M’membe defends academic freedom

SOCIALIST Party leader Fred M’membe has advised PF supporters against threatening people who are exercising their academic freedom.

On Saturday, The Mast published a story where Lusaka Province PF secretary Kennedy Kamba threatened to deal with all those opposed to President Edgar Lungu’s third term bid.

Specifically, Kamba warned University of Zambia law lecturer James Kayula who argued at length that the Constitution did not allow President Lungu to stand again.

“Given the background, we wonder as the PF that has adopted President Lungu to stand in 2021, why some of these so-called lecturers of law are trying to mislead the nation. We warn them to stop issuing incorrect statements because they are embarrassing themselves and we will not take them kindly as the PF,” said Kamba. “The law has provisions that will allow us to take action against them. We want to appeal to Kayula, [constitutional lawyer John] Sangwa and all those who are excited and making weird claims about President Lungu’s eligibility, to begin to demonstrate sobriety because their hatred for President Lungu will not take them anywhere. President Lungu will be on the ballot come 2021. They must stop misleading the nation forthwith.”

And reacting to Kamba’s threat, Dr M’membe said academic freedom was also provided for under the United Nations.

“We need to confront and challenge this culture of conformity and censorship and defend academic free speech for critique to be possible and for the intellectual project of evaluating existing knowledge and proposing new knowledge to be meaningful,” Dr M’membe said in a statement yesterday. “We shouldn’t allow academic freedom to be increasingly threatened by a stifling culture of conformity that is restricting individual academics, the freedom of academic thought and the progress of knowledge – the very foundations upon which academia and universities are built. Scholars need academic freedom to critique existing knowledge and to pursue new truths.”

He said politics should not change the purpose of intellectual institutions.

“Today, while fondness for the rhetoric of academic freedom remains, it is increasingly being called into question by identity politics. We shouldn’t allow political expediency to change the purpose of the university and the nature of knowledge,” Dr M’membe said. “This short reflection is a challenge and a passionate call to arms for the power of academic thought today. Our ruling party leaders and their supporters would do well to interrogate these wider issues that may well be beyond their learning capacity.”

Dr M’membe described Kamba’s threats as unacceptable and a violation of academic freedom.
“The threats by Patriotic Front Lusaka Province secretary Kennedy Kamba to University of Zambia [lecturer] James Kayula for commenting on President Edgar Lungu’s third term bid are unacceptable and must stop. These threats violet our lecturers and students’ academic freedom,” he said. “Academic freedom is the right of every scholar to explore, discuss and engage the general public within areas of specific and related expertise. The expertise of lawyers and law lecturers extends to all aspects of human endeavour because lawyers are called upon to adjudicate matters of birth and death; marriage and divorce; so what is special about the eligibility of a mortal president to lead others even more experienced and principled than him?”

Dr M’membe said academic freedom was also provided for under UNESCO and recognised worldwide.

“According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, academic freedom is the freedom of academics to teach and discuss; carry out research and publish the results and make them known; freely express opinions about the academic institution or system in which one works; participate in professional or representative academic bodies and not to be censored,” said Dr M’membe. “It is grounded in democratic values that encourage scholars to be relevant to the larger society outside their classrooms. It is for this reason that the performance of scholars, for example at the University of Zambia, are evaluated against core values such as excellence, innovativeness, integrity, equity, social justice and social responsiveness. Political affiliation is definitely not one of the core values against which the credibility of law lecturers can be measured.”

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