Former president Rupiah Banda was arrested by the Government Joint Investigative Team (GJIT) in late March 2013, charged with corruption and later stripped of his presidential immunity, allowing for further investigations into charges against him. According to Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba’s statement to Parliament at the time, Banda’s “government diverted money from the sale of Nigerian crude oil into a separate bank account instead of the National Treasury [during his presidency],” and is so accused of “abuse of authority of office, fraud and misappropriation of public funds”. Banda also faces allegations of using government money to buy campaign material as well as using offshore accounts to fund “opaque transactions,” that indicate money laundering. The Lusaka-based High Court subsequently heard an application by Banda’s lawyers on 27 March 2013 declaring the arrest illegal and unconstitutional. Robert Amsterdam, Banda’s lawyer has since noted that “They’ve rushed these charges which are completely bogus…it’s all completely political.”
While some locals have commended the incumbent President Michael Sata for his proactive approach to tackling corruption, his critics claim that he is a thug and is following in the footsteps of his predecessors. In 1997, for example, Frederik Chiluba’s government arrested the former president Dr Kenneth Kuanda over an alleged coup plot. Thereafter, Chiluba was arrested himself in 2008 for the abuse of state resources by Banda’s government. Now Banda is facing his own corruption charges in a twisted repeat of history while both his sons Andrew and Henry are under investigation by Sata as well.
Perceptions of intolerance and a revenge-driven governance system in Zambia threaten to hurt existing and potential investment opportunities, while ongoing legal proceedings could have a lasting dent on the country’s democracy. Adding further cause for concern is the fact that the executive recently overruled a judicial pronouncement giving Banda the go-ahead to travel to Kenya to attend President Uhuru Kenyatta’s inauguration. More and more questions concerning a growing respect for the rule of law are therefore starting to be raised in international circles as some are calling Sata’s government a “regime of immunity.”
Sata has since been barred from leaving Zambia as investigations into allegations of fraud continue. In the interim he has appealed to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to intervene in the matter.