Lusaka, 25 May (ENI)–Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa is refusing to heed calls by the country’s Roman Catholic bishops to break an impasse over changes to the country’s constitution, which they see as vital to avoid a future confrontation in the southern African country.
After the bishops in mid-May made their appeals, Mwanaswa urged Zambians to ignore calls for demonstrations over the constitution-making process describing them as ‘a sheer waste of time and resources’.
‘The people of Zambia have spoken; they want a new constitution before the 2011 presidential and parliamentary elections,’ said a statement signed by Archbishop Telesphore George Mpundu of Lusaka, the president of the Zambia Episcopal Conference.
The Catholic bishops’ warning came ahead of expected countrywide demonstrations about the constitution initiated by civil society groups and the Church under the umbrella of the Oasis Forum, whose roadmap for the path to a new constitution the government has rejected.
Mwanawasa was, however, quoted by Zambia media as saying it was a waste of time to organise such demonstrations. ‘It would have been easier to mobilise the [ruling] party for demonstrations in favour of the Government’s roadmap but that would not benefit anyone,’ he said. ‘Equally, we think those small demonstrations are good for only their nuisance value.’
A 16 May statement released on behalf of the Zambian bishops
said: ‘Zambians are tired of the slow pace at which the constitution review process is being conducted. It is now time to make concessions and positive engagement of all sectors of society in the constitution-making process in order to adopt a more progressive roadmap towards the enactment of a new constitution.’
Mpundu, who is also archbishop of Lusaka, noted that 43 years after independence, Zambia is in dire need of an inclusive constitution that can not only stand the test of time, but also empower people to answer the challenges that face the nation.
‘More than ever before, Zambia needs a constitution that will give rise to a positive political
transformation of our country,’ he said. ‘Zambia can not afford the luxury of procrastination, which has characterised the government’s approach to the current constitution review process.’
The Catholic leader reminded President Mwanawasa his administration had an obligation to show other countries how to peacefully pass from an outdated constitution to a people-driven one.
‘We, as Catholic bishops together with the Church we lead and the nation at large, are ready to give full support to the peaceful approach towards the constitution-making process,’ Mpundu said. ‘Anything short of a peaceful process will only lead to more tension, increased polarisation and confrontation.’