Uncertain Future for Zambian NGO's

President Ruplah Banda signed new legislation today regulating the activities of all Zambian NGO’s.  This is the Zambian government’s second attempt to pass such legislation after the first was withdrawn in 2007 following widespread protests. Coming on the heels of the arrest and trial of The Post editor Chansa Kabwela, the NGO bill is seen as yet another mechanism to suppress government critics.

NGOs are now required to register with the government every five years, reporting on organizational funding, activities and the personal holdings of their officials.  A newly established authorizing board will be responsible for instituting a “code of conduct” to ensure that all NGO activities are in accordance with Zambia’s national development plan.  Non compliance can result in cancellation or suspension of registration.

The five-year registration period will potentially foster instability among NGOs with ongoing projects as well as discourage outside donors who may not want the hassle of obtaining and renewing a license.  Further, competent professionals may be driven away from working in a sector that requires them to reveal their personal assets to a board of government officials. The impact of this provision on international NGOs as well as domestic NGOs is unclear.

This legislation may take up to a few weeks to go into effect as it must be gazetted before it comes into force.  In the meantime, a peaceful demonstration by civil society members is set for September 4th and the possibility of filing an injunction in the courts is being considered.

Written by Jamie Skaluba, Zambia Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA

In Zambia, One Person's Human Rights Violation is Another's Porn

The editor of Zambia’s largest independent newspaper, The Post, is currently on trial for distributing pornography. Chansa Kabwela was charged in July for “circulating obscene matters with the intention to corrupt the morals of society,” punishable by a five year prison sentence. What exactly did Kabwela circulate that was so dangerous to the moral character of Zambians? Pictures of a woman giving birth on the ground outside a hospital. 

A recent nurses’ strike led to dangerous medical conditions in the country, a fact Kabwela wanted to highlight. When she received pictures of the incident, she decided not to publish them in the paper, but instead sent copies to the vice president, the health minister and several organizations. The pictures were taken by a relative of the woman, who visited clinics and the hospital in search of medical assistance due to the breach birth position of the baby. Eventually she laid down on the ground near the hospital before doctors from the hospital finally assisted her. The baby did not survive.

Reporters Without Borders calls the arrest shocking and the charges without grounds. They also accuse authorities of harassing and intimidating the newspaper’s staff. The Post is a fierce critic of President Banda, who has made no secret of his dislike for the paper, called for Kabwela’s arrest. Banda became president upon the death of Levy Mwanawasa, one year ago today. Too bad Nixon didn’t think of the same tactic: Nick Ut would have gone to trial instead of winning a Pulitzer.