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No Amendments to the Constitution, Please!

It is gratifying to learn that the 5th Session of the Tenth National Assembly which adjourned sine die on November 26, 2010 has just resumed sitting, ready to start debating the Constitution of Zambia Bill 2010 and the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2010.

As I stated before the recent adjournment of the National Assembly, it is truly encouraging that some of the suggestions made by Zambians regarding the contemplated new Republican constitution are incorporated into the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill, 2010. We are clearly getting closer to the enactment of a Republican constitution that will stand the test of time!

Nonetheless, Zambians should fight tooth and nail to ensure that the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) does not push Parliament to enact amendments to the 1996 Republican constitution. There has been a general clamor by Zambians for a completely new Republican constitution from the beginning of the on-going constitutional process. Any deviation from this expectation is, therefore, autocratic and a reflection of the political malfeasance which has become ingrained in our beloved country over the years.

And, by and large, Zambians expect the new Republican constitution to include the following:

(a) Provision for the appointment of ministers by the Republican President from among persons qualified to be elected as members of parliament, but who are not members of parliament;

(b) Provision for the election of the Republican President under a system where the winning candidate should receive not less than 50 percent plus one vote of the valid votes cast;

(c) Provision for the Republican Vice President to be elected as a running mate to any citizen seeking to be elected as Republican President;

(d) Provision for a consultative, transparent and accountable debt contraction law designed to give power to Parliament to oversee and approve all loans to be contracted by the government on behalf of Zambians;

(e) Inclusion of a “bill of rights,” which should specifically stipulate the economic and socio-cultural rights of Zambian citizens; and

(f) Provision for religious neutrality by removing the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation and any related Articles and Clauses.

If these concerns cannot be addressed now, we should hold the forthcoming tripartite elections under the 1996 constitution in its current form. There is really no wisdom in trying to push through a constitutional Bill which has so many contentious issues and inconsistencies—the kinds of issues and inconsistencies which are predictably going to elicit nationwide demonstrations and potentially culminate in losses of property and human life.

I trust that each and every Member of parliament will make an earnest personal contribution to our beloved country’s quest to create a more democratic, more peaceful, more prosperous, more egalitarian, and more environmentally sustainable country—and the enactment of a completely new Republican constitution that will stand the test of time is clearly a good start in this direction!

May I also use this opportunity to make a few comments and suggestions again (relating to a sample of Articles in the Constitution of Zambia Bill 2010), which are designed to make the Bill more acceptable to the majority of Zambians, and more credible in the eyes of the international community.

The Preamble:

The first three paragraphs of the Preamble should read as follows:

“We, the people of Zambia, by our representatives assembled in our Parliament,

ACKNOWLEDGE the supremacy of God Almighty;

UPHOLD the right of every person to enjoy that person’s freedom of conscience or religion; …”

There is no country in the world today that can claim to be a Christian nation in its national constitution other than the State of Israel. But, unfortunately, the Holy Land DOES NOT even have an official religion! And only 2.1% of Israelis are designated as being Christian, while 76.3% are designated as being Jewish, 16% as being Moslems, and so forth.

What is really driving us to this level of religious fanaticism? Is it not enough to acknowledge the supremacy of God Almighty in the constitution—God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?

Anyway, the Republican constitution should be a neutral document that should not appear to discriminate against atheists or pagans, or those who believe in Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Jainism. All these segments of Zambian society have a genuine stake in the Republican constitution and, therefore, deserve to be respected in spite of the fact that they are currently not as large as their Christian counterparts.

And all of them, including Christians, are bona fide citizens of the Republic of Zambia! The fact that Comrades Frederick Chiluba, Rupiah Banda, George Kunda, Ronnie Shiakpwasha, and many other MMD politicians happen to be Christians does not give them the right or mandate to maintain the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation in the Republican constitution.

Comrade Kunda wants to hide behind the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) as having recommended the retention of the Declaration in the Republican constitution, but he is on record as having been in the forefront in promoting the retention of the Declaration, together with Comrades Banda and Shikapwasha. In campaigns leading to the Solwezi Central Parliamentary by-election slated for 19th November 2009, for example, he was reported as having said that the MMD was committed to retain the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation in the new Republican constitution.

And in December 2009, Comrade Banda said that Zambia will remain a Christian Nation in a speech read on his behalf by Information and Broadcasting Services Minister Shikapwasha at the 18th Anniversary of the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation in Lusaka.

For the umpteenth time, I wish to request Zambian law makers to give the country a constitution that will genuinely recognize and safeguard each and every individual’s freedom of worship and the freedom to choose one’s religion, and a constitution that will DISCOURAGE the following in a deliberate effort to forestall the potential disruption of public order and socio-economic activities by cliques of fanatics from any of our beloved country’s religious denominations:

(a) The use of public funds by a local or national government to set up a church or mosque, and/or to provide any form of support to any given religious group, institution or activity;

(b) Official participation by government leaders in the affairs of any given religious group or institution, or official participation by any given religious leader or group in political or governmental affairs;

(c) The use of a religious platform by any individual or group of individuals to form a political party;

(d) The use of a religious platform by any individual to seek a leadership position in any of the three branches of government—that is, the legislature, the judiciary and the executive;

(e) Inclusion of denominational religious subjects in the curricula of schools funded by the government;

(f) Desecration of any religious symbols or objects by any member or members of Zambian society; and

(g) Religious sermons or statements by any individual or group of individuals belonging to any given religious grouping or denomination which are contemptuous to, or are designed to slight, other religious groupings or denominations.

Religion, as I have stated so many times before, is deadly if it is not handled with utmost caution. The precarious problem currently facing Algeria, Nigeria, the Sudan, Afghanistan, and a host of other countries around the world which are beleaguered by religious conflicts should serve as a clear warning to each and every peace-loving Zambian to refrain from creating a similar situation that will dog our beloved country in perpetuity.

Prevention, as an age-old adage admonishes us, is better than cure!

In all, the declaration is hateful, and it is offensive to non-Christians. It is divisive, and it will eventually be exploited by extremists in our midst to fan tension and skirmishes among our people. It will, no doubt, become an important tool for recruiting non-Christians by non-Christian extremists in their worldwide diabolical schemes.

We need to take a fresh look at the declaration through the eyes of non-Christians. In other words, we need to put ourselves in their shoes in order to understand their potential fears, feelings and reaction to the declaration. And we need to be aware that non-Christians are keenly watching us from the sidelines, but sooner or later, they will rise and demand to be recognized as bona fide citizens who need to be treated as equals in their country’s constitution.

Christian Values and Principles:

Article 144 of the Bill, which is about Christian Values and Principles, should be removed because “directing the policies and laws towards securing and promoting Christian values” or beliefs which it espouses would be inconsistent with “upholding the right of every person to enjoy that person’s freedom of conscience or religion” that is enshrined in the Preamble.

It is also not consistent with what is enshrined in Article 201(2)(a) of the Bill, which states that a political party shall not be founded on a religious basis, among other things. If it would be permissible for the national government to generate “policies and laws towards securing and promoting Christian values …,” why would it be wrong for a political party to fashion its existence and contemplated policies and laws that would have a religious bearing?

There is also a contradiction between Article 201(2)(a) cited above and Article 201(1)(g), which states that “A political party shall promote the objectives and principles of this Constitution and the rule of law,” which would essentially include the promotion of Christian values and principles!

It seems Comrade Kunda is incapable of noticing these obvious contradictions; why else would the Honorable Minister of Justice and Republican Vice President readily take the flawed Constitution of Zambia Bill 2010 to Parliament for debate?

By the way, there are no such things as “Christian values” or “Christian principles.” I know this because am actually a devout Christian! It is, therefore, not a good idea to load the Republican constitution with such unconventional terms.

Qualifications for Presidential Candidates:

The requirement in Article 34(1)(c) of the Bill that presidential candidates should have been resident in Zambia for 10 consecutive years preceding any given presidential election is clearly designed to exclude certain individuals from contesting the Republican presidency. It is obvious that this Clause could not have been included in the Bill if the MMD presidential candidate in the 2011 general elections—that is, Mr. Rupiah Banda—had been working or studying in a foreign country over the last 5 or so years.

What is really the rationale for such a Clause? Apart from mimicking other countries which have a similar requirement in their national constitutions, what is it supposed to achieve?

There are many reasons why Zambians temporarily reside in foreign countries, such as to pursue studies, to work for the Zambian government in foreign missions, to work at foreign-based branches of companies registered in Zambia, to pursue investment opportunities, to seek employment due to the widespread unemployment currently obtaining in the country, or to serve the country at the African Union, SADC and COMESA regional offices.

These are all good reasons why some Zambian citizens have, now and again, found themselves temporarily residing in foreign countries. Why, then, should their native country’s constitution deny them the opportunity to vie for the Republican presidency?

Besides, there is really nothing sinister about Zambians who may happen to reside in foreign countries for 10 years prior to any given presidential election. In fact, we should consider it a blessing to have citizens who have lived in foreign countries to contest the Republican presidency because of their wide exposure, as bystanders, to the strengths and weaknesses of different modes of governance applied in different national settings.

Technically, the requirement affects even citizens who are currently serving our beloved country in foreign missions, such as Dr. Nevers Mumba and Dr. Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika, and politicians like Mr. Tilyenji Kaunda who, I believe, conducts a business in neighboring Zimbabwe.

Or is there going to be subsidiary legislation designed to exempt such people from the requirement?

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