Editor's Comment

Procrastinating dialogue process unhealthy

HH, Lungu (right)

IT IS one year since the Commonwealth initiated the country’s political dialogue following the release of United Party for National Development (UPND) president Hakainde Hichilema from prison.The Commonwealth had proposed a dialogue strategy that will guide the talks following tensions precipitated by the UPND’s disputing the 2016 elections.
According to the Commonwealth proposed roadmap, the agreed structures should have been established by last December while the dialogue process should have started in January this year.
But mistrust followed among some political players, including have misgivings about the role of the Zambia Centre for Inter-party Dialogue (ZCID), a body established to deepen and consolidate democratic governance in the country.
ZCID is mandated to lead the dialogue.
Some political players have suggested that the Church should mediate the dialogue. ZCID, as the mandated body, has no problem with this for as long as it (ZCID) facilitates.
ZCID should take full charge of the process by coming up with a time-table and circulating it widely so that all political players are aware.
ZCID represents a locally-driven dialogue process which all the political players are expected to honour.
While it is the desire by some political parties to involve the Church, this does not mean ZCID abrogating its responsibility.
The Church, too, should respect the role ZCID in the country’s political process. The Church can only complement ZCID.
All this time spent on agreeing on who mediates, when a mediator is already in place, could have been better spent on discussing the contentious issues.
You would expect stakeholders, especially those that are aggrieved, to be the first at the negotiations table instead of on one hand saying they are ready and on the other setting unnecessary conditions.
Procrastination is taking them and the country nowhere. It is time to get to the table and begin to talk. The issues that need discussion are well known and that is what the focus should be on.
Continued delays could, however, also mean that there is really nothing earth-shattering to discuss.
Perhaps ZCID should establish whether this dialogue is indeed necessary in the form that is being suggested. In any case, Zambia is not facing a political crisis to prioritise such political dialogue.
The Government machinery and all other activities expected in a civil and democratic country are generally running smoothly.
Several by-elections have been held since the 2016 general elections which triggered the hullabaloo about elections process and the out-come.
The by-elections have been free and fair, despite some concerns about violence in a few instances. In the Lusaka mayoral election, for instance, the main opposition, the United Party for National Development (UPND), accepted defeat.
Since then, there has also been a notable improvement in dialogue between the governing Patriotic Front (PF) and the UPND. So if these two major parties in the country can chat and agree on some issues, what is the big deal about dialogue at a larger and formal level?
What we have in Zambia is just difference in political opinion, which is healthy in a democratic dispensation.
Therefore, if ZCID continues to face resistance from some quarters, it is free to call off the dialogue but of course it is better to talk and keep talking on issues until agreements are reached.
For Zambia, dialogue is expected to iron out some issues arising from the 2016 elections.
The dialogue must address threats – real or perceived – to forestall conflict ahead of the 2021 elections.
Although the dialogue is expected to be a two-party show between the UPND and ruling PF, all parties have a role to play.
Give ZCID a chance to lead the dialogue so that the country can address conflict drivers and foster reconciliation. Already a lot of time has been lost and Zambia could be losing a great opportunity to pull in the same direction.
Zambia needs to rebuild a greater national consensus and social cohesion with a shared vision for the future.
Political bitterness and violence have no place in Zambia’s democracy. Zambia is well past that phase of politics.

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