Picture: @UPNDZM/Twitter

Lusaka - The burning of the country’s biggest market, which is the latest in a series of infernos, apparent celebrations of the tragedy and a subsequent state of emergency has driven a wedge further between the Zambian government and opposition parties as well as civil society organisations.

Early on Tuesday, a fire ravaged the Lusaka City Market in the capital destroying property worth millions of Kwachas in what is believed to be an act by arsonists government suspects to be supporters of the main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) protesting against the months-long detention of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema on allegations of treason after he allegedly blocked Lungu’s convoy.

No sooner had the smoke settled on the market than United Kingdom-based adviser of the UPND, Larry Mweetwa, added fuel to the fire by praising the
alleged arsonists for the "job well done.”

“Let us intensify such acts!  Zambia is on fire as I speak due to the arrest of HH (Hakainde Hichilema)," posted Mweetwa in his Facebook page.

Police have issued a reward of K500 000 (about R740 000) to speed the arrest of the culprits.

No arrests had been made at the time of going to press.

On Wednesday, much to the worry of civil society organisations, President Edgar Lungu declared a state of emergency in the southern African country
still reeling from tense elections that retained him in power last August but rejected by government critics and opposition as flawed.

Lungu threatened “drastic actions.”

“If it means taking measures which are unprecedented we will do just that. Some people will have to lose their rights. So, if I become a dictator for once, bear with me," Lungu said.

“My government has decided to invoke Article 31 (leading) to a state of public emergency.”

However, Civil Society Constitutional Agenda (CSCA) Chairman, John Mambo, in a statement to CAJ News Zambia Bureau, denounced the state of emergency
as a “totally misplaced and a knee jerk reaction to an incident that has not even been investigated.”

Mambo expressed sympathy with affected traders whose 3 000 stalls were destroyed.

“We do not, however, accept that the incident at city market is enough justification for the declaration of a public emergency or declaration relating to threatened emergency,” he said.

“We therefore strongly urge the President not to use his constitutional powers under article 30, declaration of public emergency and 31, declaration relating to threatened emergency loosely.”

Mambo decried the declaration of an emergency suspended some rights enjoyed by citizens.

“The full protection of these rights that cannot be suspended is impossible to implement in a state of emergency without infringing on them because human rights are interrelated, interdependent and indivisible,” charged Mambo.

Law Association of Zambia President Linda Kasonde also urged government to exercise restraint until the matter was fully and thoroughly investigated.

The burning of the market follows the recent torching of a Lusaka court premises, also by unknown arsonists also believed to be pro-Hichilema.

In May, South Africa's main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) leader, Mmusi Maimane, was barred from entering Zambia to attend Hichilema’s
trial.

CAJ News