(GIN) – A fire of unknown origins raced through the largest outdoor market in Zambia, destroying the livelihood of its many vendors.
Goods worth millions of kwacha – the Zambian currency – have gone up in flames.
Images on social media show how the fire which began July 4 and was barely extinguished by July 7 destroyed the Lusaka market.
The market was built a decade ago with a designated police post as well as day and night guards. It is also said to be a facility that prohibits cooking and fire inside the market.
Reacting to the catastrophe, Zambian President Edgar Lungu blamed arsonists and economic saboteurs who will be found out, he warned, wherever they are hiding.
But the President’s words were cold comfort for many Zambians who fear the country is sliding into dictatorship. They cite a series of incidents including the jailing of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, the suspension of 48 members of parliament for boycotting a speech by Mr. Lungu, and the imposition of a state of emergency over the apparent arson attack.
A Zambian professor, writing in the online UKZambian, wondered if 53 years of peace since independence in 1964 could be coming to an end. “Creating a nation of peace and tranquility is not easy,” noted Mwizenge S. Tempo in the news website.
“When I saw the images of the massive fire in which 1,901 shops were destroyed, I was alarmed,” he wrote, adding that since August 2016 there have been over 10 such incidents with fires gutting public building and vandalism. “I am both stunned and fearful about my home and country of Zambia. Could this be the end of peace in Zambia after 53 years?”
In BusinessLive of Zambia, writer Greg Mills condemned the arrest and jailing of Mr. Hichilema on treason charges. Critics of President Lungu are “systematically being silenced”, he charged. This “stop-at-nothing government” has closed the major opposition paper, The Post, shut down opposition rallies and constricted access to the state broadcaster, he declared.
Mills heads the Brenthurst Foundation, and is the co-author of ‘Making Africa Work: A Handbook for Economic Success’.