In a letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr Martin Luther King Jr stated that, “…Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all of the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
Indeed, injustice must be exposed and fought.
It’s from this premise that we take note of three University of Zambia law lecturers that have questioned the Law Association of Zambia’s “diplomatic” approach to authoritarianism that has grown in the country.
In a write-up titled: The slow and painful death of LAZ: neutrality is choosing the side of the oppressor, Pamela Towela Sambo, O’Brien Kaaba, and Felicity Kayumba Kalunga state that the Association is in fact supporting autocratic rule by its silence and indifference.
The trio argues that such an approach from the current Law Association of Zambia council is a promotion of dictatorship being perpetuated by the current government.
“Under the ongoing democratic backsliding, it is imperative that LAZ asserts its independence both in word and deed. This can only be demonstrated by taking a firm, clear, unequivocal and publicly ascertainable stand against the status quo,” the lecturers wrote. “Continuing with the current approach of closed-door meetings as the main way of claiming to realise its objectives of advancing social justice and the rule of law is not only going to be ineffective but may in the long run damage the reputation and credibility of the Association. It does not work. It has not worked anywhere and will not work now, but simply play into the hands of autocracy. What works is standing up to authoritarianism.”
Indeed, “standing up to bullies does change the world. Doing nothing allows evil people to prosper”.
And as Bishop Desmond Tutu’s aptly put it, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Being against injustice, tyranny requires more than passive sympathy. To be against injustice, tyranny means to involve yourself directly in the struggle to end injustice, tyranny, to take action. The first step toward fighting injustice, tyranny is reckoning with the fact that injustice, tyranny are systemic.
The Law Association of Zambia has been very quiet in the midst of numerous injustices being committed by this government.
But it is naive to expect the Abyud Shonga-led Law Association of Zambia leadership to stand up against the injustices of this regime. Where has Shonga ever stood up against injustice and the establishment? Moreover, this is a Law Association of Zambia leadership that was helped by the Patriotic Front and its government to be elected.
As such they cannot be expected “to unequivocally condemn any and all threats to democracy and side with the victims of authoritarianism”. Instead, they will use all manner of excuses to avoid being seen as opposed to the political elites’ misgovernance
This is a Law Association of Zambia leadership that will strive to endear itself to those in power, their sponsors. This is not a Law Association of Zambia leadership that will “be biased only towards the law and justice in all circumstances”. It is a Law Association of Zambia leadership that will continue “to be apologetic and subservient to or expend its resources to endear itself to political elites” and not “openly and categorically stand on the side of the law and constitutionalism and categorically denounce the ongoing assault on democracy”.
This is a Law Association of Zambia leadership that has, using an alien quiet diplomacy, betrayed its duty towards advancing law as an instrument of social justice. The LAZ Act neither prescribes modalities for achieving social justice, nor encourages quiet diplomacy as a means towards achieving the rule of law; yet every lawyer worth their salt recognises that tyranny must be fought spiritedly using the law and positive advocacy amongst many other tools. Is the current LAZ equal to this task? We think not.