6th November 2020
In October 2020, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and its cooperating partners among many, the European Union, Germany, UK, Ireland, USAID and France, in collaboration with the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), launched the ‘Strengthening Democracy in Zambia’, project which inter-alia undertakes to provide financial support that would assist the Commission in building capacity and strengthen inclusive participation, and civic engagement of all stakeholders in readiness for the 2021 elections.
The funds totalling US$13.2 out of which 80% has already been raised, will undoubtedly go a long way in providing necessary resources to boost the operations of the ECZ. It also underscores the donor community’s commitment and desire that Zambia achieves free, fair and transparent 2021 election that will reflect the aspirations of the Zambian people, and meet International standards of a credible electoral process.
The donor community must be lauded for this generous gesture. I however wish to express concern that unless stringent conditions are laid out to ensure that the ECZ adheres to specific benchmarks that guarantees delivery of a free and fair election, the magnanimity of the donor community through this generous act, will not yield citizens high expectations and will be a wasted effort.
In that regard, I call upon all stakeholders among many, the Church Mother Bodies, the Civil Society, Labour and Student Movement, Law Association of Zambia and the Opposition Alliances, to rise to the occasion and exert pressure on the donor community to undertake to release the funds, on if ECZ complies to stakeholders and citizens’ demands on the following thorny issues;
1) The voter registration exercise. The unilateral decision by ECZ to deregister the old voters’ roll in preference for a new register that will undeniably disfranchise millions is unrealistic, unreasonable and uncalled for. It should be vehemently opposed, rejected forthwith and immediately addressed by the ECZ.
2) The issuance of National Registration Cards. This is basically a conveyance for citizens to register to vote, is directly linked to the electoral process. The insistence by the ECZ to insulate themselves out of this responsibility is unconvincing, and as a matter of fact reckless. EZC must collaborate with the Ministry of Home Affairs in ensuring as many citizens as possible obtain NRCs to enable them to vote.
3) Public Order Act. The ECZ must invoke necessary powers that it possesses under the Act, by ensuring the Police provides equal and fair opportunities to political parties to meet citizens and canvass for support without arbitrary arrests or threats of arrest of opposition party leaders and supporters. Currently the opposition faces arrests, intimidation and all manner of harassment from both the Police and ruling party cadres.
4) Political violence. The ECZ must vigorously engage the Zambia Police and political parties in ensuring that violence is nipped in the bud, regardless of whether these cadres are from the opposition or ruling party. Evidence is abound where the Police have turned a blind eye on violence perpetrated by the governing party cadres while ironically arresting the victims of the violence. This is unacceptable and in the long term compromises national security.
5) Hate speech. The ECZ have a statutory duty to ensure canvassing for support by political parties must be within acceptable norms that must not compromise decency. ECZ must collaborate with Police to curtail hate speech based on ethnicity regardless of who says it. Currently hate speech directed at certain sections of the communities carried out by institutional office holders is rife. This has potential to cause huge damage to Zambia’s unitary status and must not be allowed to continue.
It is in view of the foregoing that I call upon all stakeholders to strongly lobby the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and its cooperating partners to ensure no funds are released until the ECZ adheres to the above critical benchmarks. It is very much within the power of ECZ to stop this.
Senior Chief Mukuni of the Leya people of Kazungula, Livingstone and Zimba Districts and all the Bene Mukuni.