Friday, 22 April 2016

Zambia Army Patrols Lusaka, As President Apologises To Foreigners Over Riots, Looting

Soldiers on patrol in Kanyama- Picture by Tenson Mkhala
By Paul Shalala

Zambian President Edgar Lungu has apologised to foreign nationals who have been displaced by recent riots where foreign owned shops were looted in the southern African nation’s capital Lusaka.

Speaking when he addressed over 400 Burundian, Rwandese and Congolese nationals who have sought shelter at a Catholic Church hall in Lusaka, President Lungu said he would work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to ensure that they return to their houses.

"I take full responsibility on behalf of the Zambian people. I also assure you of full protection and security of you and your property. The senseless violence in some parts of Lusaka are, in our view, acts of criminality rather xenophobic. We will work with the United Nations, the Church and our communities to resolve the matter,” said President Lungu.

Zambians have been trooping to the Catholic Church with donations of food and clothing to help the refugees whose number keeps swelling by the hour.

In the past three days, unruly residents of about seven townships in Lusaka attacked and looted goods from shops owned by foreigners mainly Burundians, Rwandese and Congolese.

The riots were fuelled by rumours that foreign businessmen were behind the suspected ritual murders, a claim the Zambian authorities have vehemently denied.

Initially, the riots started in northern township of Zingalume last week where six people had been killed and body parts removed in suspected ritual murders.

President Lungu greets refugees- Picture by Eddie Mwanaleza
As mutilated bodies were being discovered in the same area over the past four weeks, residents descended on nearby Police stations where they vented their anger and destroyed property.

From Zingalume, the riots spread to George, Lilanda, Garden, Chawama, Ibex Hill, Kanyama and Mtendere townships which are mostly slums.

The Zambia Police Service deployed about 2,000 officers across the city but failed to pacify the situation.

During a tour of some affected townships on Tuesday, Zambia’s Home Affairs Minister Davies Mwila disclosed that two Zambians were burnt to death during the riots and over 200 others were arrested for riotous behaviour.

Mr Mwila also disclosed that eleven people had been arrested on suspicion of being behind the suspected ritual murders.

He said among the eleven where two foreigners whose identities and countries of origin he would not disclose.

Soldiers securing Kanyama township
“We arrested some suspects with some suspicious items which we want to subject to laboratory tests. We hope the tests will confirm whether those items are human parts or not,” said Rae Hamoonga, Zambia Police Service Deputy Spokesperson.

As the situation was getting out of hand on Wednesday, President Lungu deployed the much feared Zambia Army in the townships where anarchy had characterised the past three days.

“I Edgar Chagwa Lungu, President of the Republic of Zambia and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, has issued a Special Operational Order to the security services to restore law and order in some parts of Lusaka. The order is specifically designed to stop the recent spate of ritual murders and the resultant rioting in some townships where irresponsible people spread inflammatory rumours against certain nationalities. The operational order will be reviewed tomorrow,” read a statement from State House.

Within hours of the Zambia Army being deployed, peace was restored to the capital city and some foreign shops were re-opened on Thursday.

Soldiers on foot patrols and in pick-up trucks have continued patrolling the city.

The Zambia Army is rarely deployed in residential areas and its presence brings fear to most Zambians who tolerate Police officers and usually pelt them with stones during riots.

In Lilanda township, a group of soldiers in a pick-up truck where mobbed by slogan chanting residents while singing songs in praise of the army: ‘ama soldier besu……. Ama soldier besu’ (our soldiers….. our soldiers).

This was in contrast with events of the last three days when residents fought running battles with Police officers who were responding with teargas.
Some of the foreigners being housed by the Catholic Church

Burundians, Rwandese and Congolese refugees came to Zambia in the 1990s and thousands of them live in residential areas around Lusaka.

Most of them own retail shops and have integrated into Zambian society despite not taking up Zambian citizenship.

Despite the Rwandese being given an opportunity by the Zambian government to get citizenship, they have refused to get the Rwandese passport from their local embassy as a first step before getting Zambian citizenship, a process which is being spearheaded by the UNHCR.

Some Rwandese national have even adopted local Zambian names and they speak fluent Bemba and Nyanja, two of the most widely spoken languages in Lusaka.

In townships like Chawama, Burundians and Rwandese own more shops than Zambians.

Their business prowess has over the past decade become the backbone of the local economies in the slums of Lusaka.

It is this success in their retail business which has made these hardworking refugees to become enemies of some disgruntled elements in these areas, leading to false rumours of the foreigners being involved in the sale of human body parts.

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