Part of the huge crowd that attended a mega rally which was addressed by President Edgar Lungu at Kasama Golf Course to woo voters ahead of the August 11 general election in Kasama today. .-picture by Mary Bwembya (ZANIS)
FILE: Part of the huge crowd that attended a mega rally which was addressed by President Edgar Lungu at Kasama Golf Course to woo voters ahead of the August 11 general election in Kasama today. .-picture by Mary Bwembya (ZANIS)

A group of ordinary Zambian citizens gathered at Lusaka’s Kapingila house on Friday 29th June for an all too unusual reason – to examine the state of the nation. The public meeting, titled Kwatha which loosely translates to “no more!” or “enough is enough”, was designed to raise unaddressed issues that directly impact Zambian lives. The town-hall or indaba style conversation was an important step towards a more engaged public. It allowed citizens to make their views heard and to connect with others around common challenges and possible solutions. In doing so, it follows the direction of the Oasis Forum public discussion held at the same venue in March of this year. The gathering consisted of open discussion punctuated by musical calls to action from female Zambian musicians and community groups.

Events like this are an important expression of the power citizens have to improve our own lives by identifying issues and articulating solutions to implement in partnership with our elected representatives. Zambia’s citizens however, have a reputation for passiveness, often disguised as peacefulness: The individual approach to civic affairs so far has been to stay out of public life until an extreme situation calls for event-based action, such as the protests to curb over-extensions of presidential terms. and to leave more consistent oversight of national affairs to politicians, activists and donor partners. These discussions are a break from that trend, towards the ongoing community engagement that Zambia sorely needs. They are one way to put into action the ideal of democracy – government by the people, and they indicate a realization that governing requires more than casting a haphazard vote every few years. In a functioning democracy, the people exercise their power by remaining involved in all levels of government – contributing ideas, helping to implement them and holding officials to account on the nation’s interests and ideals.

Kwatha was organized by Zambian women and chaired by the Alliance for Community Action (ACA)’s Laura Miti, who emphasized the apolitical agenda of the discussion. “This meeting is a not a political meeting, it is open to every citizen in the nation who is tired of seeing Zambia not moving forward. Are we happy or not with the state of our nation?” Of note is the primacy of women in leading not only the event – organized and largely attended by women, with a fair showing of men and youth – but also in modelling civic voice for the rest of the country. NGOCC Chairperson Sara Longwe spoke early in the meeting about the important role women play in community life and leadership, and her reflections are borne out by recent examples of other notable women leaders speaking up and acting on issues of national concern, such as the former Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) President Linda Kasonde’s brave defense of judicial independence. and the spotlight on grand corruption shined by the Finance Intelligence Centre (FIC) led by Mary Tshuma.

Governance issues like those listed above perpetuate many of the development challenges the country is grappling with, requiring government and citizens alike to take corrective action. Poverty and unemployment, ignorance and disease, debt and corruption do not just disappear if ignored long enough, and nobody has the privilege of relying on others to solve them. The false distinction between government and citizens – the notion of “them” and “us – is eroded by civic engagement. In Ms. Miti’s words – “Change, in Zambia, will start with citizens articulating to each other why we need that change, then acting to achieve it.” Greater public participation does not however absolve public officials of their responsibilities, it should in fact heighten their accountability and sense of responsibility – “If Zambia is to go forward as a nation, the ones in authority should look at the problems of the less privileged before looking at the affairs of the ones on top.”

Friday’s discussion centered on service delivery and standards of living. Following introductions, attendees listed in turn the problems in their respective communities. Recurring concerns were water and sanitation issues and low quality of education and health facilities, with corruption identified as contributing to the breakdown of these services. Rising crime, partly related to the recent government crackdown on street vending cutting off many youthful traders’ incomes, was also highlighted as a community concern. The emerging theme that elected representatives and would-be representatives should take note of, was that Zambians want simply to live a safe and decent life, but this remains out of reach for the majority. Attendees also expressed an increased willingness to be involved in pursuing this goal, phrased by young contributors as coming together to devise solutions for communities and officials to take forward.

The emphasis on service delivery shines a spotlight on local government just as the Lusaka mayoral election ramps up – it will be interesting to hear what concrete plans candidates put forward to improve sanitation, schools and health facilities. It will also be interesting to see how Lusaka residents vote – in line with these concerns and our own best interest, or in patterns that incentivize detachment, failure and neglect from our representatives. Continued public dialogues such as the Kwatha meeting would indicate that Zambians are indeed finding our voice. Hopefully our votes and our actions will follow.

Muna Ngenda is an African Development strategist concerned with helping ‘the people’ exercise their power. His work focuses on transforming African economies through regional industry and re-creating African politics through civic education. He is a Chevening Scholar, a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science, and founder of Indaba Africa.

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30 COMMENTS

  1. Good effort. But it seems attendees were self-selecting. I have not been aware of the meeting yet I live in Lusaka. Anyway, I hope there will be more such meetings. PF govt obviously does not like this effort with its identification of corruption as one of the problems. Muna Ngenda, get ready to defend the Kwatha series of meetings from expected attacks by the PF and its surrogates. By now they are already sniffing around to establish how they can intimidate you.

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    • The meeting was advertised on social media during the FIC Report debacle though at short notice!!

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    • JayJay: No malice intended, social media is the closest thing you can get to a man-made universe. In other words it’s vast. So which site carried the advert, although it’s all in the past now?

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  2. But laura miti woman is politically alighed to upnd. So this was a political meeting fully sponsored by off shore hiden money. Yes, pf & edgar lungu are not taking the country anywhere, just like Sata, Rupia, mwanawasa & kafupi before. And thats the approach in zambia, pipo like this loud miti woman just mobilise for their own benefit. Just watch this space, soon we will all hear that she is standing for this position. Just wait – thats the only solution to the countries problems that she is mobizing for. Watch the space

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    • Vipuku: Zambia’s problems cannot be solved by one presidency but a series of presidencies that do good. Politics is the only means to address collective issues. From politics, governments emerge and it is only governments that have authority and power to tax citizens and spend the money on public goods. But the money so collected has to be spent properly. Have I convinced you?

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    • If Ms Miti wants to become president and she can do better than these guys right now then let it be so. I take my hat off for her because she is doing something about it….not standing in bars and just talking and talking over bottles of beer…

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  3. WAIT A MINUTE. SOMETHING IS SINISTER HERE. FIRST, WHY ARE WE BEING SHOWN AN OLD PICTURE OF A MAMMOTH RALLY THAT WAS HELD TWO YEARS AGO AND ADDRESSED BY ECL? LET THE KWATHA SHOW THEIR OWN PICTURES. SECONDLY, LAURA , LONGWE AND KASONDE ARE ALL KNOWN UPND SYMPATHIZERS. SO THIS IS BASICALLY A POLITICAL RALLY OF UPND IN DISGUISE OR COULD IT BE THE BIRTH OF ANOTHER POLITICAL PARTY? YES MEETINGS OF NON-POLITICAL PERSONS TO DISCUSS MATTERS AFFECTING THEM ARE IMPORTANT. BUT NOT IN THIS WAY, DENTED WITH POLITICAL STAINS.

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    • Chisenga: I thought UPND was a Tonga party! Kapingila House is a Catholic property. They went there because ECL would not have authorised the meeting.

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  4. KWATHA you will be attacked as UPND as seen already from some rats above.

    mention corruption and poor service delivery and that is the end of you.

    Sing how nice the roads being built are and you will be ok….

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  5. So the meeting was organised by Lora Miti??? Then it’s self serving and rub.bish!! Then it’s better Zambians remain peaceful, passive, or even docile as h.h would claim after coming from mukobeko.
    Look people, I keep telling you that there is no alternative option for President of Zambia at the moment. I am not saying that President Lungu is good or best, no, all that I am saying is that if Lungu is bad, h.h is much worse than bad and he has shown us countless times. When the messiah of Zambia comes, we will rally behind him. He could be already among us such as the responsible politician Peter Sinkamba or is yet to come out in the open. When he comes he will demand unity of all Zambians. So he is delayed because some people want their tribesmate from Namwala.

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    • Hh is a sucsesfull bussiness man in his own right, lungu lead a failing law practice, HH has no prior convictions , lungu lost his law licence because of fraud….lungu is failing with Zambias economy and moral compass , HH has businesses thriving…how can you say HH is worse ? Because lungu looks humble ?

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  6. When h.h leaves the political scene, half Zambia’s problems will have been solved. As long as he is the opposition leader, people will continue to expend their energies fearing and fighting his tribalism, which they see, and rightly so, as a much worse evil than the country’s other challenges. The logic that “My enemy’s enemy is my friend then applies”. It’s as simple as that.

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    • UPND Cadre: I have spent some time reading about nation-building, especially post-colonial nation-building. Post-colonial states as geo-political entities were put together by western empire-builders. Communities that had hitherto little in common by way of language or living in close proximity were brought together and expected to somehow learn to live in harmony without teaching them how to go about it. What we Zambians call tribalism is in fact language chauvinism in most cases and is part of learning how to cope with difference or diversity. Your solution to the problem appears to be close to killing all Tongas for sake of the PF but you cleverly limit it HH’s exit from politics.

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    • What cader fails to tell us is why was Zambias economy and moral and integral compass excelling under PLM even if HH was still a leading opposition figure ?

      It seems to this cader that the corruption, violence and moral rot under lungu are the fault of HH ?

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    • UPND CADRE…That tribalism you keep preaching about is in yr head baba. Stop the hate!!

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  7. You @upnd cadre, HH has been there with other presidents; and we have not had the violence and corruption and evil that your PF has brought in Zambia; the economy is failing too; be objective my friend;

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  8. Vipuku,it seems you don’t follow the Zambian economic and political trends.The development you are seeing now were started by the first mmd government under Dr Chiluba,although it disturbed by fat john whose agenda was vengeance.Then came MCS,being a minister in the first government, put the programs into action.The country has been opened.It took weeks to access Malabo,but today its a matter of a day and you call that “not taking the no where” Be reasonable please when commenting on national issues! Yes, there is too much corruption and nepotism these were imitated by fat john.In fact, he institutionalised them.Look at the way FTJC was been prosecuted, friends we’re engaged as prosecutors, workers rights were surpressed!Then RUBA matured these and is now the player coach of the…

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  9. When ECL came to power, the door to plot 1 for the Longwes, Mitis, Mmembes etc closed and this group put their support behind hh in the understanding hh will revive the “cordial” relationship and leverage the NGOs enjoyed under Mwanawasa. The truth is they are complaining the loudest not because they care for Zambians but because they lost that leverage. Besides you can’t have the same people at these NGOs since 1996 (over 20 years!!!), what about the new generation of leaders at these NGOs????

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    • Stop lying the Longwes, Mitis, Mmembes etc can not hold 15 million Zambians to ransom against their will.

      15 million Zambians don’t need lungu to close the door to plot 1 to anyone they don’t want….

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    • Mwanawasa did nothing for the NGOs. He left them alone to strut their stuff, including insulting him.

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  10. sad reads to learn we still have Zambians claiming to be learned and discussing off limits topics.The writer has put up a fourth right topic. I don’t understand why some citizens can be this dull to bringup tribal topics. All pure hate and illiteracy it tells. Bravo and keep up blogger 9,8,2.1!!! you are well versed,you read and analyse write-ups.

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    • You are the same people who claim there is no corruption with lungu , or who claim people are not being attacked and maimed for not belonging to PF ….then when people tell the outside world ati “…you are ati Zambian” !.

      Get your head out of the sand. The levels of political violence, corruption, tribalisim, nepotisim and stealing under lungu are unpresidented.

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  11. This is a start.
    Remember the Garden House motel that ushered in MMD, after Zedians had become exhausted with Super Ken’s Autocratic One Party Wamuyaya participatory democracy.
    Finally Zedians are beginning to see the light, & call out these P.F crooks for what they are.

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  12. Zambian Citizen: When did Mmembe become HH’s supporter, a man he called a bantustan leader? Mmembe runs his own party in case your memory is failing. Laura Miti as far as I know, has never sought political office and isn’t seeking it now. She’s at home in the NGO world but she just wants a working govt. I know Sarah Longwe to have been active politically in PF. She had even applied to stand for parliament on PF ticket in 2011. ECL isn’t PF unless you have made it so. If it is, it will go with him then. If it isn’t, Longwe can still continue her politics in PF even without ECL.

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  13. The British colony of India included what are now three separate countries and these are India itself, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Soon after Britain’s granting of independence in 1947 the country broke into two; West Pakistan, India and East Pakistan. East and West Pakistan were run as one country and as a predominantly Moslem state. India in the middle remained alone as a predominantly Hindu state. But the love affair did not last even among he Moslem states as East Pakistan broke away in 1971 and renamed itself Bangladesh and West Pakistan became simply Pakistan. The British colony of Malay included today’s Malaysia and Singapore. They broke up in 1963 for racial and religious reasons.

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    • I have made above point to illustrate that post-colonial nations have been known to break up if some communities perceive a state-sponsored injustice against them. It doesn’t matter whether the constitution says “this is a unitary indivisible state blah, blah…..”. These are just words. Even older nations face this problem as any person who is well-informed about this issue knows that there are secessionist parties in Spain (Catalonia and Basque), the UK (Scotland and Wales), Canada (Quebec), France (Corsica), Italy (Northern League).

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  14. This is a good start but you also need to invite the politicians so that they see for themselves how fed up zambians are although I doubt any of them will be brave enough to attend.

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  15. Anyone who does not appreciate govt of the day is undemocratic and fails the test of condemning democratically elected leadership of ECL. Laura Miti, NGOCC and civil society organisations ganged against the Referendum on Bill of Rights. Sine when did HH prove to be democrat or served society? just wait for a real dictator to rule this country then ECL will be a toy. Mwanawasa introduced witch hunting and reduced the office of former presidents to allegations of corruption. He introduced bantu botatwe in govt.

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    • Deluxemwansa: Mwanawasa introduced no bantu botatwe in govt and he never won elections in Southern province except Namwala where Bates Namuyamba was MP. Namwala is the place where Mwanawasa’s father used to own some retail business for a long time. In fact when he died he was resident in Southern province. Mwanawasa’s cabinet had representation from all provinces, i repeat, all provinces. But that is what you mean as bantu botatwe. Sad really. I know how what UNIP and KK did in the late 1960s has caused all these problems of tribal discrimination.

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