Ukuteke mbwa mano. Consensus is the mother of all constitutional reform. You cannot walk through the corridors of arrogance and expect to come out with a polished constitution. That which we lack through common sense courtesy cannot be compensated by force and arrogance. What President Lungu and his Cabinet have done regarding the so-called dialogue forum proves one thing and one thing only: that this is a government of the arrogant who care very little about consensus and about common sense. The dialogue forum makes no sense, and it cannot be justified at the moment. The reason why the dialogue forum makes no sense is really not about whether a dialogue forum on its own is justifiable, but rather that by pushing on with a dialogue forum in this arrogant manner, the Patriotic Front government undermines the very values that Zambia must promote.
This dialogue forum has completely ignored and sidelined Mr Hakainde Hichilema, the leader of Zambia’s largest opposition party. President Lungu cannot in good faith claim to have a dialogue forum while at the same time completely ignoring a leading political player. It does not make sense that President Lungu has filled the Mulungushi Conference Centre with nashalaneka political parties while failing to negotiate in good faith with leading political parties. Without some consensus, the current dialogue forum and all its results will not be considered to be legitimate by the majority of Zambians. Legitimacy is the bedrock of any constitution-making or amending process.
The dialogue forum has wholly sidelined the central church mother bodies. Instead, President Lungu and his Cabinet have found some consolation in little known church groups. I have on several occasions reprimanded the three big church mother bodies when they take some stances, I have found objectionable. But criticising the three mother bodies is not the same as what President Lungu has done here. A constitution making or amending process that ignores the three church mother bodies is, for lack of a better term, illegitimate. If the President and his Cabinet do not like the church mother bodies’ position on the dialogue, it is incumbent upon the President to initiate an open and frank discourse that is aimed at bringing the mother bodies on board. President Lungu cannot lead through arrogance. It is not right to push through changes to a national constitution while castigating the legitimate civil society organisations in our country.
The dialogue forum has opened itself up to corruption and unsavoury agendas. The law governing this dialogue forum states that the invited organisations are responsible for footing the bills of the participants they send to the dialogue forum. This is in my opinion quite unfortunate. It is regrettable because it exposes those who cannot manage to pay for their representatives to corruption, and, to the highest bidder. Several organisations cannot afford to pay their way to the forum. My question is who is paying for them? Is there a political blesser somewhere footing bills for these organisations? The government should have first initiated open negotiations with key stakeholders. After that, it should have then funded the forum from public funds so that we avoid the political blesser situation. If this government is so broke as to pay for the delegates, it must shelf the dialogue until it has the funds to fund a national dialogue. President Lungu is financing a lot of stuff, one of which is his presidential jet. Unquestionably, he could have come up with some money to invest in this vital forum.
There is clearly over-excited PF aligned NGOs that think that this dialogue forum is an opportunity for them to manipulate the PF and its sponsors. These NGOs have gone in overdrive trying to justify the unjustifiable and issuing bewildering press statements. I am appealing to those concerned to reflect deeply on the Zambian political and democratic legacy. There is no lasting legacy where a government amends a constitution without regard to important political players. Amending a constitution in the manner being proposed by the dialogue forum exacerbates confusion.
Already, what is coming out of the dialogue forum is very concerning. The Patriotic Front party has gotten everything it wanted. It is using these delegates to rubber stamp what it wanted in the long run. They want to disband the Constitutional Court and give the President powers to appoint deputy ministers. Pushing through these constitutional changes without some consensus from big political players and the church mother bodies goes to show that the dialogue forum was and continues to be a large congregation of the arrogant.
· The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.