Zambian President Edgar Lungu has invoked a constitutional clause which when approved by parliament, will render the country in a state of emergency.
Lungu declared his intention in a national address Wednesday evening in response to the recent market fires suspected to have been deliberately sparked by arsonists.
“This is not an easy decision to make, but in order to preserve peace, tranquillity, safety of our citizens and national security, we had no choice but to take this decision given the events that have occurred in the recent past,” he said.
“We have repeatedly advised our nationals to desist from any irresponsible behaviour and criminality but it would appear that this has fallen on deaf ears. Therefore, practical measures as outlined tonight have had to be invoked,” he said while calling on the members of parliament to support the decision.
We have repeatedly advised our nationals to desist from any irresponsible behaviour and criminality but it would appear that this has fallen on deaf ears. Therefore, practical measures as outlined tonight have had to be invoked.
His declaration was opposed by civil society groups and opposition parties who said it was too early to make that call.
According to the group Civil Society Constitutional Agenda, the intention of the president is “totally misplaced and a knee jerk reaction to an incident that has not even been investigated”.
The chairperson of the Zambia-based group John Mambo said in a statement that arson is not a good reason to declare a state of emergency and the police is not adequately prepared to handle emergency situations.
“We would like to further remind the President that suspending any of our fundamental freedoms is essentially suspending our dignity and humanity,” the statement added.
The opposition Green Party also said a state of emergency is “violent response to violence”.
Its leader, Peter Sinkamba explained in a statement that the measure will rather increase tensions and divisions in the country as well as deprive citizens of their constitutional rights.
President Lungu however assured the public that “all law abiding citizens will not be impacted by this decision and should continue to go about their daily routines normally”.
Besides Tuesday’s City Market fire in the capital Lusaka, Lungu cited over five fire incidents suspected to be arson since 2016.
Upon arrival from the African Union Heads of States Summit in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa on Tuesday, Lungu assured that the security services will “up their game” to curb such occurrences.
“If it means taking measures which are unprecedented we will do just that; some people will have to lose their rights. People who have lost their property have lost their livelihoods. So if I become a dictator for once bear with me,” President Lungu was quoted by local media.
He interacted with victims of the market fires who he assured of compensation and government support to restore their livelihood.
“Please do not take the law in your hands,” Lungu added as he spoke to the City Market victims when he visited the incident scene.
Main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), whose leader is in prison over treason charges, has called on security services to “take a professional and thorough look as to what could have caused this unfortunate incident”.
The Zambian police increased the 300,000 Zambian kwacha ($32,894.74) reward it earlier announced to 500,000 Zambian kwacha ($54 181,63) for those who give information leading to the arrest of the suspected arsonists.