By Jones K. Kasonso
The Commonwealth brokered a deal to secure the freedom of opposition leader UPND President Hakainde Hichilema from captivity and identified political dialogue as a blueprint for diffusing tensions and helping to create civility in our politics. In the past week, an envoy of the Commonwealth, Professor Gambari, was in the country to meet the discordant parties and create a plan on how they might proceed with the proverbial dialogue from 2018 onward. However, the institution of political dialogue by the Commonwealth in our motherland for the first time since the founding of our republic should stimulate our curiosity. It should invite us to evaluate the deficit of leadership and political skills needed to handle the challenges of a political democracy with various stakeholders. I have my doubts as to whether anything constructive can come out of these talks and would characterize this effort as whimsical at best.
Perhaps, it would be judicious to accentuate the nature of political dialogue. According to the dictionary.com, the word dialogue refers to “an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue, especially a political or religious issue, with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement.” In this definition, there are three essential elements to any constructive and fruitful dialogue. First, there must be a legitimate political issue as a critical bone of contention. Second, there must be pre-existing divergent ideas or opinions on a matter of common interest. Third, there should be intentional goal congruence underpinning the probability of reaching an amicable agreement or settlement. In this conceptual article, I present a brief discussion on the bone of contention between the PF and UPND, the object of common interest, the premise for goal congruence, and conclude with the way forward.
The Bone of Contention
Framing the legitimate political issue in Zambia is like looking at a two-sided coin. On the one side is the PF government seeking legitimacy and recognition by the opposition as the bona fide elected government of the Republic of Zambia. On the other hand, the opposition points to the lack of justice in the manner in which the PF claimed electoral victory and continues to imprison and persecute opposition members as delegitimatizing deeds.
There is a need to objectively dissect this bone of contention to find an acceptable solution to both parties. Scholars of liberal democratic political philosophy have deployed different theories of objectivity in their attempts to lay down the premise for political dialogue that leads to acceptable deductions of the nature of justice, or about what constitutes justice in any given society.
According to the political and social philosopher, Kevin M. Graham, the nature of justice or the existence of injustice can be said to be objective if they appeal to the one, true theory of justice: that is, the theory of justice which would be accepted by an emotionally detached and rationally distanced observer, or the theory of justice which is valid independent of any particular observer’s perspective or interpretation. Consequently, the fact that the election petition by the opposition has not been heard in our courts points to a legitimate claim of injustice.
Whereas in the recent past we have seen a succession of court cases involving different opposition figures being dropped out of our court systems without dialogue, it is possible that by the time the ‘dialogue’ begins the only remaining issue might be the election petition. Given these are matters involving a critical division of government, namely the judiciary, I wonder if the arbitration of a disputed election stuck in the court system does not undermine the sovereignty of the nation.
The Object of Common Interest
The object of common interest is power. As contestants in the last elections, both the PF and the UPND came with equally credible ambitions to attain political power. However, they have very different ideas and concepts of government. A UPND government would look very different from the current PF administration. On the significant event of election results, the PF wants the UPND to believe that they lost fair and square.
However, the UPND believes the PF lost the election and cheated in order to cross the line and declare themselves winners. It was commendable that the opposition did not to resort to any unconstitutional methods to assert their dissent. Instead, they went to the constitutional court as provided for under the constitution of Zambia. Alas! Even through that door of justice, they came back with a bounced check as their petition was neither heard nor disposed of to date. Thereafter, the opposition sought to be heard in the High Court. The much despised UPND petition and the lack of recognition of the current President by the opposition therefore is the bone of contention in this dialogue.
Premise for Goal Congruence
The most significant challenge for those attempting to foster political dialogue in Zambia will be to achieve goal congruence. The concept of goal congruence points to creating a premise on which the goals of individual constituents can be aligned with the goals of the project or organization. For goal congruence to be achieved everyone in the group needs to be paddling in the same direction. In practice, that process gets tough when you start to set up evaluation criteria for constituents. In this context, the goals of the PF and the goals of the UPND will need to be harmonized for the good of Zambia.
Notwithstanding, the maneuvers of the PF around the UPND petition and their constant resistance to having the UPND petition disposed of in court, gives credence to the notion that the petition is credible, or contains something that would seriously call into question the legitimacy of the Edgar Lungu presidency. Therefore, it can be concluded that if the petition has a high probability of leading to the nullification of the Lungu victory, then PF losses power.
This is anathema to PF goals. This might also explain the PF’s incessant demands for the petition to be withdrawn from the courts as a precursor to the talks. But talks without resolution of this critical bone of contention would be meaningless. It is the potential but undesirable outcome of the UPND petition which magnifies the stalemate in the quest for political dialogue with the PF.
Conversely, there are no principles or theories of natural justice on which we could base the demand to preclude aggrieved citizens from seeking redress and adjudication of their grievances in our courts. Therefore, it is the bone of contention, the object of common interest and a non-existent premise for reaching an amicable agreement or settlement in this conundrum that can help us to predict with reasonable certainty that the so-called dialogue between PF and UPND is a fantasy that will not achieve much in the final analysis.
The Way Forward
Whereas expecting the political dialogue instituted by the Commonwealth to resolve pre-existing political issues in Zambia remains whimsical, it’s a helpful institution for the opposition parties in Zambia by preventing the nation from descending into a full-fledged dictatorship. The opposition should use this platform to bring to the limelight the police brutality and political prosecutions that have become the mainstay and political strategy of the Edgar Lungu administration. We could see the glimmer of hope from the institution of this process that political activity has now started in Zambia again.
It appears people are able to hold political gatherings despite the second-grade state of emergency in place. It seems to me that the process is designed more to babysit the Lungu administration in weaning it off the breast of dictatorship. On the other hand, the Lungu administration would not need this institution if they were mature, secure, and perceived to have capacity in their mandate to provide a level playing field for all citizens from all parts of Zambia to exercise their rights and freedoms in their land.
The institution of political dialogue by the Commonwealth for the first time since the founding of our republic is a testament to the lack of political savvy and governing skills to handle the challenges of a political democracy with various stakeholders. In other words, the international community has zero confidence in the leadership and negotiating skills of Mr. Edgar Lungu as President of our Country. They see an excellent opportunity to tag along and fill up the deficit of wisdom from the global community.
The president needs wisdom and curiosity to understand the political issues in the world around him.
The President need not have a PhD, but he surely needs expert advisers, not uneducated drinking buddies. I respectfully disagree with Ms. Mumbi Phiri’s declaration that one year of studying bacteria through medical equipment plus one year of practicals are sufficient qualifications to be political adviser to the President. Please, indulge me and imagine that the President’s political advisor, Kaizer Zulu, a former civil servant, was a university professor with a PhD in public administration or political science. We would not have the Commonwealth babysitting the PF government. We have an embarrassment of academic and political nonentities as advisers to a non-reading President.
A timely warning to our President: even a babysitter can pinch. The President and his group need to have candor in these engagements and demonstrate that they are studying and growing in their grasp of governance issues. A failure to take these meetings seriously could have consequences, including sanctions. The Commonwealth has many tools available at their disposal ranging from crippling sanctions to travel bans for a President who likes to travel every week. In my mother’s village, they taught us that ukukwebele infwa yakwa noko mutanshi. The freedoms of assembly, speech, association and economic prosperity are critical to the politics of 21st Century Zambia.
The author is a Zambian, An Accounting Professor in Washington DC and Dubai and holds Ph.D., CPA, CGMA, MBA, BSc., NATech qualifications.