Saturday, December 13, 2008

Rupiah and mealie-meal demos

Rupiah and mealie-meal demos
Written by Editor

It is interesting to see how government officials are jittery about the proposed peaceful demonstrations by opposition Patriotic Front on the high prices of mealie-meal.

The government has used all sorts of excuses to justify their undemocratic manoeuvres to ensure that the intended peaceful demonstrations do not take place. They are claiming that these intended demonstrations will not be peaceful after all because there is great potential that they can turn violent.

Of course, this is a possibility. When there is such a demonstration involving a big number of people, other opportunistic characters or elements can come in under the guise of demonstrators to disturb people’s peace.

But this possibility should not be used by the government to deny our people their fundamental human rights. If anything, it is the government that has introduced an element of violence to these planned demonstrations because defence minister George Mpombo is threatening to unleash Zambia Army officers on unarmed peaceful protestors. He says the government will meet the protestors with full force. So, who will be igniting the violence between Mpombo’s men and women in uniform and the peaceful protesters? It’s clear that the government would like to cause violence and blame the opposition.

It is certainly not desirable for any government to be subjected to demonstrations, especially the demonstrations that are not in support. No government would like to find itself in such a situation. But the way it reacts to such demonstrations will clearly define its character and democratic credentials.

So President Rupiah Banda should not mislead the public that his opposition to the intended demonstrations is well-founded and in the interest of the public. President Banda says the opposition should not resort to demonstrations whenever they are aggrieved about something but should dialogue with the government.

Yes, that is true. But it should be realised that even demonstrations are a form of communication, a form of dialogue. People demonstrate when they are happy or sad about something. In fact, it is said that mass action is a peaceful form of channelling people’s anger.

It is very clear to us that if people were talking about peaceful demonstrations to endorse President Banda’s leadership on this or that, by now they would have been allowed to demonstrate a hundred times.

Zambia is a democracy and democratic governance is about political mobilisation. This is so because there is no fundamental change that can occur in a democratic country without the support and involvement of the people. The government will be slow to act or react on the many challenges facing the country if no pressure is put on them, if they are not called upon to account to the people of Zambia, to fulfill their election promises and indeed to provide for the people.

But the government doesn’t seem to have solutions to the current economic crisis the country is going through, hence their preference to discuss this matter behind closed doors. They do not want to be taken to task, to account.

And like we have stated before, to suppress peaceful protests or demonstrations in the name of order is to invite repression. In saying this, we are not in any way encouraging violence or any demonstration that are conducted outside the provisions of the law.

Protests or demonstrations are a testing ground for democracy. The ideals of free expression and citizen participation are easy to defend when everyone remains polite and in agreement on basic issues. But protestors or demonstrators and their targets do not agree on basic issues. As such, disagreements may be passionate or angry.

The challenge, therefore, is for people to defend the right to freedom of speech and assembly while maintaining public order and countering attempts at intimidation or violence.

It cannot be denied that there is tension that is slowly building up in the country because of the sharp rise in the prices of essential commodities. There are complaints from all corners of the country, including from those in the ruling party, on the ever-rising cost of living in the country. But those who want to bury their heads in the sand, like ostriches, will not acknowledge this tension. However, it should be noted that democratic societies like ours are capable of enduring the bitterest disagreement among citizens. In this spirit, the tension that is slowly building on the country’s economic challenges should be approached.

Yes, what the opposition PF is trying to do by organising peaceful demonstrations may be undesirable for those in government but it is certainly democratic and legal. And we feel that the way to deal with something that is undesirable but democratic and legal is for those in government to deploy democratic methods and not repressive or illegal measures.

So President Banda should not feel misunderstood by those who support the idea of staging peaceful demonstrations. It is their right to do that. Whether that demonstration yields desired results or not, the demonstrators must be allowed to demonstrate within the confines of the law because democracy does not encourage lawlessness

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