Commonwealth has stepped out of Zambia’s political dialogue process aimed at addressing the country’s political impasse between the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and the main opposition party United Party for National Development (UPND). The process has been handed over to local in-country facilitators.
In August, 2017 Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland facilitated the release from prison of Zambia’s main opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema who was charged with treason for allegedly obstructing a presidential motorcade. She proceeded to appoint Professor Ibrahim Gambari as her special envoy to facilitate a national political dialogue in Zambia. The purpose of the dialogue was to address national challenges and to enable the Republic of Zambia and its people to uphold its reputation for democracy, the rule of law and peace.
Addressing the press after his recent visit to Zambia Gambari said:
“Above all, there is a shared commitment to open-minded, to act with good faith and to ensure that the process is truly Zambian led and owned. We have talked about talks for long enough. Now is the time for dialogue to start. The foundations of the dialogue process are a shared respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms and respect for one another.”
On 10th March, 2018 Prof Gambari announced the formation of a steering committee comprised of eminent and respected Zambians which will lead and direct the dialogue process.
“As I depart, I can safely say that Zambians have committed themselves to a national political dialogue including the following: peace, respect for the separation of powers between the three branches of government, an independent electoral process, end to political violence, the right to freedom of expression, an end to tribalism, regionalism, and all forms of discrimination, good governance,” Prof Gambari said.
The main objectives of the dialogue process were to promote peace, national cohesion and political tolerance and reconciliation in Zambia.
Zambia’s President, Edgar Lungu through his spokesperson Amos Chanda announced that he was eagerly looking forward to speedy talks and was committed to open and sincere dialogue to foster national cohesion.
Some elements close to the ruling party indicate that the ruling party was unhappy with an eternal facilitated dialogue process arguing that Zambians should be mature enough to solve their own political disputes as was the case very recently in Kenya.
Some public sentiments are that if the Commonwealth sent the envoy to Zambia in order to facilitate constitutional reforms, electoral and institutional reforms, it would not be a fruitful process because those issues are better known by the people of Zambia.
There are also fears that the dialogue process may result in a postmortem of the 2016 disputed general elections which the ruling party won by small margin. Their election petition also fell off in the Constitution Court on a technicality of lapse of time. The grievances arising from that election are still top of the agenda as far as the main opposition is concerned, hence they seem to be seeking closure.
The local steering committee will be formally launched on March 26, 2018 in Lusaka. Stakeholders including members of the international community will be invited to witness the event.
Furthermore, the process will include the establishment of a working group, including three sub-groups which will examine the issues of Constitutional and institutional reforms, electoral reforms and tolerance and civility in public life.
Upon his release from prison UPND, Hichilema reiterated his commitment to national building and dialogue stressing that he was not bitter and angry about the humiliation and torture he suffered from the PF government.
“Africa does not need conflict [but] what Africa needs, Zambia included, is accelerated economic and social development. So for me, would I say I’ll not dialogue because I’m unhappy with this thing (his incarceration)? I wouldn’t say that! I’ll bring that issue which I’m not happy about and put it on the dialogue table and I think that’s the most civilised way of doing things. If we are saying I disagree with you and you also disagree with me and so, we cannot resolve our conflicts, then we’ve lost the sense of humanity because amongst the creatures God made, the one with intellect is a human being. That intellect must be used to resolve conflicts because if you don’t want to resolve conflicts through dialogue, the next thing basically is negative things, including violence. [But] do we want violence? Absolutely no! Yes, we have problems in our country but we can resolve them,” Hichilema said.