AMBASSADOR Inonge Mbikusita Lewanika and veteran politician Vernon Mwaanga feel democracy is retreating in Zambia.
Meanwhile, constitutional lawyer Dr Rodger Chongwe says he believes that there can be no enhancement of Zambia’s democracy by the use of police and the so-called party cadres to break-up opposition gatherings.
The trio was speaking at public forum organised by Chapter One Foundation in conjunction with News Diggers and Prime TV at Hotel InterContinental in Lusaka on Thursday evening.
The topic of discussion was ‘is democracy on retreat in Zambia.’
Dr Lewanika asserted that democracy was recoiling.
“Is democracy retreating? My conclusion is, that is my opinion, yes it is retreating. Yes, it has been retreating from the very beginning but we watched it retreat, we kept quiet as it was retreating and the majority of us are to blame. We looked the other way, we cheered and danced when some of the undemocratic tendencies were happening,” Dr Lewanika, Zambia’s former Ambassador to the United States, said. She noted that it encouraged her to see Zambia’s young people taking interest in matters of governance.
“One thing that makes me so happy to see is to see so many young people, not only here but wherever I go. I see young people in Zambia now are becoming very active and they are asking a lot of MMD,” she said.
Dr Lewanika reminded Zambians, especially the young, that there was neither the army nor the police to monitor voters in the 1964s.
“I would like you, young people, to know that we have been voting since 1963/64. What happened? Now, I hear [during] every election, the same sentence ‘that the police and the army are ready.’ This is strange for us; this is not the Zambia we know,” noted Dr Lewanika.
Dr Chongwe, a former legal affairs minister in Frederick Chiluba’s government, indicated that he remained resolute against the use of the public order Act and “the manner this is used to suppress public discussions and gatherings that may be unpalatable to the powers that be.”
“I remain resolute in my belief that there can be no enhancement of our democracy by the use of police and the so-called party cadres to break-up gatherings,” said Dr Chongwe.
“We must allow public gatherings that demonstrate support of opposition leaders who should be given a fair role to air their policies, just as I must be permitted as a mere individual to be heard by those who wish to hear me.”
For Mwaanga, his presentation mainly focused on a historical perspective of Zambia’s democracy.
He recalled that after the public order Act was amended in 1996 to remove any reference to permits and replace it with only notification of the police…. “I still hear senior police officers saying ‘we didn’t give them a permit to hold this meeting.’”
Mwaanga stressed that there was no word ‘permit’ in the new public order Act.
“When our first president after the third republic, Frederick Chiluba, attempted to go for a third term, we had nationwide demonstrations in this country opposing the third term. No one was arrested! [But] what is the situation today?” Mwaanga asked.
“So, questions have been asked; is our democracy still healthy, alive, vibrant. My answer is no! I fear that we have taken a few steps backs. I’m speaking as a diplomat now. Somehow, maybe our generation was different from you; we were never to go to prison.”
He regretted that many Zambians were now taking a very laid-back position on issues of democracy and human rights.
“Are human rights being respected today? I don’t know what has happened to this generation of young leaders. There is a preoccupation with people to preserve jobs,” he lamented.
Mwaanga added that Zambia inherited the public order Act from the colonial government but that: “even the colonialists when they had the public order Act, they rarely used it.”
He explained that it was easier for freedom fighters to get, under the old Act, permits to go and address meetings wherever they wanted to, “than it is to go and notify the police under the current amended public Act.”
“It was much easier to get permission from the colonialists than it is today. Can you say that we are more democratic now than we were then? Those are some of the issues which your generation should examine carefully,” said Mwaanga.
At the same event, Chapter One Foundation executive director Linda Kasonde said her organisation recognised that without true democracy, it would be difficult for Zambians to participate meaningfully in the governance of the country and to reclaim their rights.
“We are holding this public forum to mark international day of democracy which was created in 2007….” noted Kasonde.