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A September to remember: lessons for Zambia

“THE Harder They Come, The Harder They Fall” was a song coined by Jamaican, Jimmy Cliff who had no idea that it would have resonance in 2019 in respect of US President Donald Trump and Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Benyamin Netanyahu of Britain and Israel, respectively. Throw in another immortal phrase, “September to Remember” and you have a good article in the making, and a reminder to all emerging power hungry lions that the harder you come, the harder you will fall. Exhibits A, B and C are the named leaders above.

These leaders came to power behaving as if they had no constitutional constraints and that they could do anything even in violation of their countries’ constitutions, written or unwritten and laws without accountability and with impunity. Trump went further and claimed that he has no constitutional constraints, that as the President of the United States, he could do what he wanted. Being an accidental President, who had no idea or hope that he would be President, and with no vision whatsoever, he used the White House as a centre for business operations. Accidental presidents tend towards dictatorship to maintain power because all of a sudden they have a vehicle they can use unimpededly to accumulate more wealth in the process committing crimes which they know will haunt them after leaving office so they do everything to stay in power to prolong or avoid the inevitable process of reckoning.

There was once a man called Richard Nixon, who was President of the United States between 1969 and 1974 when he resigned to avoid the inevitability of impeachment. He committed a lot of crimes against the Democratic opposition and openly stated that when the President of the United States does anything, he cannot be said to have committed a crime. According to Nixon, the President of the United States was above the law. Just as Donald Trump is doing now, Nixon had refused to turn over tapes evidencing the commission of criminal offences. In 1973. the Supreme Court of the United States, a co-equal institution to the Executive and the Legislature, ordered Nixon to hand over the incriminating evidence. The Supreme Court was clear: the President of the US is not above the law. Nixon saw the writing on the wall and resigned shortly thereafter.

Here comes Donald Trump as President of the US in 2017. As an accidental President like Boris Johnson in the UK, he had no use for reading history of how Presidents who tried to behave like them were treated by the courts of their countries. They do not read that in a democracy, there are inherent constraints dictated by the imperatives of democracy as an institutional way of governance, there is the separation of powers, checks and balances, adherence to the rule of law and above all, the President is not above the law. From Day One, the courts started clipping Trump’s extended wings and they have continued to do so through September 2019. In September 2019, two courts ordered that Trump could not hold children immigrants in indefinite detention and that foreigners who were already in the United States were entitled to a judicial process and could not summarily be deported. These are very important constraints on a President who has no respect for the rule of the law. Other courts have ordered Trump to hand over his tax returns for the past 8 years for investigation into possible criminality and that President is not immune from criminal investigation. The Supreme Court could still bail him out but in the meantime, Trump is learning that he cannot ride roughshod like a new sheriff in town, that he cannot ignore the law with impunity.

But the most dramatic happening to Donald Trump in September 2019 that sent him a message that in a democracy, the “the harder you come, the harder you fall” was the commencement of the impeachment investigation against him. He may survive the process but he will be mortally wounded heading into next 2020 elections. All evidence of criminality and other improprieties that Trump has committed will be aired and that is evidence of his unfitness to govern. Trump like Nixon is resisting handing over evidence of his criminality. The courts using the Nixon precedent of 1973 may force him to hand over the evidence. Whatever the outcome, in the court of public opinion, which is the only public opinion necessary cascading towards an election year, the people have turned around and are supporting the impeachment investigation. Trump has pushed the American people too far out of democratic ethos, he must fall and fall real hard. This is as far as it stands for now. The UK future cannot be known as to what will eventually materialize in the Trumpian Presidency, but one outcome is inevitable: the harder they come, the harder they fall.

Over in England, an accidental Prime Minister by the name of Boris Johnson, referred to by others as Nixon junior, comes along believing that he was the new Sheriff in town and could lie to the Head of state, for purposes of proroguing parliament that had resisted his attempt to have Britain exit from the European Union without an agreement. Parliament had also refused Johnson the mandate to call a snap election. Johnson like Nixon, was behaving as if he was above the law. Like the US Supreme Court did to Nixon in 1973, the UK Supreme Court cut Johnson to size in September to remember of 2019. The Court agreed that Johnson had lied to her majesty the queen in his submission for prorogation of Parliament. Parliament had to be recalled and resume business. The harder they come, the harder they fall.

Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel was cut to size by the imperatives of democracy in September 2019. He failed to get a fresh mandate as a bulldozer Prime Minister in the April 2019 elections and after propagating extreme right wing and colonialist sentiments to win a rerun in September 2019, he fell short again. The harder they come, the harder they fall. Netanyahu was counting on the solid support of Donald Trump of the US. But in September 2019, Trump’s house itself was on fire and couldn’t look across the pond to put out the flames engulfing another person’s house. Netanyahu is also facing criminal charges himself and he is fighting hard to stay in power to delay the inevitable. He has been given the mandate to form a coalition government. Whatever the outcome, Netanyahu like Trump and Johnson, is a wounded animal staring at the future with trepidation.

The harder they come, the harder they fall. Jimmy Cliff, you were so right. Would all dictators and would-be dictators listen up!

Dr Munyonzwe Hamalengwa teaches and researches the law.

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