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SACCORD expects practical action towards constitutional reform this year

THE Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD) says it expects practical action being undertaken this year towards constitutional reform.

Reflecting on 2021 and expectations for 2022, executive director Boniface Cheembe noted that last year the country failed to reform the Republican constitution.

Cheembe said the many lacunas that continue to exist in the constitution require urgent attention.

“In view of the political will that the ruling UPND government has shown towards constitutional and legal reforms, we expect [in] the year 2022 to see some practical action being undertaken towards constitutional reform. We equally expect the government to inform the nation on how the expanded Bill of Rights will be enacted in the country following its failure in the past. The bare minimum should be the government communicating the process of constitutional reform that will be undertaken so that everyone is on the same page,” he said.

He said 2021 was a historic election year as the country successfully held general elections and witnessed a peaceful transfer of power from the Patriotic Front (PF) to the now ruling United Party for National Development (UPND).

Cheembe regretted the high levels of electoral/political violence, which although did not degenerate into a hot conflict, contributed to a marked reduction in the nation’s levels of peacefulness.

He said Zambia’s peacefulness reduced at continental level as the nation moved from being 4th to 13th most peaceful country in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Cheembe said at a global level, the country dropped from being the 44th most peaceful country to 71st most peaceful country.

“As we embrace the year 2022, the country has a lot of work to do in arresting the fast decline in her levels of peacefulness by undertaking deliberate investment in conflict prevention, management, resolution, and transformation. This is critical as the nation’s competitive multi-party democratic dispensation will endure and therefore requiring a strong conflict resilient society,” he said.

On electoral democracy, Cheembe said in 2021, Zambia showcased its prowess in management of electoral democracy by allowing the free will of the people to legitimately elect a popular leadership of their choice.

He said eligible Zambians exercised their right to vote and contributed to a democracy that saw the country smoothly and peacefully transfer power from PF to UPND.

“The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) played their role and ensured that Zambia continues to be a respected democracy where the people’s choice is concerned. We expect the country to continue upholding all the good tenets of democracy and free will of the people in 2022 as we hold by-elections at any level,” he said.

On the Public Order Act (POA), Cheembe said the law continued to be a source of conflict in 2021 as efforts to reform it failed.

He said the archaic piece of legislation continued to be a source of conflict between duty bearers and rights holders.

“The country saw continuous violation of the freedoms of assembly, association and expression through arrests and some political parties could not hold their rallies because of the seeming unfair administration of the POA. SACCORD therefore welcomes and commends the government for taking the proactive step to have this outdated piece of legislation reformed so that it is in conformity with prevailing modern democratic trends,” he said.

“In the year 2022, we expect to see the reform of the POA to start. We also expect the government to support initiatives by the Zambia Human Rights Defenders Network (ZHRDN) to put in place legislation that will support Human Rights Defenders in Zambia which will complement and supplement the enjoyment of freedoms of expression, association, and assembly through the POA and thereby bringing about greater harmony and peace in the country.”

On climate change and preparedness, Cheembe said the year under review saw the country experience some of the worst impact of climate change through potential drought and unpredictable weather patterns.

He said the country needed to start preparations to manage or mitigate climate change induced conflicts.

Cheembe said it had become apparent that calamities related to climate change, such as droughts, make climate change a conflict driver and a threat multiplier.

“The net effect of climate change may be negative ramifications on human security and livelihoods leading to conflicts due to reduced economic as well as agricultural outputs. Therefore, in the year 2022, we expect the government to take climate change seriously by formulating a viable climate change and conflict prevention strategy to mitigate the threat multiplier impact of climate change. A consideration of taking a bold and unpopular step of curtailing the cutting down of trees must be at the heart of this strategy,” he said.

Cheembe said although it was alright to appeal to Zambians to diversify their food intake, only a few could manage to stay without eating nshima for a few days.

He said to address the rise in mealie-meal prices, which for Zambians becomes a source of tension and conflict that the nation must always stand ready to confront, it was important to outline measures to make the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) an attractive body for most farmers to sell their maize grain.

“At the heart of making the FRA attractive is to ensure that they pay farmers on time as they buy maize at a humane price. This is the best alternative to avoid exploitation of subsistence farmers by brief case buyers. In 2022, we further expect the President to inform the nation how the Zambia Army and Defense Forces can be utilized to participate in winter maize cultivation that in the long run will complement the rain season maize cultivation that the nation is highly dependent on for food security and survival,” he said.

“Zambia is currently at peace and in peace times it is important to utilise the discipline of the army and defence forces for food production and security for the benefit of the nation.”

On decentralisation, Cheembe said welcomed the UPND government’s decision to raise the Constituency Development Fund from K1.7m to K25.7 million per constituency.

He said the CDF was one of the most decentralised funds in the nation.
He said when governance and finance were taken to the lowest organs, it helps foster greater participation in democracy and governance processes of the country.

“An aspect of this participation is greater economic interaction and access to finances that is key in addressing different aspects of economic vulnerabilities that are a source of conflict. In 2022, we expect to see a proper and effective implementation of the CDF to ensure that the economic vulnerabilities faced by the people are addressed,” he said.

Cheembe also said both the ruling party and the opposition might require taking responsibility for failure, during some by-elections and general elections, to maintain peace to allow for a free environment for all stakeholders to participate in the electoral process.

“In 2022, we expect our political leaders to be bold in condemning acts of political/electoral violence when they do occur, and an example is the recently reported political violence for the forthcoming Kabwata by-election. The culture of gun carrying, and usage must be discarded, and this may require fully implementing the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) to which Zambia is a State party and seeks to create country and regional security, peace, and stability,” he said.

Cheembe said although Zambia largely managed to maintain her peace in 2021, the levels and intensity of political/electoral violence were extremely concerning and were a serious potential source civil strife.

Cheembe said peace does not come by chance as it must be consistently worked on.
He said some good practices were observed in the year 2021 such as the government undertaking the Country Structural Vulnerability and Resilience Assessment (CSVRA) of the African Union (AU) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

“In addition, we saw President Hakainde Hichilema take a commendable lead in forgiveness and reconciliation by showing willingness to burry the hatchet contrary to initial expectations. We expect President Hichilema to continue being our ‘Peacebuilding Ambassador’ and we hope to see interaction and engagement between his office and those of former presidents Rupiah Banda and Dr Edgar Lungu,” he said.

“As we go into the year 2022, the motto of ‘One Zambia One Nation’ needs to be further strengthened as a defining feature of who the people of Zambia are especially where tolerance and co-existence in diversity is concerned. Zambia’s democracy and peace have been celebrated within and beyond the borders of the country on account of how Zambia’s leaders have managed affairs as a nation in both good and bad times.”

Cheembe said through the multi-party democratic dispensation, politics had at times been so divisive to the extent that tension had been palpable, and this alone calls for stronger political will for the nation to undergo trauma healing.

“In 2022 there is need for all stakeholders to acknowledge this aspect of our politics and speak to the need for the citizens of the Republic of Zambia to continue being tolerant to one another as we continue to live in diversity and constructively manage our diversity. In doing so, we expect the Government to consider putting in place a permanent National Peace Architecture that will ensure that Zambia is conflict resilient and is able to address all conflicts when they arise,” said Cheembe.

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