Church critical to dialogue process

FILE picture: President Edgar Lungu (left) shaking hands with UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema. PICTURE: ANGELA NTENTABUNGA

AS POLITICIANS play seesaw over the pending dialogue to iron out various governance issues, other interest groups have not been silent spectators to the unfolding drama.
The Church and the trade unions have voiced out on the political rift that divides largely the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and the country’s largest opposition political party, the United Party for National Development (UPND).
Neither parties seem to be moving closer to the dialogue table, with the argument centred on who should mediate the dialogue, whether Zambia Centre for Interparty Dialogue (ZCID) or the Commonwealth.
The UPND, distrustful of the ZCID, wants the Commonwealth to drive the peace process, while the PF is of the view the country is capable of managing its affairs through ZCID.
ZCID on the other hand has repeatedly reaffirmed its independence and capability to mediate the political dialogue.
Professor Ibrahim Gambari, who is the Commonwealth special envoy to help end the political impasse that arose from the 2016 general elections, has been involved in shuttle diplomacy, meeting various interest groups.
Recently, President Edgar Lungu called on the Church to mediate the dialogue process.
Mr Lungu feels the Church should join and own the dialogue process for political parties.
He wants the Church to take its position and own the dialogue process because it knows no political party or tribe.
The head of State feels the church should be on board to give guidance regardless of who will lead the dialogue process between ZCID or the Commonwealth.
“Please do not leave this process to the political players alone, come on board,” he said this recently when he graced the thanksgiving church service in honour of outgoing Archbishop of Lusaka, Telesphore Mpundu.
“I know that some people do not trust the Church while others have trust in the church but I know and I think we all know that with the love that is embedded in the Church, it can bring us together. If we leave out the Church, I do not think we will achieve much,” Mr Lungu said.
A well-respected institution by majority citizens, the Church in Zambia has always played referee in such matters.
The Church’s role in conflict resolution cannot be underplayed as it has since time immemorial been regarded as a peacemaker.
In the run-up to the 1991 general elections that brought about multiparty democracy, the Church was key in bringing founding president Dr Kenneth Kaunda and his rival Dr Frederick Chiluba (who would later succeed him) to the negotiating table. The two met at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross surrounded by clergy.
In 2014, when the ruling PF was embroiled in intra-party succession wrangles after the death of Michael Sata, the Church was instrumental in restoring peace in the party.
On December 20, 2014, then acting President Guy Scott and Patriotic Front (PF) president Edgar Lungu announced that they had reconciled and pledged to work together.
The two leaders came to a conclusion and decided to put a stop to the succession wrangles that rocked the party after Northmead Assemblies of God Bishop Joshua Banda mediated the talks.
“After all that confusion, we decided to come together under the auspices of Dr Banda; some from the so-called Lungu’s faction and some from the Miles Sampa group, and we agreed to draw a line across the past. So, nothing that happened in the past has any impact now, Dr Scott said.
And Bishop Joshua Banda, who is part of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ), says the Church has a better understanding of what is happening in the political realm because the issues stem from the 2016 elections, where the Church was involved in dialogue among the political players.
“The nation will just have to look back to 2016 and see what role the Church played then to know that any talk of dialogue now should really be a continuation,” he says.
The bishop is opposed to a Commonwealth-led dialogue process because the church has proved it can lead the negotiation process.
Dr Banda says what gives the Church comparative advantage in the political impasse is its ability to source divine wisdom.
“The hope for the nation still lies in the Lord who has given the Church as a gift to the nation so that the Church can channel divine resource into these situations,” he says.
He sees the dialogue process as an opportunity for Zambia to bury partisan politics, forgive one another and demonstrate love and tolerance.
The bishop’s advice to Christians and citizens at large is to take interest in what is going on in the nation and get involved.
“We must work to pull the nation together,” he says.
Bishop Banda also thinks that the media blew the issue a little bit out of proportion.
“I believe that part of what is going on in the whole scenario in the nation is to some extent a deliberate narrative by key players within the media. I always argue that the media will turn to project what is important to them,” he says.
Bishop Banda says the media needs to focus more on the good that is happening in the country in terms of development.
However, the union mother body, the Zambia Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) is of the view that the country’s political conflict management process should be enshrined in the national Constitution to curtail future debate regarding who should mediate the dialogue process.
ZCTU secretary, general Cosmas Mukuka feels the absence of an established channel of political conflict resolution in the Constitution is a recipe for anarchy.
Mr Mukuka feels where there is no initiative of the Church; the Constitution should set out the procedure to manage conflict.
“Even if we suggest the Church, Commonwealth and or political parties, it should be an agreed situation by all citizens. And were inter-party fails, it should clearly state steps to be taken in seeking recourse,” Mr Mukuka says.
The trade union body, is of the view ZCID is a credible institution capable of spearheading the political dialogue process.
“ZCID is an established institution; it is a very good institution to tackle the dialogue but is the process well known on how that dialogue should proceed, Is it constitutional?” Mr Mukuka asked.

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