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Zambia: Incumbent President Lungu Plays a Trump Card as He Loses to the Opposition

7 min read.

If they continue to release results as they have been, the pressure on Lungu to stand down may soon become insurmountable.

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Zambia’s presidential election was expected to be a tight two-horse race between President Edgar Lungu and perennial opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema. But early results suggest something very different. With 62 constituencies officially declared by the Electoral Commission of Zambia, Hichilema is on 63% of the vote with a vast lead of 28% over Lungu, who is trailing on 34.6%.

Economic desperation and growing distrust of President Lungu has led to a nationwide swing towards Hichilema’s United Party of National Development – which has increased its vote share in all the vast majority constituencies released so far.

Amid growing desperation within the ruling party, President Lungu has taken inspiration from an unlikely source – former US President Donald Trump. Despite enjoying all of the vast powers of incumbency that mean that presidents in Africa win 88% of the elections they contest, Lungu and his lieutenants are complaining that the elections were rigged against them.

In a statement released on Saturday 14 August, Lungu went so far as to say that the presidential election was “unfree and unfair” and should therefore be nullified.

 

President Lungu's statement of 14th August 2021

President Lungu’s statement of 14th August 2021

This is not a strategy that has been cooked up overnight – anticipating a tough election, the government has been laying the foundation for this strategy for weeks. It has three main components: 1) exaggerating the violence committed by opposition parties, 2) pretending that the police cannot cope with the level of unrest, 3) claiming that this violence only occurred in opposition strongholds and so the vote in these areas is particularly suspect.

This strategy has little credibility, which is precisely why it is so divisive – and has the potential to push Zambia into the biggest political crisis in its 30-year multiparty history.

The state of play

Lungu’s strategy is born of desperation.

While only two-thirds (40%) of constituency results have been released, it already looks like Hichilema’s lead is unassailable. What is more, he also has a comfortable gap to the 50%+1 of the vote he needs to win in the first round of voting. An early hope for the Patriotic Front government was that support for Hichilema would be largely confined to his traditional strongholds, with a small increase in county’s more populous and cosmopolitan regions such as Lusaka and the Copperbelt.

But this hope was quickly dashed on voting day when large turnout across the country suggested that Zambians has decided that Lungu’s time was up. As those standing in long queues in Lusaka compounds told us “we are all here to vote for change” and “you don’t turn up so early to support the incumbent.”

These early predictions were soon proved right by the – painfully slow – official release of the results by the ECZ. Hichilema has already built a big lead on the Copperbelt (56%) and Lusaka (61%), which account for 31% of all registered voters. There was even bad news for President Lungu in his supposed “heartlands”. In Eastern Province, for example, Lungu is currently on 54%. This sounds like a decent performance until you realise that he secured 79% of the vote in this region in 2016 – a fall of some 25% in just five years.

With a string of minor candidates queuing up to concede defeat – and either congratulate Hichilema or reference support for a transfer of power in their speeches – the writing is on the wall. Moreover, both the UPND’s own vote count based on party members, and the official Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) carried out by domestic monitor group CCMG are widely expected to “confirm” a first round victory for the opposition candidate.

The Trump card

Where the margin of votes between rival candidates is small, last minute rigging can help leaders get over the line. It is already clear, however, that this will not be the case in Zambia in 2021. Lungu appears on course to lose by a bigger margin than President Rupiah Banda in 2011, and the UPND seems to be much better placed to detect foul play.

Already, representatives from a number of opposition parties intervened to prevent the ECZ from releasing results for Feira that did not match the figures they had received from their own teams. After a delay, ECZ announced figures that the opposition party agreed with. If this trend continues, there will be no chance for the government to fiddle its way back into power.

Lungu has therefore decided to pursue a very different strategy: following the example of Unites States President Donald Trump, he has attempted to turn defence into attack by alleging that the elections were actually rigged by his rival. This isn’t something the Patriotic Front simply cooked-up on voting day – instead, having watched Trump carefully, they began laying the foundation weeks in advance. Doing so is critical to make subsequent claims seem more credible, and to prime supporters to be on the look out for certain “developments” to ensure that later misinformation is interpreted in the desired way.

In President Lungu’s case, this plan has had three main components:

1) exaggerating the violence committed by opposition parties

Ahead of the polls, President Lungu and state-aligned media consistently exaggerated violence committed by the UPND in an attempt to create the impression that political unrest and clashes between rival cadres were the fault of the opposition.

This was a smart ploy. Civil society groups, international donors and the world’s media are often tempted to accept a degree of repression in order to sustain peace and order, such is the concern about the economic and human impact of conflict in Africa. As recent research has explained, campaigns to promote peace have regularly been subverted to repress critical voices, replacing democracy with peaceocracy.

The problem for Lungu was that it was fairly transparent: while it is clear that cadres affiliated with both sides have committed violence, the post-election statement of the CCMG domestic monitoring group reports that twice as much violence was instigated by individuals affiliated to the PF as by those aligned to the UPND.

2) pretending that the police cannot cope with the level of unrest

In line with this approach, the government sought to manipulate political unrest in order to secure a tighter grip on the political process. Most notably, a sad incident in which two individuals – who PF has claimed as its supporters, although the UPND suggests that one actually was an opposition cadre – was used as a pretext to deploy the military to the streets.

This was an unprecedented move, and caused considerable concern among opposition leaders – especially when it became clear that the military were not only being sent to “hot spots” but also to areas in which there had been no significant violence.

One of the justifications that the president used to deploy this strategy was that the police had been overwhelmed. This was also unpersuasive, however, as the growing politicization of the police under Lungu’s leadership, and the fact that the police have predominantly intervened to arrest opposition cadres and not ruling party ones, suggests that the rise in electoral violence was largely a product deliberately engineered by the regime itself.

3) claiming that this violence only occurred in opposition strongholds and so the vote in these areas is particularly suspect.

Despite being in full control of the police and army – with a police officer in every polling station and the military now deployed across the country – the ruling party has responded to its dismal electoral showing by claiming that its voters were intimidated.

In an initial statement released on 12 August, the government claimed that the level of opposition intimidation meant that the vote in its regions could not be considered free and fair. The implication seemed to be that the elections should be cancelled in opposition areas, while the results in government strongholds should be retained.

A subsequent statement on 14 August made a bolder claim, with the headline: “President Lungu Declares General Election Not Free and Fair”. The second iteration of the complaint – which followed a complaint made to the ECZ leaders at Mulungushi, where the votes are being verified and announced – suggested that a key problem was that “PF party agents had been chased out of polling stations”.

These claims rested heavily on one incident – a tragedy in which PF North Western Province Chairman Jackson Kungo was killed by a mob that suspected him of bringing pre-marked ballot papers into a polling station. Kungo’s killing was deeply saddening, and was rightly condemned by all sides. But there is no evidence that it was part of a wider pattern.

Instead, CCMG domestic monitors found that PF party agents were present in 98% of polling stations, and a growing number of legal organisations including the Law Association of Zambia, observers, and civil society groups, have lined up to publicly doubt Lungu’s claims. Perhaps most significantly, six of the most prominent minor candidates came together to say that if anyone had tried to rig the election it was him, and that he should stand down.

For its part, UPND leaders have pointed out that there were also incidents of violence against its leaders and supporters on polling day, but they have tended to receive less attention because they were not amplified by state media.

Can it work?

Donald Trump was forced to stand down as US President, but not before he had done inordinate harm to the country’s political system. Not only did Trump intensify the fault lines at the heart of US politics, but the attack on the US Capitol represented one of the most shocking and dangerous moments in the country’s history.

Ultimately, he was forced to stand down due to the fact that key democratic institutions – and just as importantly the individuals within them – did their civic duty.

So what can we expect in Zambia?

The country’s democratic institutions have also been weakened by thoroughgoing politicisation and the use of appointments to promote figures loyal to President Lungu himself. But there are already signs that despite this, he will likely not get his way.

Many in the military are also understood to be unhappy about the idea of being deployed for political purposes, and so the president may not be confident that soldiers ordered to repress protestors will carry out the instruction. Meanwhile a judge of the High Court also issued an injunction against the blocking of social media platforms – a critical source of communication for both democratic activists and normal citizens – after a case was brought by the Chapter One Foundation. As a result,  WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook have been turned back on, at least for now.

Chapter One Foundation petition

Chapter One Foundation petition

In both cases, the extent of public support for Hichilema – which has been trickling out, despite the delays by ECZ – is likely to have been critical. Soldiers and judges are also members of Zambian society and will want to be able to hold their heads up high if Lungu is forced out of State House.

Given this, it critically important that the ECZ continues to release results. Although the slow rate of progress has frustrated many and left many across the country anxious and fearful, the Commission has now released three batches of results that are clearly good news for Hichilema and bad for the President. We believe this demonstrates considerable independence. The ECZ’s continued announcement of results so far, despite the PF’s complaints, suggests that the ECZ is unlikely to yield to pressure from President.

Indeed, some analysts believe that it has been an inability to effectively infiltrate and control the ECZ that has led the president to make inflammatory public statements in a bid to intimidate the Commission into submission. Electoral commissions and officials therefore deserve strong and unequivocal support and encouragement from everyone who cares about the future of Zambia

If they continue to release results as they have been, the pressure on Lungu to stand down may soon become insurmountable.

This article was first published by Democracy in Africa.

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Nicole Beardsworth (@NixiiB) is a Lecturer in Political Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. Nic Cheeseman (@Fromagehomme) is the Professor of Democracy at the University of Birmingham and the founder of Democracy in Africa. O’Brien Kaaba (@OBrien_Kaaba) is a Lecturer in the School of Law at the University of Zambia

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Conflict in Marsabit: Voter and Politician Locked in a Danse Macabre

The nature of the conflict in Marsabit has changed. Deaths are tallied, and ledgers of the unmourned dead are meticulously kept.

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Counting the dead

Ninety-three deaths in the past year, the count has dominated national TV coverage of conflict in Marsabit, contributing to the trend of turning the effect of the conflict and the loss into a body-counting exercise.

A year ago, Saku Member of Parliament (MP) Ali Raso Dido spoke of the number of people killed in his constituency. On his list there were only the Borana dead; he did not include the dead from other communities. To him, as an MP, only Borana lives mattered and were worthy of raising on the floor of parliament.

In a lengthy response, his counterpart, North Horr MP Francis Chachu gave the number of dead in his constituency. He listed only the Gabra dead.

In the last cycle of conflict in Marsabit County, 75 houses were burnt down, and about 850 families were displaced. Governor Mohamud Ali called a press conference at which the list of the dead was the central theme of his statement.

Since the state has no official data on number of people who have died as a result of conflict in Marsabit, all these accounts are true, but they are also subjective and incomplete. Just why the counting is done, where to begin counting, who is to be counted and who does the counting are the concerns of these times.

In between the statistics informing politicians’ petitions to parliament, or forming the subject of a governor’s hasty press statement or the prop of a news story, there is a whole social milieu within which the conflict exists and how it is processed at the political and economic levels of grief.

A macabre dance between voters and politicians

Proximity to countries in conflict—Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Sudan—and the easy availability of Small Arms and Light Weapons have been the central explanation for the conflict in Marsabit County. While valid and, in some instances, correct, this explanation misses the fact of the banality of conflict in the county—a more insidious new lexicon that normalizes killing beyond the traditional boundaries of ethnic conflict is developing.

In the last cycle of conflict in Marsabit County, 75 houses were burnt down, and about 850 families were displaced.

This change in the ethnic conflict dynamic is a function of a perverse, mutually reinforcing loop involving politicians and voters, each egging on the other to visit more death and destruction on the opposite community. The hypercompetitive nature of local elections post-devolution significantly exacerbates this loop.

Thus, taking the “war” to the other community becomes a politician’s campaign pledge rather than the promise of building hospitals and schools or bringing about the desperately needed development. The more vociferous a politician becomes, the more likely he is to be elected.

This perverse incentive makes politicians more incendiary, making both the threat of violence and the violence itself politically rewarding.

Ancestral hatred theory

While it is often cast as anchored in ancestral hatred, there is something new about conflict in Marsabit. And because it is mutating even as we all watch, we sometimes miss it. What makes it unique is its banalisation.

Three aspects make recent conflicts in Marsabit distinct from the old ones.

One, the slow-burning, episodic nature of the conflict and the attendant “peace” meetings have come to be accepted as an immutable fact of life. But the peace-industrial complex has done little to end the conflict; instead, the conflict has mutated into something new, complete with a new lexicon and signals far more incendiary than the old conflict. This rinse-and-repeat cycle has spawned a coterie of peace entrepreneurs activated at a moment’s notice whenever violence breaks out.

This perverse incentive makes politicians more incendiary, making both the threat of violence and the violence itself politically rewarding.

Two, with increased competition over land and resources under devolution, this “new” conflict is increasingly framed in apocalyptic, existential language. As a result, voters prefer politicians who cast themselves as the “defenders” of the community from outsiders’ keen on taking their land and resources. Thus, voters lean towards politicians with a “warlord” mentality rather than those with a good development record.

Three, in this “new” conflict controlling the narrative is central, making the national media and the local-language radio stations the battleground. Where the national media frames the region as a godforsaken Badlands, local-language radio stations offer politicians a safe space from where to speak directly to their people unfiltered. WhatsApp and the ever-mushrooming Facebook groups act as a functional auxiliary for sharing media content. This interface has made the Marsabit conflict far deadlier on and offline.

Conflict as theatre 

Every death in Marsabit is increasingly seen through the prism of cold arithmetic—losing and winning. This strips death of its meaning. Every death is accounted for on a ledger; it is a debt to be repaid with the death of another. Death is performance theatre, acted rather than mourned.

This theatre extends to the burial, measured by the length of the cavalcade of vehicles that accompany the body to the grave, and the promises made by politicians at his funeral or in their interviews in the local and national media. During a recent funeral, the number of vehicles contributed to the drama as cars stretched a kilometre from the centre of town to the cemetery.

Every death is accounted for on a ledger; it is a debt to be repaid with the death of another.

There was such silence in the picture that the silence was in our minds, but we know that the slow pace of the vehicles inching towards the cemetery had no connection to the past murders. In the prevailing mind-set, this image will replace that of the mad man whose throat had been slit at 8 p.m. near the market and who had tried to walk from the back of the police van into the hospital and failed—rising and falling, rising and falling.

Later, as the region’s leaders foam at the mouth on TV, everyone goes home with smaller versions of the same talk. Emotions are gauged through the metrics of tribe, place of murder, murder weapon, the known backstories of the casualties; many went unmoored as collaterals of the drama that people made of the conflict.

Part of the post-death package is “what have our leaders said?” This reaction is baked into the system of conflict, whether the said leaders are maintaining the honour of the tribe. Whether they have promised to even the score or repay the death debts. Their words are shared on and off line as a whispered social contract.

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Kenyans Need an Education That Is Human: A Call to Conscience

Colonial and post-colonial governments have worked to separate education from access to culture and information, and to isolate the school as the only source of learning.

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Kenyans Need an Education That Is Human: A Call to Conscience
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This is a call to Kenyans of conscience to step back and reflect on the lies about education that are circulating in the media, the schooling system and government. Foreign sharks have camped in Kenya to distort our education. Using buzzwords such as “quality” and “global standards”, these sharks seek to destroy the hopes, dreams and creativity of young Africans, not just in Kenya, but in the whole region, and to make a profit while at it. With the help of local professors, bureaucrats and journalists, they spread hatred for education among the population. At the same time, they ironically create a thirst for schooling that makes parents resort to desperate measures to get their children into school, going as far as accepting violence and abuse in schools that causes children to take their own lives.

This insanity must end.

We must accept that education is a life endeavour through which people constantly adapt to their social and natural environment. Education is more than going to school and getting the right paper credentials. Education occurs anywhere where human beings process what they perceive, make decisions about it and act together in solidarity. That is why education, culture and access to information are inseparable.

However, since colonial times, both the colonial and “independence” versions of the Kenya government have worked hard to separate education from culture and access to information. They have done so through crushing all other avenues where Kenyans can create knowledge. We have insufficient public libraries and our museums are underfunded. Arts festivals, where people come together and learn from unique cultural expressions, have been underfunded, and by some accounts, donors have been explicitly told not to fund creativity and culture. In the meantime, artists are insulted, exploited and sometimes silenced through censorship, public ridicule and moralistic condemnations in the name of faith.

All these measures are designed to isolate the school as the only source of learning and creativity, and this is what makes the entry into schools so cutthroat and abusive.

But entering school does not mean the end of the abuse. Once inside the schools, Kenyans find that there is no arts education where children can explore ideas and express themselves. In school, they find teachers who themselves are subject to constant insults and disruptions from the Ministry of Education and the Teachers Service Commission. Under a barrage of threats and transfers, teachers are forced to implement the Competency Based training which is incoherent and has been rejected in other countries. Many of the teachers eventually absorb the rationality of abuse and mete it out on poor children whose crime is to want to learn. This desperation for education has also been weaponized by the corporate world that is offering expensive private education and blackmailing parents to line the pockets of book publishers.

Education is more than going to school and getting the right paper credentials. Education occurs anywhere where human beings process what they perceive, make decisions about it and act together in solidarity.

By the end of primary and secondary school, only a mere 3 per cent of total candidates are able to continue with their education. This situation only worsens inequality in Kenya, where only 2 per cent of the population have a university degree, and where only 8,300 people own as much as the rest of Kenya.

But listening to the government and the corporate sector, you would think that 98 per cent of Kenyans have been to university. The corporate sector reduces education to job training and condemns the school system as inadequate for meeting the needs of the corporations. Yet going by statements from the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) and the government, there is no intention to employ Kenyans who get training. The government hires doctors from Cuba and engineers from China, and then promises the United Kingdom to export our medical workers. KEPSA is on record saying that we need to train workers in TVET so that they can work in other African countries.

It is clear that the Kenya government and the corporate sector do not want Kenyans to go to school and become active citizens in their homeland. Rather, these entities are treating schooling as a conveyor belt to manufacture Kenyans for export abroad as labour and to cushion the theft of public resources through remittances.

The media and the church also join in the war against education by brainwashing Kenyans to accept this dire state of affairs. The media constantly bombards Kenyans with lies about the composition of university students, and with propaganda against “useless degrees”. The church has abandoned prophecy and baptizes every flawed educational policy in exchange for maintaining its colonial dreams of keeping religion in the curriculum to pacify Kenyans in the name of “morality”.

The government is now intending to restrict education further through the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) which seeks to limit education through pathways that prevent children from pursuing subjects of their interests, and by imposing quotas on who can pursue education beyond secondary school. At tertiary level, the government is devising an algorithm that will starve the humanities and social sciences of funding. It claims that funds will instead go to medical and engineering sciences, which are in line with Kenya’s development needs.

But recall that foreigners are doing the work of medical professionals and engineers anyway, so “development” here does not mean that Kenyan professionals will work in their home country. They will work abroad where they cannot be active citizens and raise questions about our healthcare and infrastructure.

The proposed defunding of the arts, humanities and social sciences aims to achieve one goal: to reserve thinking and creativity for the 3 per cent of Kenyans who can afford it. This discrimination in funding of university education is about locking the majority and the poor out of spaces where they can be creative and develop ideas. It also seeks to prevent Kenyans from humble backgrounds from questioning policies and priorities that are passed under dubious concepts such as “development needs” that are largely studied in the humanities and social sciences.

It is clear that the Kenya government and the corporate sector do not want Kenyans to go to school and become active citizens in their homeland.

Clearly, there is a war against education and against Kenyans being creative and active citizens in their own country. For the 8,300 Kenyans to maintain their monopoly of resources, they need to distract Kenyans with propaganda against education, they need to limit Kenyans’ access to schooling, and they need to shut down alternative sources of training, information and knowledge. By limiting access to schooling and certificates, the 8,300 can exploit the work of Kenyans who have not been to school, or who have not gone far in school, by arguing that those Kenyans lack the “qualifications” necessary for better pay.

We must also name those who enable this exploitation. The greedy ambitions of the political class are entrenched by people who, themselves, have been through the school system. To adapt Michelle Obama’s famous words, these people walked through the door of opportunity, and are trying to close it behind them, instead of reaching out and giving more Kenyans the same opportunities that helped them to succeed. This tyranny is maintained by a section of teachers in schools, of professors in universities and of bureaucrats in government, who all fear students and citizens who know more than they do, instead of taking joy in the range of Kenyan creativity and knowledge. The professors and bureaucrats, especially, are seduced into this myopia with benchmarking trips abroad, are spoon-fed foreign policies to implement in Kenya. They harvest the legitimate aspirations of Kenya and repackage them in misleading slogans. For instance, they refer to limited opportunities as “nurturing talent”, and baptize the government’s abandonment of its role in providing social services “parental involvement”.

These bureaucrats and academics are helped to pull the wool over our eyes by the media who allow them to give Kenyans obscure soundbites that say nothing about what is happening on the ground. They also make empty calls for a return to a pre-colonial Africa which they will not even let us learn about, because they have blocked the learning of history and are writing policies to de-fund the arts and humanities. We must put these people with huge titles and positions to task about their loyalty to the African people in Kenya. We call on them to repent this betrayal of their own people in the name of “global standards”.

We Kenyans also need an expanded idea of education. We need arts centres where Kenyans can meet and generate new ideas. We need libraries where Kenyans can get information. We need guilds and unions to help professionals and workers take charge of regulation, training and knowledge in their specializations. We need for all work to be recognized independent of certification, so that people can be paid for their work regardless of whether one has been to school or not.

We need recognition of our traditional skills in areas like healing, midwifery, pastoralism, crafts and construction. We need a better social recognition of achievement outside business and politics. It is a pity that our runners who do Kenyans proud, our scientists, thinkers, artists and activists who gain international fame, are hardly recognized in Kenya because they were busy working, rather than stealing public funds to campaign in the next election. Our ideas are harvested by foreign companies while our government bombards us with useless bureaucracy and taxes which ensure that we have no impact here.

We need for all work to be recognized independent of certification, so that people can be paid for their work regardless of whether one has been to school or not.

Most of all, we need an end to the obsession with foreign money as the source of “development”. We are tired of being viewed as merely labour for export, we are tired of foreigners being treated as more important than the Kenyan people. We are tired of tourism which is based on the tropes of the colonial explorer and which treats Africans as a threat to the environment. And the names of those colonial settlers who dominate our national consciousness must be removed from our landmarks.

Development, whatever that means, comes from the brains and muscles of the Kenyan people. And the key to us becoming human beings who proudly contribute to society and humanity is education. Not education in the limited sense of jobs and certificates, but education in the broader sense of dignity, creativity, knowledge and solidarity.

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UN Panel of Experts: Kenya Urged to Back Former CJ Willy Mutunga Candidacy

Willy Mutunga, the former Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya has been nominated by a number of international organisations to be one of the three experts. International human rights activists are calling on the government of Kenya to join with others in Global Africa to support the nomination of Willy Mutunga.

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UN Panel of Experts: Kenya Urged to Back Former CJ Willy Mutunga Candidacy
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On 28 June 2021, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations called on the UN to set up a panel of experts to investigate systemic racism in policing against people of African descent. This call came one year after the police murder of George Floyd in the United States. The UN panel of three experts in law enforcement and human rights will investigate the root causes and effects of systemic racism in policing, including the legacies of slavery and colonialism, and make recommendations for change. Willy Mutunga, the former Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya has been nominated by a number of international organisations to be one of the three experts. International human rights activists are calling on the government of Kenya to join with others in Global Africa to support the nomination of Willy Mutunga.

The government of Kenya is strongly placed to support the nomination of its native son, an internationally respected jurist. Kenya is currently a member of the UN Security Council and an influential member of “A3 plus 1”, the partnership between the three African members of the Security Council and the Caribbean member of the UNSC, St Vincent and the Grenadines. Last week on 7 September, President Uhuru Kenyatta co-chaired the African Union, Caribbean Community summit. This meeting between the AU and the Caribbean states agreed to establish the Africa, Brazil, CARICOM, and Diaspora Commission. This Commission will mature into a politico/economic bloc embracing over 2 billion people of African descent. Kenya, with its experience of reparative justice from the era of the Land and Freedom Army, has joined with the Caribbean to advance the international campaign to end the dehumanization of Africans. African descendants around the world have lauded the 2021 Human Rights Council Report for calling on the international community to “dismantle structures and systems designed and shaped by enslavement, colonialism and successive racially discriminatory policies and systems.”

Background to the nomination of Hon Willy Mutunga

The murder of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 led to worldwide condemnation of police killings and systemic racism in the United States. The African Members of the UN Human Rights Council pushed hard to garner international support to investigate systemic racism in policing in the United States. In the wake of the global outcry, there were a number of high-level investigations into police killings of innocent Blacks. Three distinguished organizations, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the National Lawyers Guild convened a panel of commissioners from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean to investigate police violence and structural racism in the United States. Virtual public hearings were held in February and March 2021, with testimonies from the families of the victims of some of the most notorious police killings in recent times.

In its report, a panel of leading human rights lawyers from 11 countries found the US in frequent violation of international laws, of committing crimes against humanity by allowing law enforcement officers to kill and torture African Americans with impunity and of “severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, persecution and other inhumane acts”.

Among its principal findings, the Commission found the US guilty of violating its international human rights treaty obligations, both in terms of laws governing policing and in the practices of law enforcement officers, including traffic stops targeting Black people and race-based stop-and-frisk; tolerating an “alarming national pattern of disproportionate use of deadly force not only by firearms but also by Tasers” against Black people; and operating a “culture of impunity” in which police officers are rarely held accountable while their homicidal actions are dismissed as those of just “a few bad apples”.

After the Commission’s report was published, the convening organizations’ Steering Committee mobilized international public opinion to publicize its findings. Former CJ Willy Mutunga was one of the jurists in Africa who worked hard to publicize the report’s findings and recommendations.

It was in large part on the basis of these findings that the Human Rights Council issued its own report at the end of June. The United Nations decided to set up a panel of experts to investigate systemic racism in policing against people of African descent, adding international weight to demands in the United States for accountability for police killings of African Americans, and reparations for victims. The panel of three experts will have a three-year mandate to investigate the root causes and effects of systemic racism in policing. Many organizations have submitted names for suggested panel members. Legal experts from Global Africa and international jurists have recommended Willy Mutunga to be one of the three panellists. Thus far, the following organizations have endorsed the candidacy of Willy Mutunga:

  1. The African Bar Association, with membership in 37 African Countries.
  2. The United States Human Rights network (USHRN), a National network of U.S. organizations working to strengthen the Human Rights movement in the US.
  3. International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Decent in the United States.
  4. Society of Black Lawyers of the United Kingdom
  5. Bandung Conference, a Diaspora Human Rights network based in Nairobi, Kenya.

There are now calls for the government of Kenya to step forward to be more proactive to lobby the Human Rights Council and to write letters to its President, H.E. Nazhat Shameen Khan (hrcpresidency@un.org), endorsing the candidature of Dr Mutunga. His CV is included for those who want to write to the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Kenya to lead the endorsement of Willy Mutunga.

The Steering Committee of the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence in the United States is coordinating the campaign for Dr Willy Mutunga to be appointed by the UNHRC as a member of the International Expert Mechanism to monitor compliance of the UNHRC findings and recommendations.

The Government of Kenya and Human Rights groups are kindly asked to send copies of their endorsements to the Coordinator, International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence in the United States, lennoxhinds@aol.com.

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