It is my thesis that the Impeachment Motion may never be tabled in Parliament. Note that I am using the word “may” and not “will”. It is possible that after all the evidence is in and the only inference is clear beyond reasonable doubt, the word “may” could be transformed into, “will”. That the motion may never see the light of the day.
The writing is on the wall and this has been the case from day one that the Impeachment Motion may never see the light of the day. Let’s start with the larger picture of African politics. No African leader has ever been impeached out of power in Africa. Even the most unpopular leader in South African politics, Jacob Zuma, could not be dislodged from power by this method, he was only removed by his own party gracefully in order for him not to take the party with him in defeat at the 2019 national elections. There was more to the ANC and the people of South Africa than one individual called Zuma. The same thing had happened to Thabo Mbeki; he had to go through internal ANC politics than through an impeachment process. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe was firstly weakened by a sui generis silent counter coup by his dismissed Vice-President and his military supporters, and threatened with impeachment before he could resign. Impeachment there could have succeeded because Mugabe was already not in control of government.
In the rest of Africa, changes in government have happened through adherence to two term limits, through death or through violent military coups but never through impeachment despite the provisions in some constitutions.
In Zambia, when the very idea of impeachment was mooted, it saw unprecedented Orwellian propaganda against a deeply entrenched constitutional norm, you would think this constitutionalized norm was equivalent to an illegitimate mode of removing a President. Were people advocating Armageddon in Zambia? When the propaganda couldn’t cause a still-birth, certain inexplicable events started happening to some people who were spearheading this movement, inferentially in my estimation precisely because they were central to this enterprise. Honourable Chishimba Kambwili who was slated to second the motion, was arrested and detained a week before the supposed impending Impeachment Motion. Was there any relationship to the perilously approaching motion? Did we apply our mind to the possibility of a connection here to the Impeachment Motion? Perhaps not.
All the rules of Parliament dictated that that Impeachment process should happen on the last day before recess of parliament. That is what Parliamentary procedures entail. When there is no other item on the agenda, every other item must be concluded before Parliament concludes its business before recess. The Impeachment Motion unexplainably did not make it on the Order Paper for debate under the dubious imperative that the constitution does not provide any timelines by which an Impeachment Motion should be tabled and debated. Another explanation also joined the chorus, that the tabling has to be preceded by an admissibility decision by the Speaker of the House Honourable Dr Patrick Matibini. Should democracy hang by the decision of one person? You can almost tell what the decision under such circumstances may be.
In the meantime, other one sided critical stakeholders have already pronounced that the actual impeachment motion may never see the light of the day, included among these are the Deputy Speaker of the House and the Minister of Justice. Do you think the Impeachment Motion can take place when such an important democratic principle depends on the benevolent or lack thereof, exercise of discretion by the very people who stand to lose if the Impeachment Motion is successful?
Predictably after the Motion documents were accepted by the Deputy Speaker with a promise to study the Motion, an application by allied persons was filed in High Court to supposedly enjoin the National Assembly from debating the Impeachment Motion allegedly because the matter was sub judice as some issues in the Impeachment Motion were already before the courts. Incredibly, a judge of the High Court actually issued an injunction ex-parte when admissibility of the Impeachment Motion was still pending and there really was no urgency to the matter at all. It is my opinion that the applicants did not meet the conjunctive tripartite test for injunctive relief: there is no serious/arguable issue; the applicants cannot demonstrate irreparable harm not compensable in damages and balance of convenience does not favour them.
Since a legal process has commenced, it is going to assume a life of its own that may or will affect the Impeachment Motion. The Zambian Judiciary is notorious for allowing or engaging in interminable adjournments of politically inspired legal cases to the point of political and legal mootness. The Ministers’ Stay in Office Case was only decided three days before elections and it is known who benefitted from that delay in passing judgment. The Presidential Election Petition resulted in convolutions and adjournments and judicial flip-flopping unknown in the annals of judicial and constitutional history. The crucial election petitions of Munali and Lusaka Central are still being postponed and undecided close to two years after they were filed, just like other court applications involving the President not handing over power to the Speaker as provided for in the constitution when a presidential election petition is filed; the eligibility of the President to run in 2021 is still being interminably postponed.
The Impeachment Motion case before the courts has joined the queue and Parliament may now be enjoined from tabling the Impeachment Motion under the sub judice rule, something that has long been abolished in most of the world. In Zambia, the invocation of this magic word “sub judice” is supposed to freeze everything. It is also possible that like an organized band, the Speaker or the Deputy Speaker may just join the chorus and adopt the court and allied bloggers’ arguments in denying admissibility of the Impeachment Motion on the erroneous premise that the issues are already before the courts and no decision on admissibility should be made until the courts have decided. The courts are in tune that adjournments of politically sensitive court cases are the order of the day until mootness triumphs. The precedents as already pointed out are legendary.
Then Honourable Kambwili has lobbed a grenade into the fire. He says that he will reveal all about conduct unbecoming political leaders engaged in by the PF leadership by giving evidence of massive thefts by some during the Impeachment Motion. When such a possibility of exposing the alleged thefts by our leaders is looming, do you think the Speaker and Company would find the Impeachment Motion admissible, a ruling that portends the removal of a President?
The Impeachment Motion “may” (“will”) never see the light of day.
Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa is a Senior Lecturer in Law. Munyonzwe. Hamalengwa@zaou.ac.zm.