By Fred Mutesa (PhD)
It is increasingly looking like we have got it wrong with the Grade 12 certificate clause for aspiring local government and parliamentary candidates in our newly amended constitution. First, it was the ruling PF that extended the deadline for the submission of applications for aspiring candidates. Next, the opposition UPND has followed suit.
None of the parties will admit that they face a challenge of finding suitable candidates, particularly in rural constituencies. I think it is time to shed the pretense. Word has it that it is a real challenge for everyone. No doubt, the intention of asking for Grade 12 certificates was well meant, but the practicality of it is turning out to be a nightmare.
I think we worked on false assumptions in making the submission. Firstly, we equated poor performance of the legislature with low education levels, an assumption not backed by any well researched evidence. Secondly, we assumed that we have attained universal twelve year basic education for every eligible person.
We did not reckon with the uneven distribution of educational infrastructure in the country that has promoted urban-bias. Everyone with a certificate of sorts follows the bright lights of the city where they expect to find a job and live the good life.
When Chishimba Kambwili raised the alarm about the discriminatory nature of this clause, his voice was drowned by the chorus of naysayers. Yet, with hind sight, we should admit that we clearly did not seriously think through the implications of what we were asking for.
Our parliamentarians, of course, bear the greatest blame for their failure to analyse and debate the implications of what they were about to adopt. Some of them have since fallen victim to their inability to interrogate the clause. However, I think we collectively as society should share the blame for the quandary we find ourselves in.
What we did, was to essentially surrender to elitism. We blame the ills in the way we govern ourselves to lack of education. In truth, we know that corruption, for instance, is a vice common among the educated and uneducated alike. It is only a matter of degree. The same goes for integrity or its absence.
The lesson from this debacle is that we are not yet ready to demand the grade twelve qualification from our aspiring candidates. Apart from the evident impracticality of the requirement that all political parties are beginning to discover, it is also a moral affront. We are essentially saying the uneducated majority’s duty is to vote for the elites to govern them and have no right to aspire to lead. This is undemocratic and can only widen the already glaring social inequalities in our society.
It is not too late to revisit this clause and amend it appropriately. I am therefore in support of minister Kaingu’s call for a stakeholder meeting to discuss this matter. It is urgent that this be done quickly before parliament is dissolved and without disrupting the work-schedule outlined by the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ).
I know I am inviting the ire of those who believe that only the elites should govern, but it is important to take a principled stand.
President, Zambians for Empowerment and Development (ZED)