By Isaac Mwanza
ZAMBIA is currently embroiled in the never-ending discussion on the national political dialogue process, a combination of words that became so famous after the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Right Hon Patricia Scotland, QC’s visit to Zambia from 7 to 10 August, 2017 although this dialogue had started as early as 2015 albeit on a small-scale among the youth from the various political parties. However, it is the failure of this current high-level dialogue to successfully take off that requires serious circumspection on what has or is going wrong.
In this first of 4 series of articles, I will define the disputed issues while in the second part attempts will be made to understand the parties to the dialogue process. In the third series, I will discuss the “failures” of the current leaders of the dialogue while the last article will propose a way forward.
Understanding the root of the conflict
What really are the disputed issues necessitating a national dialogue? First, it is important to understand a dispute as a class or kind of conflict which shows itself in distinct, justiciable issues and involves disagreements over issues capable of resolution by negotiation, mediation or third-party adjudication. The question as to whether a dispute exists, is highly relevant if the dispute is to be resolved by the means described earlier.
In our current context, the dispute seems to have arisen from the conduct of 2016 general elections under the amended Constitution of Zambia, the new electoral law, enforcement of the Public Order Act during the 2016 campaigns, and the violence witnessed in both the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) strongholds.
Later, when the presidential petition challenging the election of Republican President Edgar Chagwa Lungu could not be heard due to failure by advocates for the petitioners, namely, Hakainde Hichilema as presidential candidate and Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba, to prosecute the case within the constitutionally stipulated time, Mr. Hichilema took his frustrations to two more steps: he refused to recognise President Lungu as a legitimately elected authority and demonstrated his defiance on 5th April, 2017 by a highly risky undertaking of not giving way to the presidential motorcade when the two attended the Kuomboka traditional ceremony of the Lozi-speaking people in Lealui and Limulunga in Western province.
This incident as narrated above, led to the incarceration of Mr. Hichilema who was later released under a deal brokered by the Commonwealth.
Therefore, the dispute has largely been between the UPND leader, Mr. Hichilema and the Patriotic Front’s President and winner of the 2016 presidential election and current Republican President, Edgar Chagwa Lungu. Interestingly, the smaller parties seem to have found an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon on either side of the dispute to make it appear as if they are part and parcel of the original dispute.
It is easier for smaller political parties to find many reasons to justify sitting down with President Lungu and Hakainde Hichilema by making the dispute appear to be a lot larger than it actually is. An analogy can be drawn from a potential presidential candidate, Alex Muliokela, who continues to complain about his failure to take part in the 2016 election because, in his opinion, he was discriminated against by the Electoral Commission of Zambia due to what he considered exorbitant nomination fees.
However, Mr. Muliokela did not litigate his grievance through our courts nor did he undertake a public campaign of grievance.
Regardless, the dispute that has given rise to the never-ending talk of national dialogue is one that can broadly be classified as legal in nature and involves a complex of issues, from the constitutional and electoral, to the political and judicial. They key issues in this dispute are matters of law arising from the perceived defects in applicable laws, while other issues appear to arise from dissatisfaction with the decision of the Constitutional Court. There have also been issues raised as matters of fact in the enforcement of laws meant to keep law and order.
However, they may also be issues falling within what may be called the “iceberg” factor in the current dispute in which, initially, only the stated legal issues were apparent but where much more lurked below the surface.
For example, what does the UPND leader feel about how the failed PF-UPND alliance (popularly referred to as the PF – UPND Pact), could have been a stepping stone for ushering the late Michael Sata and the PF into power? Does he consider it a betrayal in that it left him on the side-lines and as an active participant in what would have been a power-sharing government? Questions have also been raised as to how the UPND general membership feel about the 20 years their party has unsuccessfully contested the presidential elections and yet, within 10 years of its formation, the PF took the reins of power?
Whatever the iceberg issues may be, the main issues in dispute require more of law reform than divine intervention. This process requires active leadership – from President Lungu, his administration, both the ruling and opposition parties with parliamentary representation – to redressing issues of the constitution, electoral laws, Public Order Act and general law reform using a bipartisan approach.
This article has defined the path that led to the current political conflict which necessitated the national political dialogue process. Having a proper understanding of the dispute and its implications is useful in assisting the nation to select, and if necessary to design a proper process most suitable for addressing these particular issues. The understanding of the current dispute also helps us to acquire a better insight into the parties’ motivations, aspirations and interests.
In developed democracies where politicians take their responsibilities seriously – as we have seen from US President Donald Trump’s Government shutdown – it is unheard of for responsible politicians to abdicate their responsibility of providing solutions to matters of governance and, instead, hand over their public responsibilities to a somewhat amorphous clergy who only claim divine appointment and divine intervention.
Surely God Himself had a reason for creating political leaders! When the children of Israel felt lost, they demanded that God should appoint a king for the nation of Israel, and we know that the King took over responsibility for managing the affairs of the nation out of the hands of the clergy and into his own.
The lesson here is that God Himself ordained that matters of government and governance, ought to be in the hands of politicians, which is why He appointed a King for Israel to put Israel on par with the surrounding heathen kingdoms. Politicians must therefore always be in the forefront in finding solutions to political problems. Finding solutions to political problems and governance issues arising therefrom, is squarely the task of politicians, not the clergy.
The views expressed in this article represent the views of the author and not necessarily the views of any institution the author may be affiliated to or this media