By David J. Young (Chargé d’Affaires USA Embassy Zambia)
How wonderful to see the spirit of reconciliation that has marked this year’s Holy Week gatherings here in Lusaka! I was privileged to attend services at St. Ignatius Catholic Church and Miracle Life Church on Good Friday, and then St. Ignatius again on Easter Sunday. I was impressed to see the President, former Presidents, and opposition leaders joining together Friday and then to hear the voices of political leaders and church leaders calling for a spirit of reconciliation in Zambia.
So how does talk about reconciliation among people of faith on Easter Sunday translate into political reconciliation at a time when there is increasing violence among party cadres and when the headlines trumpet tensions among government, opposition voices, and civil society? I believe that reconciliation requires peaceful dialogue, an end to violence, and honest debate.
Reconciliation starts with dialogue. Zambia is a signatory to international human rights covenants that guarantee freedoms of speech, press, and assembly, and the right to be free from violence and free from interference in one’s private life. Respecting rights for all Zambians is critical to ensuring the equal treatment of all people before the law. All should have the right to peacefully express their views on a street corner, on a TV program, or at a political rally.
It is admirable and encouraging to hear of the upcoming forum on the constitution-making process that is being sponsored by the Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD). Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba will represent the government, and reportedly 70 organizations from political parties, civil society and religious organizations will participate. Though they no doubt will not all agree, it is important that these kinds of fora and dialogue sessions take place.
Deciding on whether to pursue a new constitution is a decision for the Zambian people. Whether to keep the current constitution or to consider provisions such as greater separation of powers among branches of government, or different standards for winning presidential elections – these are issues for national dialogue and debate. But there can be no doubt that discussing such issues in a peaceful setting is the essence of democracy.
An End to Violence:
The recent spread of political violence is very worrying. The attacks by political cadres on UPND President Hakainde Hichilema and ABZ President Fr. Frank Bwalya in Copperbelt Province are unacceptable, and the perpetrators should be brought to justice without delay.
It is clear the attacks were perpetrated by political cadres, and political leaders must clearly direct that their supporters stop such attacks. Leadership is needed at all levels of society – from political party leaders to the police to religious leaders – to ensure this trend is halted before it spins downward into a cycle of violent attacks. We need leaders at all levels to speak out against violence.
The police have a sacred trust from the public to help guarantee safety and prevent cadres from attacking their political opponents. This does not mean shutting down political rallies. It means supporting healthy debate and preventing violent groups from hijacking democracy.
Candid. Frank. Honest. For reconciliation to be real, there must be genuine debate about what is the best road for a country’s future. Being reconciled means that respectful discussion and debate will take place regularly – whether about the constitution or concerns about social development or just pure electoral campaigning. Criticizing a political party leader is part of a democracy. It is not treason, and it is not disrespectful. It is candid debate.
As Zambia moves forward to face its challenges of development – political, economic and social — it is important to capture the spirit of reconciliation that we have seen this past week across the country. Peaceful dialogue, an end to violence, and honest debate. My hope for Zambia is that a spirit of reconciliation may reign in the political life of this blessed and beautiful nation.