Zambia’s President, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, has been hit by crisis after crisis since taking office in January this year, but his greatest shame is one entirely of his own making.
This in turn has reduced the confidence of the mining industry, which provided the Zambian government with a steady source of income for its plentiful copper deposits.
Amidst all of this anyone could be forgiven for missing the saga of rapper Clifford ‘General Kanene’ Dimba, but his story is made more noteworthy by Lungu’s remarks at the recent United Nations General Assembly.
Lungu spoke about his efforts to champion the fight against gender-based violence, which he claims affects more than a third of Zambian women, but he also chose to pardon a convicted child rapist earlier this year, and made him an ambassador on gender-based violence shortly thereafter.
The ambassador in question is Clifford Dimba, better known by the stage name General Kanene. Dimba was convicted in February 2014 for having sex with a girl aged just 14 and his 18-year prison sentence was confirmed in the country’s High Court in April.
Despite his conviction he was allowed out in March to perform at the country’s International Women’s Day celebrations, proclaiming himself a reformed character and attracting criticism from the national women’s rights movement.
However, the government-owned newspaper, the Zambia Daily Mail, reported that he had faced a crowd of ecstatic women and that few people had expressed concern at the choice of performer.
In 2015 a second Zambian rapper named Chama Fumba, commonly known as Pilato, wrote a scathing rap that, according to the authorities, suggested that Lungu was incompetent and a drunkard.
Fumba was summoned by police, charged for defaming the president (a crime which can result in three years in jail in Zambia) and later set free when the authorities decided not to proceed with the case.
Dimba however was not content to see the story end there. From prison he penned the track Ulemu, meaning ‘respect’, and released it to the world in June. His song relentlessly praised the President and his party and criticised Pilato for daring to speak out against his elders.
Lyrics from the song hail Lungu as “the Obama of Zambia”, laud his achievements in building hospitals and schools, include a tribute to the First Lady of Zambia and end with a reminder that Kanene was still in jail at the time of recording.
Shortly after this Lungu pardoned Dimba, bringing him out of prison and appointing him as one of the nation’s symbolic ambassadors on gender-based violence.
After about a week of freedom Dimba was hit by allegations that he had beaten one of his three wives for refusing to have sex with him.
Judith Mulenga, executive director of the Zambia Civic Education Association, spoke out against the pardon and contacted the nation’s Human Rights Commissioner, parole board and the local United Nations Development Program mission in early August to express her outrage and call for support. So far, none of these organisations have responded.
At this stage Dimba’s initial crime seems to have become a distant memory and Lungu’s decision a footnote in the story of Zambia.
The government-owned Zambia Daily Mail has since run a story on Dimba, but only to praise his performance at a recent gig, with no mention of his crime or the presidential pardon.
The paper reported that the crowd’s favourite section was another song praising the president, Satana tawakatekepo ichalo, in which Dimba speaks out against the supposed plans of the devil and compares Lungu to Jesus Christ.
Lungu, a qualified lawyer and former Minister of Justice for Zambia, did not just pardon a man who raped a young girl.
With his short-sighted decision and continued support for Dimba he has trampled on several Articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) including his obligation as head of State to discourage sexual violence against children, to rehabilitate victims and to put the best interest of children first in such cases.
These abuses should have been highlighted by the country’s Human Rights Commissioner as flagrant breaches of the CRC, but the Commissioner’s office has remained silent, and did not respond to requests for a comment on the matter.
Perhaps most importantly, Dimba’s pardon has forced the victim of his crime to live in the same community as him just one year after his conviction, rather than the 18 years he was sentenced to, or the minimum of 15 years the penal code stipulates.
The culture of victim-blaming, evident in Facebook discussions and comments on news articles where readers claimed Dimba was enticed by the victim, will also add to the confidence of those sexually abusing children, and will not be dissolved unless challenged at the highest levels.
If children who are victims of sexual abuse do not believe that their cases will be taken seriously or that their abusers will be punished they will be less likely to report cases, rendering robust sentences for these crimes obsolete.