[By Melvin Chisanga]
There is no denying of the fact that the allegiance of all government officials ought to be towards the government of the day.
This is so partially because most of their duties are executed on behalf of, according to our Constitution, the president, who happens to be the sole appointing authority to most of the key positions. Fair enough! But at what point does their (government institutions’) conduct, vis-à-vis their expression of loyalty to the government, cross the line to be deemed unprofessional and partisan?
I have of late noted with increasing concern, the regression of the civil service in general, and the police in particular, towards the unsustainable conduct of reducing themselves to the level of party cadreism, so much so that one can hardly draw a line between the civil service and party membership any more.
One of the best things that came with the introduction of multiparty democracy in this country in 1991 was the rebranding of the Zambia Police from the ‘brutal force’ it used to be under the one-party state, to the ‘citizen friendly service’ that it was envisaged to become.
Until very recently, the demilitarisation of the police stood out as one of the biggest success stories of the Zambian democratisation process. Save for a few sporadic incidences of inappropriate police conduct, which is normal of any process of change, which may take longer than normal at times, the police had quite adapted themselves to the conduct deserving of a service.
How then, and when did our men in uniform backslide to become the force we are seeing and experiencing today? These, among others, are the questions that I want every reader of Vantage Point today to ask and seek to find answers to, even as I give my own opinion about this retrogressive development.
Unlike the three units of the armed forces namely the Zambia Army, the Zambia Air Force (ZAF) and the Zambia National Service, whose mandate is largely to protect the country from outside harm and danger, the Zambia Police is primarily tasked to enforce and maintain law and order within the boundaries of this country.
The law, as it were, is the manual that prescribes how we should conduct ourselves, as most of us human beings, either knowingly or otherwise, are constantly inclined to doing evil on a daily basis. After all that has been our default nature since Eden. In so doing, things sometimes get to unimaginable extremes whereby for the police to handle the offender most ably, they may have to employ certain methods which include the use of fire arms with live ammunition as the final resort.
By virtue of being in constant interface with the members of the public in the execution of their duties, the police are the most strategic of all the departments of government that aspire to go despotic, to manipulate first, with selective application of the law and brutality as the modus operandi.
The conduct of the Zambia Police under the command of Mr Kakoma Kanganja, and by extension, President Edgar Lungu, is in every aspect of the word, in conformity with the description of one that has headlong fallen prey to the abuse of a failed regime that wants to keep its hold onto the instruments of power.
We the Zambian people have for the longest time complained about the manner in which the police have conducted themselves in as far as fairness and impartiality in the application of the law is concerned. If the recent happenings are anything to go by, chances are very high that under the PF, the Zambia Police are being guided by two sets of laws. If peradventure that is not the case, the only other plausible explanation to the selective application of the law could be that under the PF, the law, which in its best form is supposed to be blind, has gained its sight. This entails its death.
My concern about Zambia Police today is that contrary to the usual impression that police are just being forced to behave in the manner that they do, I’m beginning to think that they are not victims of regime abuse, but accomplices in citizen brutalisation by the PF.
We have sympathised with and cut our men in uniform some slack for all the detestable and oppressive tendencies they have exhibited, heaping our entire blame on the top command. However, the passion and aplomb with which they have carried out their operations, some of which are sordid, speaks to the contrary.
Even if they work under command, there is a way that someone who is just being forced to do something they do not believe in behaves, which is an antithesis of the behaviour of Zambia Police. The fact that our men in uniform work under command does and should not impair their judgment to the point of failing to distinguish between a progressive and retrogressive command, should it?
In case our police have forgotten who they were employed to protect and defend, it is the people of Zambia through the fair application of the very law that they have, through their biass motivated by ignorance or sheer spite, brought into serious disrepute, much to the enragement of the tax payer who contributes to their monthly pay. Looking at the number of incidences of questionable police conduct of late, the credence that this behaviour gives to the school of thought that posits that the police service has been infiltrated by PF cadres cannot be overemphasised.
There is a way that a trained police officer conducts himself, even in the face of maximum provocation, which a cadre, no matter how psyched, cannot. And this has been the conduct of our men in uniform under President Lungu.
Gone are the days when the first place to run to when one was confronted with a challenge was police. Today, you can only do that at your own peril because, depending on who you are going to lodge your complaint against, you the offended may end up as the offender because, according to such things as party affiliation and tribe, among others, the extent of our citizenship is now weighted. Absurd, isn’t it?
Looking at the way the opposition has vouched for the police for the restoration of their powers, which have since been usurped by PF cadres, the least police would have done is to reward the opposition with brutality and arrests on trumped up charges. At the barest minimum, respectful arrests in a somber mood would suffice to show their remorse, if they have any, for arresting the very people that are fighting for them.
As I wind up my discourse, I wish to remind our police that they should execute their duty with the civility deserving of a police service and not a police force. I know that just like in other organisations, the police service is not devoid of overzealous individuals who want to exhibit military tendencies. Such should curb their military for the sake of not dragging the name of the entire service into disrepute.
It is common knowledge that the top police command is very politically biased towards the party in power, just as it is also a fact that there is no political party that remained in power forever. You will side with the PF today but what guarantee do you have that they will be in power tomorrow?
The role of the police should be like that of a fair and objective referee, whose decisions when officiating a march will not be premised on anything else other than the rules of fair play. Otherwise, posterity always stands ready to judge unfair practices harshly.
May I therefore urge, especially those police officers that still have hope for a better Zambia, not to be influenced by their bosses who are mostly in the evenings of their lives and don’t mind seeing the Zambian situation deteriorate beyond redemption as they will soon die, to think of the future of this country and do the right thing.
Moreover, the cheese has already moved. Can’t you smell the coffee? Even if you as Zambia Police choose to go flat out to campaign for Mr Lungu by way of disadvantaging his political opponents using such laws as the public order Act, be reminded that nothing can stand in the way of the will of the people. Vox populi, vox Dei, remember?