Why Zambia’s political dialogue is rhino horn

GODFREY Chitalu.

IT IS undeniable that political dialogue is a major peace building tool whenever compartmentalisation and polarisation emerge, especially after fractious national elections. Opposing political parties are at each other’s throats for myriad electoral-related disputes that unfortunately outlive the tenures of elective office. We should not allow this cyclic anthem of brave warriors ruled by aluta continua battle cries, continue affecting our national peace.
Rarely do political leaders persuade their cadres to sit down and choose the path of peace. Without naming and trying, albeit rather awkwardly to be apolitical, I will proffer on why Zambia’s political dialogue is indeed a rhino horn. It is up to us to see ourselves in this article.
Rhinos are hunted by humans for their horns, which are bought and sold on the black market largely for ornamental and aphrodisiac purposes. Ten years ago rhinos were declared extinct in our country due to rampant poaching. In like manner, the need for Zambian political players to sit and talk peace has eluded our political players for a long time. Why have we failed to achieve across-party intercourse in regard to dialogue? Although there are many reasons, due to space constraints, I will zoom in on five.
1. Failure to appreciate each other as equal partners: Both the ruling and opposition political parties fail to appreciate each other as equal partners in the dialogue process. Opposition – ruling relationship constrains dialogue in a way that relegates it to movement akin of a tortoise. We need to come to the table the way we are, fully conversant of our common responsibilities and status quo; each knowing what is being brought on the table and related historical backgrounds. For instance, being together on the table with the ruling party will not in any way metamorphose the opposition into the ruling party. There is time for everything and in the case of dialogue, it is an opportunity to discuss and exchange ideas of mutual concern.
2. Lack of consultation and inclusiveness: Political dialogue in our country is immature because players barely have time to consult their constituents. Issues to be put on the table in a consultative forum must be generated through a bottom-up approach.
Being a leader of a political party does not in any way give you a free reign in the dialogue process as you are a voice for your constituents. Dialogue is supposed to be organised on pertinent issues that have been agreed through broad-based consultations.
Since most times this basic factor is overlooked, our dialogue processes become a merry-go-round. Political parties need free, prior and informed consent of their members on issues to be discussed. Figureheads normally spoil the fun of dialogue as mostly followers left out in consultation later change goalposts.
3. Lack of preparation: Unlike trees that grow on their own accord, dialogue is a process that needs preparation. Most of us talk about dialogue in a superficial way without ever thinking about mechanisms on its attainment. If political players fail the basic test on who to oversee, manage and conclude the processes, surely we start chasing a rhino horn. Any dialogue process must have a plan and executable timelines. All actors in the process must be pre-agreed with clear guidelines.
4. Lack of credible facilitation: Since dialogue needs to be fair, democratic, even-handed and above reproach, there is need to agree on credible facilitators. Whether it is an institution or individual, they need to be agreed by all concerned parties. It is one thing to call for dialogue but another to have a skilled and neutral facilitation process. If as political parties you can’t agree on a credible facilitator, chances are very high that your dialogue will be moving in circles. A suitable facilitator must be apolitical, truthful, neutral and of good impeccable credentials.
5. Lack of political will: I think we should not be ashamed as a country to mention that political dialogue has stalled because our politicians lack political will. As a nation, regardless of who is the president, we need to decide if we love our country more than we hate him or her. Putting the country first is one criterion for political will that pushes for dialogue. We need to put the safety of our nation top of the agenda by willingly calling for peace and being part of peace building. Political will pushes the dialogue process and, at the same time, helps in the implementation of agreed plans.
Our political players also fail to understand that dialogue, like Rome, has never been known to be built in one day. The complexity of consensus building should start by small appreciable steps. These might even be done off dialogue, like the occasional handshake with your so-called adversaries, breakfast together, an invitation for a drink and the niceties that go with romance.
Our politicians must realise that they can’t be bigger than the country and should be seen to embrace dialogue. Pre- and post-mediation, including multi-faceted and multi-level interactions, will one day make our country’s so-called political enemies see eye to eye. We know that dialogue is the best way to solve problems. No matter how leaders shield this from us, it will not change.
The author is a social and political commentator.

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