Apart from a few cosmetic changes, here and there, I do not see much legally wrong with the new National Dialogue (Constitution, Electoral Process, Public Order and Political Parties) Bill. The only issue I have with this whole thing, however, is the fact it seeks to legislate dialogue without giving the key players the opportunity to have political dialogue first. President Lungu has not done much dialogue with the political and civil players. He cannot create a short cut by legislating dialogue without first using the dialogue capital he has. The National Dialogue Bill must be deferred for now until the President has met with key stakeholders in the nation such as the church, opposition political parties, the leader of Zambia’s largest party and several other key sectors. It is not acceptable for the Patriotic Front to ram a bill through Parliament and achieve legal legitimacy without political legitimacy. Any constitution-making process is a political process first, before it comes a legal process.
At a political rally recently, President Lungu danced hysterically when a speaker referred to the president as the person with “Akasaka ka ndalama” (someone with a pot of money). The interpretation of what that saying meant or what it was referring to exactly is difficult to pin down. Some suggest that the Akasaka was referring to President Lungu’s sudden rise from rags to riches. He is believed to be one of the wealthiest Zambians having invested in real estate and several other investments. The president even has land in the Kingdom of eSwatini. There is another theory of what Akasaka meant; some argue that as President, he has access to state resources which he can channel towards development. It, being a rally, where the Akasaka hysterics happened, seems that the speaker was enticing the poor voters to elect President Lungu’s mayoral candidate since the president has access to the national purse and he can easily bring development to the people.
I find the second explanation both plausible and possible. President Lungu has Akasaka. He is the executive head of our Republic, and his policies can channel funds to particular causes and “development”.
Within the context of national and political dialogue, we must stress that the President has another Akasaka. Now that our peoples are debating and considering tweaking and fine-tuning our constitution, it is essential for the president to think about the role he can play to bring about real change.
The President of Zambia must negotiate in good faith and show that he is willing to dialogue with all Zambians during the fine-tuning of the Constitution. Constitution 2016 requires some fine-tuning and tweaking as various articles need attention. However, to do this, the peoples of Zambia must dialogue. There is no one to lead this dialogue apart from the President himself. He is the one with the Akasaka. Just as he jumped up and down hysterically showing the rally attendees that he indeed has Akasaka ka ndalama, the president must jump up and down hysterically to the idea that he has the Akasaka of dialogue.
Here then is how he can deal with the dialogue. First, President Lungu must suspend any further deliberations in Parliament regarding the Dialogue Bill. It makes no sense to debate dialogue, when the President has not dialogued with the people that matter. Second, the President must take the initiative to speak with Mr Hakainde Hichilema. The leaders of the two biggest political parties should meet and discuss all outstanding matters in an atmosphere of frankness and neutrality. This is not to say that dialogue must take place at all costs, but to say that the President must make reasonable effort to initiate this dialogue.
Third, dialogue must take place between the government and the church groupings and civil society. The church and civil society are concerned at the Dialogue Bill for reasons very similar to the ones I have stated above. The president appears unwilling to talk to the church and CSOs, but the Bill seems to somehow include the church and CSOs in the legislated Dialogue Forum. This does not seem right. Before any process to make dialogue legal, the President must first make it political, that is he must first speak and dialogue with the church and CSOs. Fourth, all stakeholders in Zambia must be open to free dialogue. Dialogue does not just go one way. It is in two ways. However, this dialogue cannot be forced upon the people. Once the pre-requisite is done, it would be effortless to pass and debate the National Dialogue Bill.
Constitution making or constitutional fine-tuning takes more than just legal processes. For the country not to repeat mistakes of the past, it is crucial to prioritise dialogue as a pre-requisite to everything else. Once the political dialogue has taken place, it would be much easier for the legislation to go through and for Zambia to herald a new dawn.
Elias Munshya is a Zambian based in Alberta, Canada and practices law at the law firm of MUNSHYA LAW. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org/SM