On June 1, 2023, Dr. Sishuwa Sishuwa published an article titled "Zambia: The President's Five-Point Plan to Stay in Power at All Costs" on African Arguments, an online forum. In this thought-provoking piece, Sishuwa describes a deteriorating democratic environment in Zambia, characterised by corruption, political intolerance, opposition targeting, and an alarming level of desperation within the government. The use of the phrase "at all costs" suggests a departure from democratic principles and a breakdown of the rule of law. We commend Sishuwa for his courage and expertise in addressing critical and intricate governance issues in Zambia. To foster a constructive intellectual discourse, we offer a counter perspective to Sishuwa's analysis, as we do not arrive at the same conclusions. This article serves as a response to his assertions, demonstrating that both the foundations and outcomes of his argument are flawed. Throughout our analysis, we highlight that Sishuwa draws sweeping conclusions from isolated incidents and, at times, displays a lack of factual understanding or deliberate distortion. Furthermore, we contend that Sishuwa's narrative lacks a systematic sequencing of events and relies heavily on conjecture.

To address the concerns raised in Sishuwa's article, we propose organizing our discussion according to the thematic order presented in his work.


In this section, Sishuwa argues that the President aims to contain and undermine the Catholic Church by dividing it or finding compromising information on certain bishops or priests. To support his argument, Sishuwa states, "Unlike its religious counterparts, the [Catholic] Church enjoys financial independence, protecting it from state intimidation and patronage." It is important to clarify that our focus is not on whether President Hakainde Hichilema and the United Party for National Development (UPND) have any plans concerning the Catholic Church. Our primary interest lies in promoting logical and coherent intellectual engagement on national issues for a balanced readership.

Sishuwa's assertion is erroneous. Over the years, the resources reaching the Zambian Catholic Church from missionaries or their home bases have significantly decreased for various reasons. These include a decline in the number of missionaries due to depleted priestly and religious vocations in Europe and America, as well as reduced income for Catholic Churches in those regions. Since the 1990s, the Catholic Church has been striving for self-sustainability in response to diminishing external support. Local diocesan priests no longer enjoy the same resources that characterized the Catholic Church during the dominance of missionary priests and nuns. For instance, an average local diocesan clergy in a rural parish receives less than K1,000 for their upkeep from either their bishop or the parish community, making their survival precarious. The reduced external support to dioceses has made both bishops and priests financially vulnerable, creating an environment conducive to patronage and the co-optation of priests and bishops by political elites.

As an example, Archbishop Alick Banda, whom Sishuwa's article portrays in a heroic light, has received several patronage donations from the government of Edgar Lungu, including a contribution of K750,000. Furthermore, the Edgar Lungu government supported the construction of an unfinished secondary school called Adrian Mung'andu in the Archdiocese of Lusaka. During Archbishop Alick Banda's tenure as the head of the Ndola Diocese, he received financial support from the Edgar Lungu government for the construction of priests' houses, which were officially handed over by President Edgar Chagwa Lungu.

Sishuwa's assertion is incorrect because certain works of the Catholic Church still heavily rely on government funding through grants to church institutions. Church hospitals and schools, except those operated on a commercial basis, receive grants from the government and employ staff whose salaries are funded by the government. In fact, this funding has more than doubled since the current President assumed office. Therefore, it is inaccurate to claim that the Catholic Church is financially independent from the government, and its priests and leaders are not immune to political patronage. It is important to note that the financial support rendered to the Catholic Church by any government is not inherently problematic, as the government and the Church are partners in development. The problem arises when individual government players perceive financial support to the Church as a means to stifle its prophetic voice or when individual clerics align themselves with partisan interests to secure continued government support for personal gain.

Sishuwa asserts that the President's plan is to divide the Catholic Church's hierarchy. However, our intention is not to scrutinise the motives of specific actors. Instead, we limit our observations to observable facts. We argue that the divisions within the Catholic Church's hierarchy precede Hakainde Hichilema's presidency, and we will illustrate this claim.

(i) In 2020, during the heated discussions surrounding the controversial Constitution Amendment Bill number 10 of 2019, the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) issued a well-considered pastoral letter providing guidance to the government on Bill 10 and other national matters. In response, a group of Patriotic Front (PF) Members of Parliament, calling themselves the "Association of Catholic Parliamentarians" and led by individuals such as Mr. Given Lubinda and Professor Nkandu Luo, made disparaging remarks in disagreement with the Bishops' guidance on Bill 10. It is worth noting that Archbishop Alick Banda was the patron of this "association," which openly defied the solemn guidance and collective wisdom of the ZCCB.
(ii) When then-opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema was arrested and detained on fabricated charges of treason, Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu, then President of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), released a strongly-worded pastoral statement in June 2017, in which he stated that "Zambia eminently qualifies to be branded a dictatorship." However, Archbishop Alick Banda (then bishop of Ndola diocese) and Bishop Benjamin Phiri (then Auxiliary bishop of Chipata diocese) publicly distanced themselves from the collective decision, undermining the authority of the pastoral statement issued by the ZCCB president on behalf of the bishops' conference.
(iii) When the ZCCB collectively declined the PF-government's COVID-19 funds allocated to churches, Archbishop Alick Banda diverged from the collective position and indicated that in his diocese, church institutions and clergy should accept the money.
(iv) During the period of widespread gassing incidents in the country, Archbishop Banda sided with the then-ruling party's narrative that the responsible individuals were acting on behalf of the opposition.
(v) When the ruling PF accused the opposition of promoting homosexuality, Archbishop Alick Banda took to the pulpit to accuse the opposition of supporting homosexuality.

We present these examples to demonstrate that the current situation is a continuation of pre-existing divisions primarily influenced by the PF. While there may be undisclosed plans to divide the Catholic Church, we have not observed any such attempts under the current government. On the contrary, President Hakainde Hichilema has engaged with the Catholic Church's hierarchy and has been present at major Catholic Church events. For example, he recently attended the episcopal ordinations of Bishops Raphael Mweempwa (Monze Diocese) and Gabriel Msipu Phiri (Auxiliary Bishop, Chipata Diocese). Earlier this year, the President hosted all Catholic Bishops at State House, except Archbishop Alick Banda, who chose to abstain. We find insufficient evidence to support Sishuwa's assertions and inferences. In fact, the evidence presented leads to contradictory conclusions.


In this section, Sishuwa's article argues that President Hakainde Hichilema plans to co-opt critical members of civil society by appointing them to various public positions. Sishuwa claims that "the co-optation of so many experienced figures has weakened civil society to the point it is now largely unable to challenge the executive on governance." He implies that there will be targeted social media attacks against those who, like himself and Brebner Changala, have refrained from accepting appointments.

First, we would like to clarify that we believe civil society plays a crucial role in advancing democracy. An active, free, and independent civil society provides essential checks and balances on the government, while also collaborating with government institutions to deliver services to areas with limited government reach. However, we have not found evidence to support the claims made by Sishuwa. The number of individuals recruited from civil society into government is negligible. From civil society, we are aware of only two individuals: Pamela Chisanga, who has been appointed as a full-time High Commissioner, and Chama "Pilato" Fumba, who has been appointed as a Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Sport. A few others have been appointed to part-time positions in quasi-independent public institutions. These include Laura Miti (Human Rights Commissioner), Pamela Sambo (Vice Chairperson of the Human Rights Commissioner), MacDonald Chipenzi (Electoral Commission of Zambia), O'Brien Kaaba (ACC Commissioner), and Fr. Emmanuel Chikoya (Human Rights Commissioner). Therefore, there is no evidence to support Sishuwa's claim of a sweeping appointment of leaders from NGOs or academia. In fact, one of the commonly mentioned complaints by Brebner Changala, whom Sishuwa lists as a target for social media attacks, is that the President has not appointed the individuals who helped him ascend to power and is predominantly working with civil servants left by the previous government.

Second, the label of "co-optation" is unhelpful as an analytical tool as it fails to consider the circumstances under which individuals may have been appointed and denies them individual moral agency. Appointing influential figures from civil society to positions of influence is not inherently contrary to good governance. This practice is not unique to Zambia or Africa; it is common even in developed democracies like the United States, where individuals from civil society and academia often join the government without being labeled as co-opted.

Third, Sishuwa's argument that civil society has been significantly weakened by this supposed co-optation is based on conjecture. He cites the example of the government allowing mining to proceed in a national park, suggesting that a stronger civil society would have held the UPND government accountable and halted the mining. However, there is no evidence that anyone from environmental civil society organizations involved in the mining case has been appointed to a government position. In fact, on May 31, 2023, before Sishuwa published his article, the Minister of Green Economy and Environment granted the appeal by civil society organizations and ordered a halt to mining in the national park.

Fourth, we note that Sishuwa's arguments in this article contradict his previously published positions. In several articles before the 2021 general election, Sishuwa predicted that Edgar Lungu would secure a third term smoothly, partly because civil society organizations were weak and incapable of holding the government accountable. In one of his papers, he even attributed President Chiluba's failure to secure a third term to military intervention, downplaying the role of civil society. If his previous assertions were correct and civil society was already weak and ineffective, then it cannot be true that civil society is now being weakened by the current administration. It is either one or the other, but not both. TO BE CONTINUED IN PART II

Main photo: Dr. Hang'andu, Ringford & Dr. Kaaba
*Disclaimer: Dr. O’Brien Kaaba is a law lecturer at the University of Zambia; Dr. Priva Hang’andu works for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR); while Ringford Mwelwa is a doctoral candidate in media and communication studies. The thoughts expressed in this article are the authors’.