Friday, June 01, 2007

Come down, cool down and be level headed

Come down, cool down and be level headed
By Editor
Friday June 01, 2007 [04:00]

Speaking on May 3, 2003 at a meeting with individuals he had appointed to sit on the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) and other stakeholders at State House, President Levy Mwanawasa said he was holding an office which had lost the very necessary confidence required to administer the nation effectively. “Sometimes, I am embarrassed and ashamed to find myself as President, in an office which no longer inspires the confidence of our people,” President Mwanawasa said. “We are constantly judged by the behaviour and indiscipline of others. Society no longer trusts us. This is very sad and an extremely dangerous way of managing a country.”

President Mwanawasa went on to say that recent attempts at constitution reforms had demonstrated that political survival considerations had been the sole and paramount motivation for the reforms. He said the deceit, greed and appetite for power had polarised attempts on constitution reforms and that Zambians had every right to be cynical about the constitution reforms.

“The Zambian people, and indeed the international community, have come to believe that all other attempts to come at constitution reforms, including this one, are driven and inspired by politicians in power to either entrench themselves or engage in deceit or as a method of creating a political campaign platform for themselves,” President Mwanawasa said. “Indeed, all of us have every right and reason to feel cynical and cheated, to the point where perhaps we have lost faith in even producing a people-inspired constitution.”

Mwanawasa said it was unfortunate that he too was deemed to behave like the “other men” who cheated society and enacted bad laws.

“It is essentially on this very sad historical background that we find ourselves disagreeing, even on a matter which all of us ought to be agreeing,” President Mwanawasa said. “But even when we agree on essentially all the fundamentals, we have still chosen to disagree because we do not trust each other.”

President Mwanawasa said his government had decided to go ahead with constitution reforms because they recognised that the current Constitution was not only defective, inadequate and oppressive in many ways, but it had become suffocating and a source of conflict and confrontation in the country.

And on May 4, 2003, President Mwanawasa said he would introduce the required bills in Parliament to pave way for a constituent assembly.

“If there are laws in the present constitution that impede what people want a constituent assembly, I will pass a bill over to Parliament to amend such laws. If the bill to amend such laws fails, you will know who the enemy is the opposition,” he said.

And on May 8, 2003, the state-owned and government-controlled Times of Zambia newspaper carried a story in which President Mwanawasa was quoted telling members of the Oasis Forum he was meeting at State House: “The contentious issue is the constituent assembly which I also want but I would love this to come from the people.”

President Mwanawasa told members of the Oasis Forum that there were other unresolved issues like the appointment of the constituent assembly which he felt should be left to the CRC so that people did not say he had manipulated the process.

On January 19, 2005, The Post covered a meeting in Tokyo, Japan of President Mwanawasa with Zambians living in that country. President Mwanawasa, who went through a detailed schedule of expected processes in the CRC to the stage of adoption as preferred by civil society and the opposition, said the process was laborious although he would be happy if a successful constituent assembly was held to adopt the constitution, as costly as the process would be.

A fortnight ago President Mwanawasa before departing for a Comesa summit in Nairobi, said he would vote against the constituent assembly.

These are not our words; they are the words or views and ideas of the President of the Republic of Zambia, Mr Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, SC, on Zambia’s constitution review process.

It should be clear now to everyone, including President Mwanawasa himself, why the Zambian people do not trust any politician over the constitution review process. President Mwanawasa analysed it very correctly for everyone making any further disquisition on this issue unnecessary.

It is very clear that President Mwanawasa wants to write, adopt and enact a constitution for the Zambian people. This is not what the Zambian people want. What the people of Zambia want is to give themselves a constitution and not to be given or left one by President Mwanawasa. In our view this is where the current disagreements really emanate from. What the people want is to give themselves a constitution. This is because people shall be truly free when their constitution is people driven and reflects their wishes and aspirations.

There cannot be peace or a reduction in conflict in this country if there is no proper agreement on the constitution review process. We say this because the constitution is at the heart of the nation-building process. And if peace is to be ensured in our country, the primary requisite is to eradicate the cause of dissention between people. But to achieve this, capable or competent political leadership is required.

A constitution is primarily a political document; a result or product of a political process and not necessarily a consequence of a legal process. This point needs to be understood very clearly by President Mwanawasa and his legal advisors. Yes, there are some legal issues concerning the constitution review process, like it happens with every aspect of our national life, but this is much more of a political issue requiring political judgment and skill to manage. This seems to be seriously lacking in President Mwanawasa and his advisors.

If they are not careful with the way they manage this process, they will end up doing a lot of damage to the nation and to themselves, endangering whatever little progress has been made in other areas of our national life. This can be avoided if those tasked with managing the affairs of our country start to look at themselves as servants of the people and not their masters.

There are many people who have spoken on this issue, including very senior citizens with immense political and administrative experience and whose patriotism is beyond question. John Mwanakatwe has offered advice to this government and we have no doubt he is available to offer more if more is needed.

Grey Zulu has also spoken and his advice was very simple. He simply told the government to listen to the people. He did not tell them to listen to legal experts and other people with sophisticated political theories – he simply advised them to listen to the people.

But what do we see instead: unbridled arrogance and lack of humility from the President and his ministers, intimidating and calling innocent citizens all sorts of names. Is it a crime for any citizen to speak up or speak out on important national issues? Where is this arrogance coming from where people in government seem to think they are more intelligent, more clever, more patriotic than the rest of their 11 million fellow citizens?

It would seem our President has no time to consult and listen to the views held by other citizens who do not share his position, but he has more time to pick up the phone and harangue those he thinks are critical of his position on the Constitution. And he does so at a frightening speed. With no patience at all, he jumps up so quickly like someone sitting on drawing pins, to throttle them. This is certainly not a good quality in a political leader, especially one who is President of the Republic.

The quality of a political leader is often measured by his ability to meet, listen and peacefully and respectfully discourse with those who are totally opposed to him and his views or ideas. This is one quality that made Nelson Mandela stand out above many of our leaders on this continent.

Proverbs 20: 3 tells us that: “Any fool can start arguments; the honourable thing is to stay out of them.” And continues in verse 18 to advise us that: “Get good advice and you will succeed; don’t go charging into battle without a plan.”

President Mwanawasa’s confrontational phone call to Oasis Forum spokesperson Musa Mwenye was unnecessary and totally uncalled for. But this is not to say our President shouldn’t phone and dialogue with people like Musa. There is need for the President to talk to more and more of our people, especially those holding different views from his and not under his employment. This is necessary because this country knows no single genius – there can only be a collective genius.

The views being propounded by Musa and the Oasis Forum on the constitution review process are shared by many people in our country. And President Mwanawasa shouldn’t forget that his support base in this country is very narrow, as at the last elections it was less than one third of those who voted. We have no doubt if a referendum on any question concerning the constitution, especially on the constituent assembly was held, President Mwanawasa’s side would lose. Where as in the last elections he was competing primarily with Michael Sata, in a referendum he will have to face the might of all of us.

And this confrontation with ordinary citizens will leave President Mwanawasa badly bruised. He shouldn’t think he is an emperor who is above every subject; the President of this country is one of us and if he behaves stupidly towards a fellow citizen, he can be fixed, told off and humiliated by that citizen. Respect of the citizen is necessary.
We urge President Mwanawasa and his government to come down, cool down and be level headed and meet people on their terms.

This constitution is not for the governors, it is for the governed to give to the governors for them to govern the country accordingly. Let’s exercise humility. Let’s avoid a fight, which will leave one of us battered and humiliated. And the loser in a fight over the constitution review process will not be difficult to foresee – it will be unquestionably President Mwanawasa and his government. He will not succeed to have it his way and the sooner he realises this, the better it will be for him and for our country.

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