Tuesday, 26 August 2014


By Nyalubinge Ngwende

Zambia Police needs a human face
Zambia looks forward to a time when the face of brutality will be stripped from the country’s police, making it an organization of law and order that is more of a service other than a force whose moment at any place of citizens activity exudes fear.

The police force in Zambia struggles with an identity problem. 

Looking back, since turning to multiparty democracy in 1991, with a spirit of growing and promoting human rights, officials in government and senior police officers have labored to convince members of the public that the Zambia Police is a service and not a force.

Through media and public pronouncement at both official and social gatherings police superiors repeat the tagline of being a service. Unfortunately there is completely close to nothing to show why they should wear that civil tag.

Not even Government has convincing reforms to point at in view of making the police a service.

Despite upgrading the entry qualifications into the police and to train and employ university graduates, even the graduates learn from the same police in uniform and boots carrying the long button and tear gas canisters as well as AK 47s. They learn to intimidate, brutalise and torture defenseless citizens, especially among the poor or those who are opposed to government. The powerful and connected get away with the heinous crimes that have hundred thousands of those without backing in a regime to get maimed by police and rot in jail.

To Zambia police, political right, law and order, is to follow the stupidity of government even when it makes less sense.

This leaves the Zambia Police system with a lot to do and a long way to trek in order to live up to the standards of being knowledge-based—and a service that operates professionally. 

Definitely, Zambia’s police force is working tirelessly to fight crime and ensure that citizens go to sleep well knowing that their lives are secured and property protected from being taken away.

But they do not need praise for that since it is the duty for which the police are employed to do. 

The biggest concern is how the police should do its work better within the law and in a more humane way that respects the rights of every member of the society, including rights for those who hardly have an idea of their basic human rights. It is the worry about how the police can operate professionally above any political influence and restrain from over exercising its powers and partiality. 

The local Police Complaints Authority has already raised alarm that the Zambia Police have a lot of powers that they tend to abuse. The chairman of the PCA, James Mwanakatwe, says his institution will open up offices across the country so that citizens can have where to complain about police brutality. He believes making police accountable for their wrong doing is the only way to curtail police abuses.

Even without the presence of the PCA, there is need for police to be accountable to citizens.

But that cannot happen due to poor levels of error management in Zambia’s police force. Typical of security wings, it is still a tendency for police to protect their own. For cases that are not in public domain and have not been exposed by the media, police top hierarchy would rather choose to hide these cases under the carpet and transfer the culprits to other stations without any administrative measures taken to correct such.

And a closer look at the police system in Zambia shows there are two difficult traditions that have made reform to take place in the Zambian police. These traditions have prevented the police from becoming a service organization required to promote human rights, including rights against torture and political balance—where all citizens, including those who do not agree with government, have their activities fairly secured by police.

The first is that, after attaining Independence, Zambia quickly abandoned democracy for a one party state. This made the ruling party then UNIP to turn itself into national law. Disagreeing with UNIP was disobeying government. Questioning the stupidity of leadership entailed facing a charge of sedition or treason. Therefore the main motivation for a sitting President to appoint home affairs minister and employ the Inspector General of Police is more of making the government leaders happy than securing the civil safety of citizens. 

This leaves the Zambian police to work to make the ruling class happy hence, even genuine ridicule of presidential blunders are treated as making the leader unhappy and a criminal offence.

Twenty-three years after returning to democracy, this culture of policing for politicians has not gone away. Even today the police in Zambia are ready to carry out any form of unlawful act as long as the actions please the politicians in power. The police have no morals and cannot stand up and SAY NO to crimes of government against individual citizens.

Police IG: Stella Libongani
As a result all, along the rank and file of police, find it easier to object the genuine protestations of the opposition, even when such protests are democratically and legally upright. There are cases in which police have acted arbitrary, mobilized by politicians in power to stop leaders of the opposition from carrying out their activities.

On the other hand, the police have never objected to wrong instructions. There has never been a police chief who has resigned to refuse to act unprofessionally. They owe nothing to other equally law abiding citizens when it comes to curtailing citizens free participation in politics that tend to challenge the wrongs and the awkwardness of those in government. There have been cases when cadres of the ruling part have converged without a police permit and wrought havoc on the streets of the major towns and in villages at the time of campaigns in full view of the police, but no one has ever been arrested.

The police are a symbol of ‘security politics’. They have not provided any service whatsoever to ensure the country attains democratic politics. Either by limit of their political and legal understanding of what the constitution provides for citizens participation in the body politic or deliberate choice to understand citizens space in a democratic society, the Zambian police remain the biggest enemy to attaining people’s political freedoms. 

The other tradition has to do with the training of Zambia’s police. The knowledge inculcated at police training schools in relation to the legal statutes of the country and its democratic values is most important. This is because characteristic of a country’s police system are determined by its legal statutes and the practice of the police who train the police. Out of the training school, the practice in the police force has a large bearing on how each police officer behaves and how they do so in a group.   

Never has Zambia heard about a parliamentary committee being tasked to review the police training in the country in order to bring the police training in line with the democratic thinking. Those who trained police officers in UNIP time past on their old, less civil knowledge of the police on to the new crop. 

Zambia Police having a field day
It is doubtful if there has been any desire for police schools to teach officers to help build a decent civil society in which they are accountable to citizens. The extent to which the police have exhibited lack of professionalism when it comes to moments of dealing with people’s civil liberties attests to this. 

Innocent citizens are everyday slapped, kicked and assaulted just because the policeman involved thinks the uniform he or she wears should not be answered back.

A friend of mine witnessed a case in which a provincial police commissioner assaulted a teacher in front of his pupils over a purportedly traffic offence. This police officer stopped a school truck ferrying pupils for their sports festival and ordered all the pupils off the truck, shouting: this is not a vehicle for ferrying passengers. 

When the teacher in-charge of the trip tried to explain to the police commissioner, that the truck was the only vehicle the school has, the policeman told him to shut up because he was breaking the law. The policeman went on to ask the teacher if he understands the law. When the teacher responded that he understands the law and his rights because he has been to university, the commissioner shouted: “What! University? You are breaking the law” In flash of a second the teacher was slapped and assaulted in front of pupils. 

This is kind of violence less expected of any police officer, especially a university graduate like this commissioner whose name I deliberately withhold. 

He seems not to know that government buys vehicles for schools and the truck is the only mode of transport that is available and affordable to the school for all activities at the institution. 

In the absence of this the rural schools rely on hiring trucks from members of the village. The sports festival is a mandatory annual event usually hosted at the provincial headquarters of each region and all schools are required to participate. With no choice of transport, the schools use what is available to them. 

On top of that there is nowhere in the law that says a truck cannot be used to ferry pupils. The only traffic offence that can be cited as contravening is overloading. In any case the police must advise the school authorities to do the right thing and ensure the safety of pupils.  But to the contrary the provincial commissioner of police decided thought he would end the problem of transporting pupils in Lorries in rural schools by slapping and assaulting this single teacher.

If police abuse can emanate from less serious situations, committed by a graduate police, one is left to wonder what happens to suspected criminals in the hands of less educated and un-informed policemen. 

In short Police must be at the top of ensuring decency in society. When it comes to democracy the top most among values is more space for the participation of citizens. Police need to ensure that there is no one who interferes with the freedom to express their political views either through protest or demonstration.

Becoming a police service will not happen by mere talk, but by the police working and improving the way it conducts itself and delivering what it has been seeking to become.

Getting the service status will need the police working and climbing on the graph of institutions that are more knowledge-based in actions other than flexing of muscles.

Otherwise, there is no reform better than this that will change the police in Zambia so that it starts to act to promote decency in civil society, far from brutality.

Reforms must make the police to become a representative of the civil society and ensure it executes within the realm understandable by citizens and democratically acceptable.

That may mean to a large extent ensuring that police commissioners will need to be voted by the residents in provinces and districts where they serve.


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