The Constitution of Zambia Amendment Bill of 2019 is the worst amendment of the century, University of Zambia academic Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa has charged. Commenting on government’s publication of planned changes to the current Constitution, Dr Sishuwa said the proposals were intended to perpetuate the Patriotic Front’s stay in power and embolden corruption.
“It is not even worth demonstrating the absurdity of each of the proposed Articles because doing so risks conferring upon them a seriousness they in no way deserve. The entire Bill is ridiculous and the worst amendment of the current century. Every proposed change punches you right in the face and is clearly intended to embolden the corruption and thieving ways of the self-serving elite class, at the heart of public life, laughably known as our government,” he said.
“A careful and dispassionate reading of nearly all the planned changes leaves one feeling as if Mr [Edgar] Lungu and his friends in power are winding up the country or intentionally setting up a strong foundation for the total destruction of Zambia as we know it. What is really unbelievable is seeing how professionals like Attorney General Likando Kalaluka and individuals like Minister of Justice Given Lubinda, who previously commanded genuine public respect, are backing all these changes, just for self-preservation.”
Dr Sishuwa said at the heart of Zambia’s democratic backslides and institutional deterioration are spineless professionals and individuals.
“In a country that is in desperate need of role models, a country full of corrupt public officials and spineless professionals in state institutions, many may have previously looked up to Kalaluka and Lubinda as inspiring role models in public life. However, what Lubinda and Kalaluka have created in this Bill is the ultimate betrayal of public trust,” he said.
“Never again will many Zambians be disappointed by either of these two men because by giving life to this Bill, they have demonstrated their moral depravity without equivocation. Some may even say that, like the many people we have seen sell the country out for 30 pieces of silver, individuals like Lubinda decided which side of his bread was buttered a long time ago. There’s nothing he won’t do now in furthering the very ignoble things that the former Lubinda would have died opposing. Whatever changed and made Given Lubinda forget his principles, I am hoping that life’s many trials and temptations do not turn me into someone like him – a person I will no longer recognise someday. None of us is immune to that malady. Perhaps what is important is the capacity to sit down and reflect whenever we get a chance. It’s those quiet moments that remind us of who we are and what we stand for. Also helpful is having a set of friends who are loyal enough to slap us back into reality whenever we stray so that we are not completely lost or end up like Lubinda and Likando who are clearly spineless or have deactivated their consciences.”
Dr Sishuwa said public leaders were floating in a world of their own and appeared to have a disgusting affinity for the worst of humanity’s vices.
“To be sane and concerned about wider issues in Zambia today is to invite pain. We must however resist this intentional effort by Mr Lungu and his friends to kill the land of our umbilical cord. As long as the circle of good people keeps growing, we have hope. The burden of consciousness is responsibility. The moment we begin to take responsibility we enter the realm of sanity. Irresponsibility in this case is insanity – and we suffer for it,” he said.
Dr Sishuwa feared that the planned changes to the Constitution would pass unless civil society and opposition parties mobilised enough public opposition against them.
“I think the proposals will pass because both civil society and the political opposition are unable to mobilise sufficient public opposition which would instill, in the relevant politician, the fear to proceed with them,” he said.
“We have, for instance, independent MPs and lawmakers from the UPND, FDD and MMD who can save Zambia if they note enough public opposition to these planned changes,” he said. “In the absence of clear public opposition, however, these MPs are likely to be the traitors who would betray Zambia by voting for these proposals in Parliament in return for either a few peanuts into their back pockets or a (deputy) ministerial position. The onus is therefore on those in civil society and opposition political parties to galvanise the public and compel MPs to reject the proposed constitutional changes”.
Dr Sishuwa said the public mood was likely to shape the attitude of MPs towards the Bill.
He implored members of the public to fight PF impunity on constitutional issues.
“If the opposition or independent MP sees that the public is extremely outraged by these proposals and the public’s opposition finds expression through civil disobedience campaigns and massive protests that show citizens’ disapproval of this Bill and their determination to uphold constitutional liberties even in the absence of cooperation from the police, that MP would definitely be influenced to side with the people,” Dr Sishuwa said. “The same is true for ordinary police officers who may be unleashed by the cowards in power to suppress the protests. Each one of these officers has an active conscience, a natural progressive outlook, a tremendous sense of solidarity with the people, a great hatred for injustice, oppression, poverty and anyone who abuses the people. If the officer arrives to find thousands of Zambians outside State House or Parliament demanding the scrapping of this constitutional amendment bill, there is no way he or she is going to open fire on unarmed fellow citizens who are protesting against the pain of betrayal and in defence of his or her own fundamental interests.”
He argued if anything, the police officer or the soldier is likely to both defy anyone who orders him or her to use force against such defenceless citizens and join them instead because the police or army officer’s moral principles.
Dr Sishuwa said officers’ dignity and honour, their political maturity, tremendous awareness and courage, their discipline and incredible selflessness compels them to always act in accord with the interest of the nation.
“So, the public mood is contagious. The kind of civic and political leadership that Zambians need is one that should generate the required public mood. We must find ways of communicating and linking our struggles with those on the ground,” he said. “Once we have triggered sufficient outrage in the ordinary people, they won’t need any help to turn up en masse at the gates of State House or Parliament in protest against these depressing constitutional changes and to camp at the site of demonstrations until the constitutional amendment Bill is withdrawn. That is what it means to fight for a cause.”
Dr Sishuwa said seeking to become president of Zambia was not a cause.
“A cause is a conviction, preferably one whose expression promotes the interests of the many and in whose pursuit we are prepared to give up anything including our very last breath,” he said.
Dr Sishuwa warned against the emerging trend of “a civic activism that is largely confined to social media,” saying mass protests provided a more effective way of communicating dissent.
“We must inspire ordinary people, the grassroots, to be involved in social activism. I worry that many of Zambia’s most prominent actors in civil society and the political opposition, with the exception of Chishimba Kambwili, are elitists who have failed to connect their agenda on constitutional reform or political change with the demands or concerns of the grassroots,” he said. “It is precisely because our approach to social activism and organising ordinary people is elitist that Mr Lungu and his friends in power, for instance, get away with murder on so many instances. Even more worrying is an increasing tendency by many in civil society and even the political opposition to rely on Twitter or Facebook to express their outrage at the disgraceful conduct of the ruling elites. In general, social media has the capacity to raise awareness or consciousness and it is that potential that explains why authoritarian leaders are ever so keen to block it in certain instances. However, I fear that social media is slowly becoming our primary platform for contesting the deplorable actions of those who preside over us. We must rid ourselves of this emerging virus of ‘Tweet and like’ only activism. Twittering or liking another’s tweet may create an illusionary or false sense of activism. Yes, ideas have power and the transmission of those ideas has the potential to affect public opinion, but I am not very sure that Twitter is the most effective way of reaching ordinary Zambians. I would rather our civic and political leaders go to the people, provide the correct information about the consequences of these constitutional changes on their lives, and make them sufficiently annoyed to act primarily in defence of themselves or their interests”.
Dr Sishuwa regretted the silence of Zambia’s intellectuals on important national subjects such as constitutional reform.
He urged those in public universities to emerge from lecture halls and share their knowledge with causes and communities that needed it most.
“The task of the public intellectual is enormous. Their responsibility is not only to speak truth to power; it is also to speak truth to us, the public. For who calls us out on our excesses as a society, if not the public intellectual?” asked Dr Sishuwa.
“Those in academia must link up with the social movements that are struggling for the creation of an alternative and just society. They should empower the grassroots with the simplified, incriminating and enlightening knowledge of what is going on, revolutionary knowledge that explains why things are the way they are. Ordinary people in our townships and communities cannot act in the absence of sufficient understanding, or as long as they think that those in academia, civil society and the opposition are pursuing their narrow selfish interests. What is needed is to establish synergies with these social networks, to build strong ties and alliances with the grassroots, to make them feel the pain and see the need to sacrifice anything including their very short and miserable lives in support of a particular cause or their total redemption. Ordinary Zambians must be made to understand that without their open outrage, full participation and liberating action against these harmful constitutional changes that would institutionalise corruption and the theft of public resources, they and their loved ones are only guaranteed one thing: a premature occupation of a cemetery plot any day soon.”