Government deports outspoken academic ahead of elections

Zimbabwe’s government has refused entry and deported British academic Professor Stephen Chan, accusing him of plotting to destabilise the country after the general elections on 23 August.

Days before, the government also deported South Africa’s Good Governance Africa CEO Chris Maroleng, together with a team of three researchers.

The deportation of Chan, who is a professor of world politics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and who has been an honorary professor at the universities of Zambia and Johannesburg, among others, arrived in the country a few days before the elections in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa was expected to face a stiff challenge from opposition leader Nelson Chamisa.

Opposition politicians have, however, accused the government of the killing and jailing of Chamisa’s party members, and the judiciary, police and state media of being biased.

Chan was deported after flying into Zimbabwe from neighbouring Zambia where the country’s president, Hakainde Hichilema, honoured him with Zambia’s Presidential Insignia of Meritorious Achievement in recognition of the community work he has carried out for 42 years in Zambia, driving community and youth upliftment through martial arts and building a sizeable national movement in the process. The award was announced in 2022.

Accusations against Chan

However, in the 21 August edition of The Herald newspaper, which reflects government thinking, a report said Chan had been arrested and deported for planning an insurrection. It also claimed that he was an adviser to opposition leader Chamisa.

“The well-known government critic and CCC [Citizen’s Coalition for Change] leader Mr Nelson Chamisa’s adviser, Professor Stephen Chan, who arrived yesterday in the country reportedly to train opposition insurgents, has been arrested and is expected to be deported,” the paper reported.

“The rabid government critic who is also a karate sensei and heads the Jindokai Karate and Kobudo Association arrived yesterday afternoon in the country on a flight from Zambia. He was seeking to be in the country as part of a broader plan by the opposition to trigger mayhem if the poll results are not in their favour.”

Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Information Permanent Secretary Nick Mangwana posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the country’s immigration department was not satisfied with Chan’s reasons for wanting to be in Zimbabwe. Mangwana, however, said that, even though he was denied entry, Chan was not arrested.

“[Government] wishes to confirm that British academic Dr Stephen Chan was refused entry into the country after the immigration officer was not satisfied with his reason for seeking entry which, he said, was for some karate-related activities. We confirm that he has not been arrested,” he said.

Contribution to democracy

Chan directed University World News to his response on X, or Twitter.

“I teach karate free of charge around the world, including annually in Zambia and Zimbabwe. But I cannot travel just when I like. I teach. Right now it is the UK university summer recess. I was happy it coincided with the elections. I have attended all but two of the Zim elections, including the one in 1980 in which I was deeply involved as an observer.

“So it’s become a tradition for me because I care for the future of the country and the future of democracy,” wrote Chan, who has published nearly 30 books that include Robert Mugabe: A life of power and violence, Kaunda and Southern Africa: Image and reality in foreign policy, and Citizen of Africa: Conversations with Morgan Tsvangirai.

“I actually wasn’t going to write a book about this one. If a few short tweets and short newspaper comments are destabilising the government, then the government must be weaker than it pretends to be,” he said.

Professor Ricky Mukonza of the Tshwane University of Technology in South Africa told University World News that the Zimbabwe government’s deportation of high-profile figures on the eve of an election taints the poll outcome.

“I think the ED [Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa]-led government is busy scoring its own goals by deporting people like Professor Chan and Good Governance Africa CEO Chris Maroleng. This will cause neutrals to ask questions on what the government could possibly be hiding that it is scared could be unearthed by academics and civil society leaders,” said Mukonza.

“They [the deportations] have the potential of tainting the outcome of the elections and if, indeed, they are confident of winning, this is just an unnecessary sideshow that they are creating.”

A profile published in The Conversation notes that Chan has done much for Africa and the higher education sector.

It said he was part of the Commonwealth Observer Group in Zimbabwe from January to March 1980 and pioneered election observation methodology that is still used today.

It also noted that he participated in the transition to independence of Zimbabwe, and the reconstruction of Uganda after the fall of Idi Amin, and also advised and trained government ministries in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Kenya.

Chan also established a consortium that trained the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately before and after independence in 1993. He was also part of a consortium that trained the parliamentarians and ministers of post-Derg Ethiopia from 1998-99.