VERNON Mwaanga has appealed to political leaders not to abandon dialogue. Mwaanga said these were not partisan issues.
“They are national issues. They should embrace it for the sake of mother Zambia and generations yet unborn. History will judge them harshly if they do not do so. My generation of leaders is slowly disappearing and sooner rather than later, we shall not be around to provide advice and institutional memory. This new generation of leaders has not done much, if anything, to look after freedom fighters, unlike in many other countries, but so be it. I will leave that for history to pass judgment. There are younger politicians who regard my generation of former leaders as an inconvenient nuisance. It is my hope that history will record and conclude that we deeply cared for our country and its people and I mean all the people,” he said.
Mwaanga said those who do not accept dialogue, do so at their own peril and that of their countries. He stated that it was beyond dispute that many areas of conflict in Zambia and Africa had to do with disputed elections, which lead to tensions, violence, conflicts and other open hostilities between and among participants. Mwaanga stated that it would be a horrendous mistake for political leaders to abandon dialogue.
“In this 21st century, there has been a recourse to dialogue among nations, leaders and people all over the world. I have been a passionate advocate of dialogue throughout my life and even during the struggle for independence. When I was regional secretary of UNIP for Choma and Namwala districts, I advocated dialogue between UNIP and ANC, which was the dominant party in Southern Province at the time. Because of my dialogue approach, there was very little violence between UNIP and the ANC in areas of my involvement,” he recalled. “I sat down and had dialogue with ANC leaders, to make it clear that they were not our enemies and vice versa and that our common enemy was British Colonialism and the then Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, which had been imposed on the African people of the three countries to support, promote and entrench white interests.”
Mwaanga stated that he had always been reminded of the old adage that there was no way in the history of the world that ended without some kind of dialogue.
“Two of the most unjust and brutal wars in modern history, which claimed so many innocent lives, took place in Korea and Vietnam. The Korean War produced an Armistice Agreement and the Vietnam War, ended after very difficult negotiations in Paris, between Dr Henry Kissinger of the United States of America and Lee Duc Tho of North Vietnam, both of whom were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I later served and developed a close personal relationship with Kissinger when both of us served as foreign ministers of our respective countries in the early 70s. North Korea and the US are talking about Peace and possible denuclearisation of North Korea and the Korean peninsula. Adversaries in South America have achieved peace and national reconciliation through dialogue, for the sake of their people,” he stated.
Mwaanga stated that as the Frontline States of Zambia, Tanzania, Botswana and later Nigeria, continued the onslaught against colonialism and apartheid, the famous Lusaka Manifesto on Southern Africa, drafted by Zambia and Tanzania was issued, where it was made clear that they preferred dialogue to armed struggle, but that if this failed, the commitment to the armed struggle remained firm and unshakable.
“This Manifesto was later endorsed and adopted the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the Non Aligned Movement. We wanted to give the disciples of Colonialism and apartheid, the option of dialogue and negotiation and save human lives. Subsequently, there was dialogue and negotiations between the Portuguese Colonialists and their colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, which led to the independence of these countries. There was dialogue and negotiations concerning the future of Zimbabwe between the British government, the illegal Ian Smith regime and the Nationalist leaders from ZANU and ZAPU. South West Africa (now Namibia) which was under South African occupation for a long time went through a process of dialogue with the leaders of SWAPO, which resulted in the independence of that country after the International Court of Justice at the Hague, ruled in favour of Zambia and Finland, who had asked the ICJ to rule that South Africa’s presence in South West Africa was illegal,” he said. “Even the hard-core apartheid oppressors had an option-less option, but to sit down and dialogue with the African National Congress and others and agree on a new Constitutional dispensation for the black majority, whom they had oppressed and imprisoned for a long time.”
Mwaanga stated that his involvement in the peace and dialogue processes on behalf of Zambia in Seychelles, Somalia, Sudan, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Guinea Bissau, Zimbabwe, the DRC and South Africa had convinced him that the only alternative to dialogue is dialogue.
He stated that those who do not accept dialogue do so at their own peril and that of their countries.
“In 1990 when we formed the MMD, with Arthur Wina, Frederick Chiluba, Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika, Andrew Kashita, Ephraim Chibwe, Levy Mwanawasa, Keli Walubita, Edith Nawakwi, Mbita Chitala, Kabunda Kayongo, Katele Kalumba, Sikota Wina, Princess Nakatindi-Wina, Tenthani Mwanza, Eric Silwamba, Vincent Malambo, Remmy Mushota, Elias Chipimo Sr, Newstead Zimba, Chitalu Sampa, Emmanuel Kasonde, Baldwin Nkumbula, Bennie Mwiinga and many others, we recognised that dialogue between us and the then powerful ruling party, UNIP, would be necessary and indispensable,” he stated.
“We approached our Church leaders and requested them to bring us together to genuinely discuss the future of our country and the need to revert our country back to multi party politics, which obtained between 1964 up to 1973 when Zambia became a one party state. The church leaders obliged and sooner rather than later a series of civil and respectful meetings were held between president Kenneth Kaunda and ourselves in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. President Kaunda, who was very powerful politically, put the country first and eventually agreed that we should have a National referendum to enable the people of Zambia decide whether the country should revert to multi party politics. It soon became evident that the people of Zambia would vote yes.”
He stated that Dr Kaunda then cancelled the referendum and asked the one party Parliament to amend article 4 of the Constitution of Zambia to allow other political parties to operate and compete freely without let or hindrance.
“After registering MMD as a political party on 4th January 1991, we then demanded that fresh general elections be held under the new amended constitution. This was also agreed and fresh Presidential and Parliamentary elections were held in October 1991,” he stated.
Mwaanga stated that out of the 150 Parliamentary seats, MMD won 125 seats and UNIP won 25.
“Frederick Chiluba won just over 74 per cent of the votes and president Kaunda won just over 24 per cent of the votes. Shortly after the overwhelming mandate which was given to the MMD by the people of Zambia, I had a very animated discussion with president Chiluba, where I proposed that we should call for a meeting of all registered political parties in Zambia and have a national dialogue,” he said. “This was agreed and a meeting was called, which took place at State House for two days. The government paid for all the transport costs and accommodation for all the participants. We recognised that although we had been given an overwhelming mandate by the people of Zambia, it was in the national interest to listen to other views and voices and begin to establish a relationship with other political players. It was our view that opposition parties were not our enemies, but mere political opponents whose views were equally important. Some of the decisions and recommendations of this meeting were passed on to the relevant government ministries for implementation. This meeting was a great success and it was to be the beginning dialogue which we then institutionalised, with the help of the Netherlands Institute for Multi Party Democracy.”
Mwaanga stated that this resulted in the establishment of the Zambia Center for Inter Party Dialogue. He stated that the centre functioned well with the chairmanship rotating among political parties represented in Parliament until 2011 when MMD lost power to PF, which was in any case not participating in the meetings. Mwaanga stated that the ZCID was moribund for many years. He stated that the importance of dialogue among political party leaders could not be and should not be over-emphasis, particularly in a country like Zambia whose democracy was still relatively young and evolving.
He stated that President Edgar Lungu and UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema met not so long ago under the watchful eye of Church leaders and agreed, among other things, that political dialogue must commence as soon as possible, which would be inclusive, for the sake of Zambia.
“I was excited about this development, but my excitement soon turned into disappointment and despair when I started seeing and hearing some flip flopping. The net result is that the promised dialogue on many of our national issues, such as amendments to the Constitution, amendments to the notorious public order Act, amendments to the electoral Act, commitment by all political players to zero tolerance to political violence, commitment by all to the rule of law, how to improve the economy, education and health systems, acceptance by all, that power is not permanent, that it is necessary for political parties to make a commitment that politics and elections are not war and how to improve space for the media, particularly the private media to operate freely and without interference, the impartiality of the public media, so that they give equal and fair access to all political players as happens in new countries like South Africa, among many other issues,” stated Mwaanga. “It is folly to sugar-coat the failures of dialogue and the leaders of Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga, have set a very good example of dialogue and national reconciliation. They meet regularly, eat and drink together and even attend each other’s birthdays. Wouldn’t it be nice to see our political leaders follow suit?”