, that is to say, no later than Thursdays 3rd September 2020”, the Counsels warned.

A visibly defiant Ms. Nawakwi, who was Minister of Finance under President Frederick during the privatization of the mines and other major state-owned companies continued unabated to claim that Mr. Hichilema was a criminal who acquired his wealth through dubious means while taking advantage of his position in the privatization process.

She claimed Mr. Hichilema involved himself in theft and corruption by alienating a house located on serval road in kabulonga, Lusaka to himself as liquidator of the Lima bank. She also said HH was involved in undisclosed illegality regarding the receivership of RAMCOM and that he abused the privatization process in general and in particular with regard to the transactions for the sale of the assets of Mosi o Tunya Intercontinental Hotel in Livingstone.

All these statements have been dismissed by Mr. Hichilema ‘s lawyers as malicious and devoid of any truth.

“They are malicious and aimed at damaging our client's hard-earned reputation as an astute businessman, as a person worthy of holding office as President of the Republic of Zambia and as a law-abiding and God-fearing citizen of Zambia…” the lawyers wrote.

Zambia Information Minister, Dora Siliya Picking the relay from Nawakwi in what is likely the 2021 Presidential Election qualifying duel (C) Lusaka Times

As expected, Members of the Lungu-led government have engaged what some observers considered would be the next step in the plan to discredit HH in a way as to pave the way for the incumbent to secure another contentious mandate. In line with this, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Dora Siliya issued a statement on Tuesday, September 1, saying the government was disturbed by the revelations made by Ms. Nawakwi.  

Ms. Siliya said the government had received with great indignation reports that the former Chairman for the Zambia Privatization Agency (ZPA) Negotiating Team, Mr. Hichilema was one of the key perpetrators of extensive abuse of the privatization process. 

“Government is disturbed by the revelations made by Hon. Edith Nawakwi, a former Minister of Finance in the government that implemented the privatization of State-owned enterprises, to the effect, that Mr. Hichilema, as Chairman of the Privatization Negotiation Team for the sale of Musi-o-Tunya Intercontinental Hotel, Rainbow Lodge and National Heritage Park, literally sold the entity to himself. Hon. Nawakwi, through her various media engagements has categorically stated that Mr. Hichilema failed to declare interest while presiding on the sale of public assets in which he had personal interests”, the Information Minister wrote. 

Ms. Siliya added that the government found Mr. Hichilema’s conduct, if true, to be a clear case of corrupt practice, bordering on non-declaration of interest, in winning a bid.

“Government is, therefore, studying the matter and is following closely the reaction by the citizens who are the true owners of the property in question. The nation will be informed of the steps that the Government will take should it become necessary to act on behalf of the citizens of Zambia’’, she concluded.  

Dr. Katele Kalumba, former Finance Minister under the Movement for Multiparty Democracy government plays the Pacifier (C) ZNBC

However, another former Finance Minister in the MMD government, Dr. Katele Kalumba took to the media to oppose calls for the institution of a commission of inquiry or setting up of a tribunal to investigate alleged illegal dealings by UPND leader, Mr. Hichilema.

Expressing his views on Hot FM's “Red Hot Breakfast” and “What's Hot in the News” programmes, Dr. Kalumba emphasized that Police, the Drug Enforcement Commission and the Anti-Corruption Commissions can handle the matter without unnecessarily spending additional resources on an investigation process.

Taking a question on the insinuation that government officials were sleeping during the privatization process, Dr. Kalumba said nobody was sleeping and "nobody was awake than others", but emphasized that privatization was a moral question that simply demanded a "yes or no" answer.

In the meantime, Mr. Hichilema’s lawyers have made good their threat to take legal action if Ms. Nawakwi failed to tender a public apology and work to tamper the damage caused to his image. The High Court for Zambia was seized with the matter Friday, September 4, 2020. The former Finance Minister was handed down 14 days from, and including the date of service to “…cause an appearance to be entered for you in an action at the suit of Hakainde Hichilema; and take notice that in default of your so doing the plaintiffs may proceed therein, and judgment may be given in your absence”.