VETERAN politician Vernon Mwaanga says those in power today will also need protection tomorrow when they are no longer in power. Mwaanga said it was unfortunate that the country had witnessed shrinking space for the independent media and the result had been a constipating menu of government media publications and ZNBC, which only tow the government or party line for those in power at any given time. He said this was dangerous even to those in power because there were many constructive views of citizens out there, which were not being reported for fear by journalists of retribution and punishment.
Mwaanga said freedom of the press was healthy in any democracy, provided journalists reported truthfully and accurately. He said press freedom in Zambia was in retreat and being suffocated by the government media, which reports mainly what its masters want them to report.
“I have been editor-in-chief of the Times of Zambia, when it was an independent newspaper and have served a few times as minister of information and broadcasting services and I know what I am talking about. Freedom of the press is paramount in protecting the rights of citizens, which are guaranteed in the Constitution of Zambia. Those in power today, will also need this protection tomorrow when they are no longer in power,” he said.
And Mwaanga said Zambia had been a peaceful country since independence in 1964, because of the firm culture of non-violence laid down by the founding fathers of the country.
“During and after the one party system of government which ended in 1991, we experienced some instances of political violence, which were firmly dealt with by the leaders. One practical example which lives on in my mind, was a statement by president Levy Mwanawasa in 2002. He was very categorical in warning perpetrators of political violence from his own party MMD and other parties, by stating that ‘whether you are a member of MMD or any other party, don’t expect me to protect you, if you get involved in violence. I will let the law take its course’. A few members of MMD who committed violence against members of other parties, were promptly arrested by the police, appeared in court and in some cases sent to prison,” he recalled. “This sent a strong message all round that violence in whatever form or shape and by whoever, would not be tolerated. The result is that the country went through a sustained period of peace, free of any political violence. Ordinary citizens were able to go about their business in an environment of peace and tranquility.”
Mwaanga said in the last few years, political violence had shown its ugly head and there appeared to be a reluctance on the part of the police to deal with it firmly, regardless of political affiliation.
“If any, opposition members, have been at the receiving end of police action. Members of the ruling party have been treated with kid gloves. This is unacceptable and must stop. All perpetrators of violence must be treated equally. The laws of Zambia, do not discriminate at all and must be applied equally, regardless of political affiliation,” he said. “Violence is an enemy of democracy and should have no place in our country. Violence was in evidence during the last local government by-elections and has been in evidence in the Chilanga parliamentary by-election. It is my submission that you cannot hold free and fair elections in an atmosphere of political violence. The Electoral Commission of Zambia, has a duty to ensure that the police do their duty freely and without political interference from their political masters.”
On dialogue, Mwaanga said the debate became more pronounced and was institutionalised after the MMD came to power in 1991. He said there was recognition by the MMD leadership at the time that although they had received an overwhelming mandate to govern the country, having won 125 parliamentary seats out of 150 and the presidential candidate 74 per cent of the votes, it was necessary to dialogue. Mwaanga said there was need in a democratic institution to consult other stakeholders and take their views into account in the government decision making process.
“This served our country well and it was not unusual for the President of the Republic of Zambia, to meet on a one to one basis with presidents of other political parties. It was our view, that this was healthy for our nascent democracy,” he said.
Mwaanga said he had not heard of the Republican president, meeting the president of the main opposition party since 2011 when MMD lost power.
“ZCID which was a brain child of the MMD, became moribund, until very recently, when it surfaced to take an active role in the Commonwealth Dialogue Process, which was being promoted by the Commonwealth Secretary General Ms Patricia Scotland, through its dialogue envoy Prof Ibrahim Gambari, an astute Nigerian academic and diplomat. Suddenly ZCID took centre stage and literally overthrew the Commonwealth, which had painstakingly, and done so much groundwork and conducted very extensive consultations with a broad section of stakeholders,” he said
Mwaanga urged political leaders to put the interests of the country first and not their personal appetite for power. He said Zambia was bigger and greater than all of them.
“They should show maturity and leadership, because our country faces many political, constitutional, economic, unemployment, poverty, corruption social and development problems, which are in dire need of a lasting solution. Pettiness and narrow mindedness is not the route to take. History will not judge them kindly, if they fail to find solutions to the country’s problems,” said Mwaanga.
“I am extremely disappointed that political dialogue has taken so long to get going and that the parties directly concerned, have been flip flopping on who should lead the dialogue process, which was initiated by the Commonwealth envoy Prof Ibrahim Gambari. I hope this matter has now been settled once and for all, that the three church mother bodies will now finally lead this process, which is critically important for the future of our country. There are many serious issues which have been pending for far too long, which urgently require to be discussed and resolved, well ahead of the 2021 general elections, such as the reconstitution of the Constitutional Court, restoration of the rule of law, electoral reforms, political and election violence, finalisation of the Constitution of Zambia of 2016, which must address more representation of women in Parliament and local councils, the need for continuous political dialogue, elimination of the culture of hatred among politicians, reaffirmation of the national motto of One Zambia, One Nation and non-discrimination in government and parastatal appointments, government’s duty to take development to all parts of Zambia, clear separation of church and state, falling standards of education in our country, corruption, qualifications for the Speaker of the National Assembly, among other burning issues.”