What is the alternative to dialogue?
Invariably, the answer must be contention and violence. That might be the technical answer but not the desirable situation.
We doubt there is any Zambian who is happy with that is currently going on in Zambia. That is why, like many Zambians and friends of Zambia within and outside the country, we welcome the initiative by the Catholic Bishops to initiate dialogue between Mr Edgar Lungu of the PF and Mr Hakainde Hichilema of UPND, two major political contenders of the moment in this country.
Yes, initially the problem was only restricted to the political sphere, but it has now penetrated every level and angle of our society. The rift has cut across church, family, work and all sectors in the nation and needs an urgent stop.
The hatred, bitterness and divide must surely cease – somehow. It doesn’t have to get worse than this. The next stage could be irreversible. Kenya retreated from the brink and peace reigned. We don’t know if the Kenyan accord will hold even after the next elections. But we can draw lessons from how they managed the division that threatened to tear apart that country after their previous elections.
We do not know what the Catholic Bishops have up their robes, but we think the first step they have taken should be supported. We also believe that those old men are first of all citizens and have the interest of this country at heart. We have no doubt that they have analysed the situation and have come up with steps that need to be taken to start the process of healing the country. This country is currently sick. No once should even pretend. What is happening is not good even for Mr Lungu or HH. We can pretend in public but we all know things are not okay. Whichever part will reject the initiative by the Bishops will have themselves to blame in future. We doubt there is any sane persons who can reject dialogue in the face of problems.
We identify some few points that are a bone of contention between Mr Lungu and HH; Mr Lungu wants HH to recognise him as the duly elected President of last year’s elections while HH argues that the elections were marred with fraud and that Mr Lungu did not win with the 50% + 1 threshold as enshrined in the constitution.
Like we said, we do not know what the Bishops are planning to be included in the dialogue, but we can suggest to include the following if the dialogue is to be fruitful:
- Hakainde and all other UPND supporters in jail for political related reasons must be unconditionally set free (We have information that currently the number stands at close to 3,000 countrywide). Equally the DPP must withdraw (no nolle prosequi) all cases currently under trial. We say so, taking a leaf from Kenneth Kaunda who at the height of tension before the 1991 multiparty elections undertook the following: (a) had to cut down his term of office by two years, (b) unconditionally released all the political detainees including Mwamba Luchembe who had just a few months staged one of the most successful coups, (c) repealed article (iv) of the constitution to allow the formation of political parties other than UNIP hence the birth of MMD as a political party.
- Both Mr Lungu and HH must commit to end violence in their parties and to achieve this, the two leaders must in principle agree to reorganise their staff because some of the fights Mr Lungu is being entangled into are not really his own but those of his lieutenants. Davies Chama apparently looks repentant after assuming the ministerial position. Mr Lungu will also have to look at reshuffling a number of senior police officers including Inspector General Kakoma Kanganja. He is a very big liability.
- Both men must put the 2016 election behind them and in between now and 2021 they must move in unity with PF getting two thirds of cabinet positions while the other one third goes to UPND with authority to appoint coming from HH. The Public Order must be fairly applied and UPND must be allowed to hold public meetings the same way MMD allowed PF under Michael Sata to hold rallies soon after the 2001, 2006 and 2008 defeats at the hands of MMD.
- Parliamentarians must rise above partisan politics and work at amending the electoral Act and make it in conformity with current trends of democracy.
- Article 31 which Mr Lungu recently invoked must be suspended and a serious step taken at punishing hate speech propagators regardless of their political affiliation. In fact, hate speech must be criminalised and attract stiff punishment.
The disunity in the country has even left some chiefdoms at war with each other and that has been extended to some churches, it would be important for the two leaders to extend the healing down to these important unities. The media has equally been affected by this disunity and is now polarised. Mr Lungu and his PF will need to lay their hands off the abuse of public media. We don’t mind how the private media operate as they are answerable to their owners.
We know very well that there are some entities from both sides who have been benefitting from this rift and wouldn’t want it to end but it is purely up to the two leaders to save the country from total collapse and missing this opportunity for constructive dialogue will leave the people of Zambia with no option but to blame any pitfalls on the two leaders but most especially on Mr Lungu because he is the one in the driving seat.
If KK had not been tolerant to undertake the initiative he did it in 1990, maybe Zambia could have gone into flames at that time and the blood could have been more on KK’s hands than on Chiluba’s because KK was the man in the driving seat the same way Mr Lungu is today. KK and his UNIP were defeated by MMD but we all hold them in high esteem for having preserved peace.
It is not the first time Zambia is reaching a deadlock politically, as history tells us that when ANC and UNIP got hostile both Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula and KK had to sit down and got committed for the bigger picture of the country – This saw old Harry dissolve his ANC to join hands with KK. On June 27, 1973 KK signed the Choma Declaration at Choma Secondary School and this ended the multi partyism and the bloodshed that characterised it. As Harry Nkumbula had to comment later, it was a painful decision to undertake but in the interest of the nation.
Politicians may come and go, but Zambia will remain and remain bigger than any one of us, even bigger than the Watchdog!
Let’s end this.
But just so we are clear; nothing said above means or should be interpreted to mean that the Zambia Watchdog will stop what it does.