No, that’s not our President condemning the critical voices of media. That troubling phrase was deployed by Zambian President Edgar Lungu, complaining about local coverage of the plunder of valuable, increasingly scarce Mukula rosewood trees – and hence, the destruction of Zambia’s vulnerable forests.
President Lungu was particularly incensed by a report naming the President himself, his daughter, Tasila, and several high-ranking ministers for allegedly trafficking the rare and valuable rosewood to eager buyers in China.
Authors of the “Mukula Cartel” – the UK- and US-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) – estimate the illegal trade generates around $7.5 million in bribes and “informal fees” per year.
“If not dismantled, this Mukula Cartel has the power to derail the international protection recently granted to the rare African trees,” warned the EIA. “At the current rate of exploitation, the rosewood species may soon be extinct.”
As the Zambian leader was making an appearance at the recent Climate Summit in Madrid, Zambians at home were devouring news of the so-called Mukula Cartel.
“Mukula Cartel is Fake News,” the President protested. Scolding reporters, he ordered them to “return to professional reporting.”
Illicit and unsustainable harvesting of this precious timber has led to the destruction of Zambian forests, with environmental activists and the international community warning of a looming extinction.
Zambia’s deforestation rate is the highest in Africa and fifth globally, with an average loss of between 250,000 and 300,000 hectares of forest every year, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
Presidential spokesman Isaac Chipampe also struck back at the charges, repeating the president’s claim that the country “is being polluted daily with lies that have the potential to endanger peace in the country.”
But Rueben Lifuka, president of Transparency International Zambia said: “It is imperative that the claims made in this report are investigated by multiple agencies and offices… the sale of Zambia’s natural resources benefits only a few people at the highest level of the government.”
Meanwhile, Zambian hip hop singer and recording artist Pilato remains behind bars since his arrest after arriving at Kenneth Kaunda Airport in Lusaka last May. He had fled the country in January over death threats regarding his latest song Koswe Mumpoto (rat in the pot) which the President’s party, the Patriotic Front, considered insulting.
An “urgent action” campaign to release Pilato (real name Fumba Chama) can be found at Amnesty.org – the website of Amnesty International. The name Pilato written as PilAto is an acronym for “People in Lyrical Arena Taking Over.”