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EVS Afrikadag report: Zambia’s democracy depends on the goodwill of the executive.

Verslag van de workshop, georganiseerd door NiZA en Hivos, met als sprekers Bishop Paul Mususu en Robby Shabwanga. Facilitator was Karel Chamwille.

Both speakers illustrate how civil society organisations cooperate in Zambia to achieve a better democracy; on the one hand by lobbying for the implementation of a new Constitution with inputs from citizens all over Zambia and reduced presidential power and on the other hand by human rights education to citizens for a better participation in democracy.

The workshop started with 10 statements varying from: ‘All children in Zambia have the right to free education’ to ‘Zambian citizens are right in turning away from elections and democracy’ for which the audience was asked to vote. Voters’ participation was high and voters agreed on quite a number of issues. The elections held were free and fair.

Bishop Mususu is chairing the Oasis Forum, a network of Zambian civil society organisations that started acting together as a counterforce of former president Frederic Chiluba who tried to change the Constitution in favour of a ‘Third Term’ of his presidency in 2001. The Oasis Forum succeeded in withholding him because of their impressive full force lobby. Robby Shabwanga is representing the Legal Resources Foundation, a Zambian human rights NGO with offices in all the provinces in Zambia. Apart from legal aid to the poor they give human rights education, with the main purpose of improving participation of citizens in elections.

Bishop Mususu read three quotes about development, human rights and democracy, that they are sides of the same coin; interrelated and indivisible. Despite the lip service of former president Chiluba to these statements and again of present president Mwanawasa now, Zambia’s democracy, then and now, depends on the goodwill of the country’s executive. In other words; the powers of a president in Zambia are too big to allow for real democracy.

The extent of the president’s power can be seen in the way the Constitution is made, what is in it and the way the content is protected. Zambia needs a change of the system to revert the power to the people, because the Constitution now does not provide for a working democracy. Reasons are that power corrupts and because there is no countervailing power. The judiciary dances to the master’s tune, important policy makers are appointed by the president. Examples of how the president can block initiatives that might threaten his position are:
The present president Levi Mwanawasa is postponing the implementation of the recommendations for Constitutional Revision. These are following hearings all over the country collecting input for a new constitution. According to his government, a Constituent Assembly can only be elected in fall 2007, and ratified in 2008. Oasis Forum is labouring to have the recommendations of the Electoral Reform Commission implemented before the elections this year.

Robby Shabwanga explains civil society is united in initiatives like the Oasis forum. NGOs like his own Legal Resources Foundation are trying to convince people on making use of their right to vote, but people have lost trust in what they can expect of the government. Nevertheless citizen’s participation is necessary and what they need is civic education on human rights.

Question from the audience: What was different in 2001 when Oasis Forum could influence government to change its position on the Third Term? Answer: Chiluba at that time did, in the end, have the good will to listen to the people, as well as Kaunda in his time. Mwanawasa this time around, does not. Added to that, the international donor community in 2001 was more supportive than it is now.

Questions/ statements from the audience varied greatly, but generally they had a more optimistic character than the speakers’contributions. A few examples:

  • Middle class needs to be mobilized so they will influence the government
  • Vote buying in Mporokoso has diminished in the last ten years, so NGO civic education is useful and successful!
  • Way forward is further strengthening of civil society
  • When Zambia is compared to DRC or Zimbabwe, things are not looking so bad in terms of freedom of speech
  • Oasis Forum then and now has a lot of respect, also from citizens and from neighbouring countries

The lobby and advocacy for Constitutional Review and civic education should continue. Whether it will be possible to implement it before or after the upcoming elections or not, the way forward for Zambia is a new people’s owned constitution with diminished power for the president and an appropriate division of powers.