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Civility in politics isn’t about stifling dissent

It seems Edgar Lungu and his minions are determined to stifle any political dissent that may emerge in the country.

Intimidation, threats, violence and blackmail has become their way of governing the country.

They are not ready to tolerate any expression designed to convey dissatisfaction with or opposition to their decisions, policies or actions.

In a country that calls itself a multiparty democracy or a plural society, non-violent demonstration and disagreement with the government must be regarded as fundamental human rights.

But we all know that historically, repressive governments have sought to punish political dissent in all sorts of ways. The protection of freedoms that facilitate peaceful dissent has become a hallmark of free and open societies. Repression of political dissent is considered as an attempt to stifle public discourse about government abuses, lies, corruption, or ineptitude.

Civility in politics isn’t about stifling dissent. Incivility in Zambian politics is a cancer that’s eating away at our multiparty democracy.

There’s need to promote and defend civil political debate at all levels of society, from the beer halls to the halls of government, from Facebook to face-to-face conversation.

We can all learn to listen to others better, listen patiently, and hold back on our own opinions a little longer.

We often don’t listen to each other, the underlying story, the rationales that people have, and give them credit for coming to that decision based on their own experiences, and we vilify them instead.

The criticism of Edgar and his minions by civil society organisations for trying to shut down dissent on the Constitution (Amendment) Bill No. 10 of 2019 as if civility means preserving the status quo or requiring people to be politically correct, rather than directly expressing their views, is correct.

This is not about silencing the president of the Law Association of Zambia Eddie Mwitwa. This is not about stifling anybody’s conversations about any topic. It’s about how we improve our listening. How do we increase our understanding? How do we disagree with people but still listen to what they have to say?

Listening with an open mind to someone whose ideas you profoundly disagree with is a challenge. It’s also vital if this country is going to bridge divides and make progress.

Our civil society organisations deserve credit for doing their part to encourage real, meaningful dialogue in a respectful way.

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