By Chris Zumani Zimba
Once brought too close to the instruments of state power or made to be relevant political equivalents, the men of God have one wrong thinking framework as well as outstanding universal terrible weakness everywhere; they always want to govern from the pulpit by determining who rules, how they rule, who they rule with, where they rule and for how long they rule. The moment they differ with the government of the day on some policy issues, they start scheming how to usher a new one and sometimes their schemes have failed lamentably or plunged countries into civil wars. But many political zealots fail to comprehend that the idea of mixing theocracy with democracy by allowing anointed Bible or Quran spiritualists to ‘govern’ or help secular governments has toxic political ramifications; just look at Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, Iran, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, or Afghanistan.
For Zambia, the church has also ‘hijacked’ the political machinery in the name of facilitating ‘national political dialogue’ by putting both ZCID and government aside while they look steadfastly focusing on 2021 when they present a national gift of regime change to the masses. This is clear in their tone and conduct now. Yes, it is a DR Congo formula where the clergy cleverly ‘hijacked’ political and legal powers from President Joseph Kabila for the last three years in the name of God’s ambassadors while they secretly ‘collaborated’ with the opposition in sponsoring huge bloody political protests in Kinshasa; and regularly, they met and kissed Kabila’s hand as neutral political mediators or local election observers. Today, Joseph Kabila has only one survival formula to escape the wrath of his Congolese Catholic Bishops; if Felix Tshisekedi, his perceived ally from the opposition is allowed to reign as Congolese Republican president. Maybe we are thinking too much or concluding too prematurely on the intentions of the church in Zambia with reference to their covert schemes on the national dialogue; maybe yes, maybe no. Here is my critical thinking, recommendations and conclusion:
- The church has now jeopardized national unit and divided the country further: By launching the national dialogue without other key stakeholders, the church added salt on the national wounds and has further divided the country into two hostile camps. For example, the UPND led opposition alliance of 10 political parties now call the Zambian judiciary and the legislature as surrogates of the ruling PF party by deciding not to attend the launch. Speaking during a media briefing on 22nd January 2019 at Inter-Continental Hotel in Lusaka, opposition alliance spokesperson, Sean Tembo who is also Patriots for Economic Progress (PeP) president said “We are at pains to understand how the judiciary and the legislature turned down the invitation to the national dialogue. They should never take political sides”, he added. To the opposition alliance, the judiciary and the legislature are now partisan and PF.
The tone and language from both the Opposition Alliance and the three church mother bodies now smells crude political disrespect, pomp and contempt for all the three wings of government-the executive, legislature and judiciary. Speaking at the launch, Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) Board Chairperson, Bishop Paul Mususu said “the three church mother bodies have vowed to see to it that the National Dialogue process is concluded in the soonest possible time even when other concerned parties shun away from the process”. This is equally an offside and wrong statement from the church given that at some point, they may still be called upon to engage and interface with those who shunned away. The church must not speak like an elected government neither should the clergy present itself as one with constitutional authority and legal mandate.
- The church seem to have a long term 2021 regime change agenda in national dialogue
I don’t think Zambians anywhere had asked their government, ZCID or the church to start another constitutional making process or legal reforms through national, provincial, district and local community political dialogues. Suddenly, the three church mother bodies are confidently imposing a long tern political dialogue that will only end in 2021: this is a campaign strategy for some political parties and candidates and the church seem to have found tycoon funders. Speaking on Hot FM on 22nd January, 2019, Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) Secretary General, Fr Emmanuel Chikoya proclaimed and promised a national dialogue that will be wide and far reaching to every Zambian and in order to ensure that by 2021, every system of governance should function fairly and without discrimination. This is a big problem because the church seem to have taken over everything about the national dialogue and will determine its structure, lifespan, outlook and narrative bearing in mind the 2021 general elections.
- The church has no constitutional or legal mandate to lead political or governance dialogues: To start with, the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) was founded in 1945 as the Christian Council of Northern Rhodesia, which became the Christian Council of Zambia in 1964.In terms of its mandate, CCZ has dual roles i.e. evangelism and provider of service for the poor as well as defender of the rights of the marginalized. Their documents further add that in fighting for social justice, the role of CCZ is much about provision of social services such as education, health, employment, food and shelter.
For the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ), their website is very clear. EFZ was established in 1964 for the purpose of providing fellowship among the evangelical missionaries serving in Zambia. It is a voluntary Christian church mother body registered under the Registrar of Societies in Zambia as a nonprofit organization, with tax exempt status whose scope covers not only missionaries but also the general fraternity of evangelical denominations, local churches, mission organizations, para-church organizations and individuals etc.
Lastly, the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), known before 2016 as the Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC) was established in 1965. The statutes of the Conference were approved by the Holy See on April 2, 1984 and is a member of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) and Symposium of Episcopal Conferences and of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).
Based on the aforesaid, it clear that none of the three church mother bodies have legal or constitutional mandate to facilitate national dialogues which focus on amending the Republican Constitution, the Public Order Act, Electoral Act or any other legislative assignment. These are national religious institutions established to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ and Christian values. They are NGOs like other civil society organizations and exist outside government who are supposed to be invited to such a national governance or political indaba as delegates. To the contrary, they posture themselves like constitutional organs of the state while the clergy speak like elected Prime Ministers and Senators.
- The church failed to reconcile Lungu and HH in the November 2018 meeting: On 12th November, 2018, the three Church mother bodies led by Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops -ZCCB – President Bishop George Lungu, Council of Churches in Zambia President Bishop Sydney Sichilima and Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia President Bishop Paul Mususu informed the nation that President Edgar Lungu and opposition UPND Leader Hakainde Hichilema met and talked as brothers ahead of the National Dialogue and Reconciliation Process. Nothing much or more was revealed. In itself, this gesture exposed the church leaders as failure mediators for one reason; that very meeting was supposed to have been a dialogue as well as reconciliation session between President Lungu and HH. In other words, the meeting was in vain, yielded nothing and means nothing today. Can these be the same players Zambia can trust to facilitate a bigger and bitter national political dialogue involving smoked and unsmoked stakeholders? I brutally doubt it.
- The church and ZCID are undermining constitutional organs of the state and government: The church and ZCID are presenting the National Dialogue as a precondition for 2021 Presidential and General Elections which is both amiss and dangerous. This country is at peace and politically stable. Even DR Congo that postponed Presidential Elections for 3 years went into their December, 2018 Presidential Elections without any National Political Dialogue and the opposition won. Thus, the church and ZCID are creating an artificial political crisis for Zambia which may birth more political injuries if not well handled. By making it appear as a precondition for 2021 general elections, the church and ZCID are undermining and insulting constitutional organs of the state and government such as the executive, legislature and judiciary as some citizens may begin to wrongly conclude that Zambia has governance institutional failure or dysfunctionality and the church with the opposition alliance are the lead substitutes. This is tantamount to kissing a ‘constitutional coup’ in silent technical fashion.
- The church and ZCID both lack moral authority to lead the national dialogue now: The church and ZCID have lost moral authority and leadership integrity to be leading the national dialogue process after failing to maturely dialogue and peacefully harmonize their differences behind the curtains. The fact that they are now at verbal war and only speak through the media to each other, none is clean or free from institutional moral decay and integrity deficiency. The worst mistake made so far was for the church to monopolize this national undertaking by proceeding to launch the dialogue without ZCID and some key stakeholders such as the ruling PF, the Republican President, the Felix Mutati led MMD, the judiciary or legislature among others. In this manner, the church failed to live by the basic values of conflict mediation or arbitration-leaving no one behind or outside the mediation indaba. Not different to having a peace mediation conference only with rebels without the government present. It was morally wrong for the church to go ahead minus the number one stakeholder-President Lungu.
The church or ZCID risk betting Zambia to unknown financiers in national dialogue’s name: Speaking when he featured on Millennium Radio’s The Interview programme on 11th January 2019, ZCID spokesperson Jackson Silavwe said the Church was running away from meeting his organisation to make headway ahead of the 18th January’s national dialogue because it had made some demands, which could not be met such as the inclusion of CARITAS Zambia, CCMG and JCTR to manage the funds. On 14th January, 2019, Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) secretary general Fr Cleophas Lungu reacted that “even when people talk about JCTR, when they talk about Caritas Zambia, why are cooperating partners out there, local and international, willing to partner with Caritas Zambia, with the three church mother bodies? It is because we have a track record, we have systems of financial accountability…We are not going to pocket that dollar into our own pockets”, added. Clearly, we are now sure that the national dialogue has dollars and it seems both ZCID and the church are salivating for the money. Given this dark reality, allowing any of them to run this process may be recipe for invoking unknown donors and invisible financiers whose agenda may birth bigger political problems for us. Itself, this has compromised the integrity of both ZCID and the church as they may bet the national dialogue process to the highest bidder.
Key Recommendations and Way Forward on the National Dialogue
Zambia is not in a political crisis as all organs of the state and government are fully functional and stable. Based on its legal and constitutional mandate, the Ministry of Justice is the best public institution to host, convene and facilitate the national political dialogue as the indaba borders on ‘constitutional amendments, review of the Public Order Act, the Electoral Act or any other public policy’ concerns. In an elective democracy like ours, this is the best public institution to handle such dialogues as opposed to ZCID or the church. ZCID may even be a better evil as they operate under the armpits of the Ministry of Justice; but not the church for God’s sake. The church could have merely scored on reconciling rival and warring political leaders in Lungu and HH.
In addition, other government outfits suitable for this assignment include Zambia Law Development Commission, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and National Guidance or the National Assembly of the Zambia. The National Assembly could have a well-organized and cheaper legal amendment process as this is their day to day job and MPs are paid simply to make or amend laws. In functional democracies, these are possible key public institutions that are supposed to lead and spearhead national dialogue processes of this nature. In this way, government will raise the money and pay all the pending bills using tax payers’ money. Trained civil servants or elected officials under these named public institutions can do a better professional job in terms of facilitating this national dialogue than the church or ZCID.
Lastly, the government has a choice to preside over this matter by halting the entire process since it is becoming more and more problematic, divisive, antagonistic, acrimonious and suspicious each and every day. Before new babies are named national dialogue, ZCID, opposition alliance or the three church mother bodies in Eastern province, the government can prevent a bigger political mischief ahead of us by ordering an immediate abortion of the process. The national dialogue is not a precondition to the 2021 general elections as Zambia is politically stable and all the three wings of government are fully functional.
What was launched last Friday is not a national political dialogue: it is a ‘Lusaka Political and Religious Ceremony for the opposition alliance and the church’. This is because, apart from the three church mother bodies themselves-of course without any constitutional mandate to preside over national governance or political matters, none of the delegate members present have national legal representation, sovereign authority, popular legitimacy, citizen allegiance and parliamentary scope at national level. Even the largest opposition party under HH in attendance is a regional political grouping in terms of MPs. Without the ruling PF, President Lungu, ZCID, the legislature, judiciary and key government institutions such as Ministry of Justice or Religious Affairs, what may be termed as ‘national political dialogue’ is not national at all. But if they insist that what they convened is ‘a national political dialogue’, then lets accept that the church along with the opposition alliance successfully hijacked the process from ZCID and the state and consequently kissed a ‘constitutional coup’ in Zambia which empowers them to now start dictating the national political narrative against the government of the day and everyone opposing them until 2021. Coagulations!
Zambia is not a theocracy like Saud Arabia, Iran, Sudan or Algeria where the citizens are governed by the Holy Book and religious leaders have a dominance role in national politics. In democracies, the church is not given too much latitude to preside over political and governance matters because they do not have such mandate either from the Republican Constitution or any Act of Parliament. And if they are given authority by the government to facilitate law reforms such as constitutional amendments, review of the Public Order Act or the Electoral Act, what then will be the role of Ministry of Justice, Zambia Law Development Commission or the National Assembly?
This is where the clergy have been allowed to commit a ‘constitutional coup’ as they are now wrongly and dangerously playing the role of established government organs and doing the work of constitutional public institutions that are mandated by the Supreme Law of the land. As a country, we still have time to correct things if we need this process to continue. If not, it is also politically, legally, morally and financially right for the government to halt the whole process before Zambia is plunged into a political crisis by the church, ZCID and the opposition alliance.
Chris Zumani Zimba is a prolific Political Scientist, Analyst, Author, Blogger, PhD Scholar, Researcher and Consultant. Besides being the CEO and Managing Consultant at Chrizzima Democracy University (CDU) in Zambia, he analyses African politics weekly on Voice of the Cape Radio, South Africa every Wednesday at 16:20hours CAT. So far, he has authored more than 10 political and academic books as well as published over 100 well researched articles. Sometimes, he lecture Political Science-Part Time with University of Zambia (UNZA) and University of Lusaka (UNILUS) outside his daily commitments.