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Zambia's “Imaginary” Terror Plot

This post is part of our International Relations & Security coverage.

Zambia recently woke up to a story in state-owned media that a group calling itself Tongas Under Oath had killed two people belonging to President Michael Sata’s ethnic group, and was now in the process of removing settlers from the ethnically Tonga Southern Province.

However, the story did not wash with the citizens who simply viewed it as an attempt by the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) government to clamp down on the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND). Zambia’s third largest opposition party is led by Hakainde Hichilema, a Tonga who has been very critical of the Sata government. And as is often the case in Zambian politics, Hichilema is the latest in a line of fearless opposition leaders whose increasing popular support is likely to result in electoral success.

Prior to the release of the letter allegedly written by the Tongas Under Oath group, Hichilema was arrested and charged after he claimed that the PF government was planning to send youths to Sudan to train as militias. A few days later, the opposition’s headquarters in the capital, Lusaka, were searched by the police looking for seditious materials.

They did not find any but a few days later a far more sinister letter was sent to President Sata with a date stamp from Mazabuka, a town in Southern Province. Shortly after its arrival, President Sata publicly exhibited Hichilema’s bank statements which showed that he is worth 360 billion ZMK ($64 million USD), making him one of the richest people in Zambia.

Defence Minister Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (in dark glasses) with President Sata (left) and other government officials.

Defence Minister Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (in dark glasses) with President Sata (left) and other government officials. Picture courtesy of Zambian Watchdog

However, a few days later, the defense minister, Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba, a fierce critic of Hichilema, disclosed that two retired generals had been paid by an unnamed person to assassinate President Sata. Mwamba was quoted by the Lusaka Times as saying:

I have just received an update from our investigative wings and I am talking from facts with an informed point of view that two retired army generals have received K100 million from an opposition party to carry out the assassination plot.

This is a serious development and I have also directed these investigative wings to go deeper and give more information so that we bring to book these people and the opposition party behind this.

One of the many responses to the story is by Mungoma and reads:

It is extremely disappointing that a minister can be talking about such a serious issue in this way! We are talking about the life of the President, for goodness’ sake! If it’s true, why not do a thorough investigation before making announcements?

Mwamba’s disclosure was not the first time he publicly announced an assassination plot against the head of state. After the PF came into power in September 2011, President Sata disclosed a number of allegedly corrupt deals brokered by the former president Rupiah Banda. The president also revealed that Banda had engaged retired senior military officers, among them generals, on extravagant contracts which he terminated with immediate effect.

In November 2011, Mwamba announced to the nation that a group of retired generals were planning to assassinate President Sata and other leaders in response to the government’s tough stance on corruption. Strangely, no one was arrested the first time after the defense minister disclosed an assassination plot, neither has anyone been arrested in the latest disclosure nearly a year later.

Above all, no one has been arrested in the Tongas Under Oath terror plot especially since President Sata himself said that the supposedly incriminating letter was not authored in the Southern Province, but in Lusaka.

ISN logoThis post and its translations to Spanish, Arabic and French were commissioned by the International Security Network (ISN) as part of a partnership to seek out citizen voices on international relations and security issues worldwide. This post was first published on the ISN blog, see similar stories here.

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