CATHERINE MUMBA, Lunga
AFTER weeks of intensive work in Luapula, it was time to loosen up a bit, thanks to an expeditious boat cruise from Samfya to Lunga.
I was travelling with the Commission of Inquiry into Voting Patterns and Electoral Violence, and our mission to Lunga district in Luapula Province was to hear from the public concerning matters that precipitate electoral violence, influence voting patterns and how they could be resolved.
Commissioners, secretariat staff and journalists needed to be at Samfya harbour in readiness for the trip by 06:00 hours.
There were four speed boats waiting for us at the harbour, but they could not accommodate everyone in the delegation. The two bigger boats had a 10-seater capacity while each of the smaller ones could only carry eight people.
Some people in the delegation, probably hydro-phobic, opted to remain behind because a two-hour cruise on Lake Bangweulu seemed like too long a journey for them.
My adventurous nature prompted me to go for it. Well, I did and it was an exciting journey.
The rafting waters, the waves, the scenic view, and at some point the gentle wind and serene environment was exciting, except the journey ended when I was just beginning to enjoy it.
The locals say the journey from Samfya to Lunga takes over two hours but the speed boats we used cruised to our destination within an hour.
However, the speed boat that was ferrying equipment such as the solar-powered generator and amplifier, faced some challenges on the way because of the heavy load.
Lunga is a special and beautiful place made up of 22 islands in the Bangweulu Wetlands, south-east of Lake Bangweulu. During my short visit, I observed that finding transport to move from one place to the other, is one of the major challenges facing the people of Lunga.
As a result, residents of Lunga rarely take part in national events.
But the President Lungu-appointed commission braved the waves on Lake Bangweulu to conduct public hearings in the area.
The commission has been mandated to enquire into the voting patterns in the general elections conducted from 2006 to 2016 and also the electoral violence that characterised last year’s general elections.
In Luapula Province, the commission held public hearings in Chipili, Mansa, Mwansabombwe and Chienge and Lunga districts respectively.
The commission is expected to come up with recommendations that should help to prevent the occurrence of violence in future elections and also ensure that voting outcomes reflect the people’s free will.
Retired judge Munalula Lisimba is the chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry into Voting Patterns and Electoral Violence and is deputised by Mevis Chisanga, a lawyer working for the Copperbelt Energy Corporation.
The other members of the commission are Matero Catholic parish priest Father Lastone Lupupa, political and civil rights activist and University of Zambia (UNZA) lecturer Lee Habasonda, Copperbelt University (CBU) lecturer Professor Owen Sichone who is also director of the Dag Hammarskjold Peace Initiative at CBU, and Senior Chief Ntambo.
The rest are UNZA academician Dr Mulenga Bwalya, retired civil servant Redson Nyanga, High Court Registrar Charles Kafunda, civil society activist and consultant Reuben Lifuka, Women and Law in Southern Africa country director Maureen Tresha, Evangelical Fellowship of Zamboa board member Flora Mooya, who is also part-time company secretary for Zambia Governance Foundation, and representing the youth is Wilfred Chilufya, the youth coordinator at Pillars of Peace Zambia.
The people of Lunga responded well to the public hearings and turned up in numbers to testify before the commission.
Some came to express their appreciation to the Justice Lisimba-led Commission for giving them an opportunity to participate in a national programme.
“It has never happened before that we are given chance to speak out, so we believe this will bring forth positive results. We are very happy because we know that the many problems we face in this district will reach the head of State,” a fisherman Chanda Chabu, said.
One of the issues that came out prominently during the hearing was the need to reinforce police presence in the district to curb electoral violence.
Lunga district has two police officers against a population of 27, 642 people.
Abedinego Lungwa, a farmer-cum-fisherman, submitted that politicians should not distribute gifts in form of campaign materials during elections because of their potential to influence decisions of voters.
“However, here in Lunga elections have been free and fair because we know how we vote. We believe that it is through correct voting that we have started seeing some development,” Mr Lungwa said.
He further submitted that losing candidates should accept election results because failure to do so is a recipe for violence.
Mr Lungwa said he has been wondering why the UPND was insisting that it had won the 2016 presidential election even after President Lungu was sworn into office.
“The late President Michael Sata lost a number of times but he accepted defeat. I am still wondering why the UPND has found it difficult to do so,” he said.
The Patriotic Front (PF) submitted that opposition political parties should not use abusive language against the ruling party.
PF Lunga district vice-treasurer Alfred Bwalya told the commission that confusion in the area only started after the announcement of election results.
“Voting was very peaceful except for the problem of opposition political parties like the UPND using vulgar language against the PF leadership. That’s what brought in confusion,” he said.
Mr Bwalya said the people of Lunga voted for the PF because they have confidence that it will deliver according to its campaign promises.
UPND district chairperson Henry Chabu, on the other hand, told the commission that his party was not happy because the PF was carrying out door-to-door campaigns while they could not do so.
“We reached a point where when we bought Chitenge materials for our wives, they refused to wear them because they wanted the PF chitenge,” he said.
Luapula Province permanent secretary Buleti Nsemukila commended the commission for including the little-known Lunga district among the areas it was visiting.
Commission vice chairperson Ms Chisanga thanked the people of Lunga for their good response. She assured them that their views and concerns would be included in the report that will be submitted to President Lungu.
The people’s collective remarks in Lunga were echoed precisely by one petitioner:
“Our hope is that whatever issues we have raised should reach the President because we do not want confusion in future elections. Thank you so much for remembering us.”