Editor's Comment

Police must review performance

ZAMBIA is still trying to come to terms with the violence that erupted in Sesheke before and during the by-election.
The wave of violence in Sesheke came hardly two weeks after the commission of inquiry on voting patterns handed over its report to President Edgar Lungu.
The handover of the report should have been the motivation to end hostilities by political parties as Government and stakeholders seek ways of ending violence before, during and after elections.
Of particular interest regarding the violence in Sesheke is the involvement of the police, who have been roundly condemned by various sections of society.
This has put the entire Zambia Police Service on the spot.
The Zambia Police Service is expected to be the custodian of the electoral code of conduct.
By this, the police are not only expected to be impartial but lead in the interpretation and application of the electoral code of conduct to the satisfaction of all stakeholders.
In every fight, there should be a peacemaker or referee and in this case, our constitution gives the role of peacekeeping to the Zambia Police.
Whilst the police are generally doing a lot of good, in this matter the service has seemingly allowed itself to be more reactive than proactive.
Where it has been proactive in some of the previous elections, it has been thorough in keeping violence in check. Random inspections of motor vehicles was done to ensure that no weapons were imported to the elections zones. Suspicious cadres were also kept away from the constituencies.
Evidently this was not done. If it was, then it was very poorly done because even as violent clashes began to increase, proactive measures were absent or ineffective.
The police need to up their game and start playing their role of being umpires and peacekeepers during elections.
During political campaign periods, the police are often regarded as being pro-ruling party. Their actions and decisions are often viewed with suspicion.
The Police has, however, stated several times that it is impartial and operates as provided by the law, and that anyone who breaks the law would be dealt with accordingly.
One of the many questions being asked in the wake of the Sesheke by-election violence is: “Were the police doing their job in brutally beating political cadres perceived to have broken the law?”
Many contend that excessive force was used as evidenced by pictures of the injured men and damaged building in which the cadres had sought refuge.
Stakeholders such as the Human Rights Commission (HRC) have weighed down heavily on the police for excessive use of force to respond to perceived or actual threat to breach of peace by cadres from both the United Party for National Development (UPND) and the Patriotic Front (PF).
Chief government spokesperson Dora Siliya has equally expressed concern in the manner police handled cadres and other people caught in the fracas in the just-ended Sesheke by-election.
In such instances, when you see a police officer engaged in such activities, it means they were stretched to the limit.
Police would not ordinarily react to cadres in the manner police who were deployed to maintain order did.
Admittedly, it was rough for the police to handle the provocative situation in Sesheke although they could have found better ways and means of containing the situation.
We hope the police have learnt from their mistakes and will do better next time.
They should continue observing zero-tolerance to political violence.
Violence should never be tolerated in our political dispensation because we are a democracy.
Violence scares away voters and distorts the wishes of the people.
It is commendable that the violence that took place in Sesheke is receiving serious attention by police high command.
Inspector-General of Police Kakoma Kanganja said an inquiry into the incident has been opened.
Mr Kanganja has said if officers are in the wrong, they will be dealt with according to the law leading to dismissals.
Going forward, political parties too should desist from importation of cadres. The influx of paid cadres, especially from Lusaka and Copperbelt markets and bus stations into rural areas tends, to increase tensions and rate of violence in these areas.
It is highly unlikely that residents would want to hack each other and destroy their property. Only imported cadres are likely to do this.
The Police must review its performance in Sesheke, regroup and deliver a better service in the next elections and all other activities where they are tasked to maintain law and order.

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