Time to Put Constitution Reform Above Politics

By: Nsambila Mbolela, USA

Come this October 24th, Zambia will be celebrating a milestone in history that other countries in Africa dream about. Without civil war or even ethnic conflict, five presidents since independence, Zambia has every reason to rejoice and applause. For many African refugees, Zambia is still by far the favorite nation just now. Zambia is still a country you cannot give up becoming the favorite in Sub Sahara.

Earlier on, Zambia did enjoy a period of economic growth, not anymore. All of this seems normal, but in fact, it isn’t. The current multi-political environment instead of one party rule isn’t historically rare. The question is will the sudden lack of political collaboration and will to advance the country’s constitution lead to rapid and sudden collapse of the gains we made in the last almost 50 years?

The answer depends largely on the will of the so called ‘public servants’ to do what they were elected to do.   There are two possible scenarios. The first is that Zambia will embrace the open, rule-based constitution political system and bring the country into the 21st century. The second is that as these politicians  become corrupt and powerful, they will become more tribal and party fanatics, focus on narrow interests, pursue mercantilism and thus erode if not destroy what would have become the most promising nation in Africa.

This is not a laughing matter; a great crisis is afoot in Zambia. The Zambian people want to strengthen the forces of openness, rules and free debates by concluding an ambitious constitution enactment. Some politicians, on the other hand, are mute on this issue, a more Mugabe-listic approach. This approach does very little for Zambia in terms of commitment to real rule of law peoples-based reforms. Real constitutional reform offers people greater access to opportunity as a gift from their government. Do we want to be like Ukraine or Egypt?

Most Zambians have been willing to make painful concessions and make Zambia a country for all. But it’s in the minds of some politicians that Zambia’s vision has become more cloudy. The very politicians who yesterday were chanting ‘multi-party’ constitution reform, today have virtually abandoned the very spirit of movement-seeking solutions while charting the path forward. Constitution reform has also economic benefits. Investors other than just the Chinese will see Zambia as a place to invest. Make no mistake for an outside investor; a closed constitution is a barrier to free trade, unless you are indifferent like the Chinese.

Still, the current political climate has been utterly dispiriting and totally at odds with its claim to be modern, future-oriented and open opportunities for all. It’s also at odds with the very recent movement of democracy which is now part of the country’s history. There is colonial nostalgia among older politicians these days as they harp about how they battled the colonial masters, and yet have become so closed minded than ‘ba mwisa’.

Creating a free country has always required an assertion of the national interest over special personal and political interests. Our real freedom fighters heroically took on painful circumstances and opposition and turned much of it around into what we now call Zambia. President Sata and all political leaders will have to spend real political capital, reform the constitution, set aside party politics and work with the real stakeholders-Zambians. But if they don’t, history tells us that October 24th will be a ceremonial funeral, and Zambia and the Africa-will lose!

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