|The Courier N° 134 - July - Aug 1992 - Dossier A fresh look at Africa? - Country Reports Grenada- Seychelles (EC Courier, 1992, 104 p.)|
|Dossier: A fresh look at Africa?|
by Fr Ives Chituba BANTUNGWA
In the words of the Christian Gospel, Jesus Christ said to his followers: 'Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's'. This is interpreted as an injection to Christians to obey the civil authority under which they live. But if a government oversteps the moral bounds set by the spiritual authority, what attitude are Christ's present-day followers to take ? As democratisation gains momentum in developing countries, that question is becoming more and pressing. In some African countries high-ranking church members have felt it their duty to take a leading role in guiding or organising the movement for greater democracy, and some have even been detained or expelled for their involvement. In Zambia, where the people recently achieved a peaceful handover of power in free elections, -there was firm support for political change from the leaders of the various Christian denominations in that country. They had, of course, to ask themselves what role, if any, the Church should play in the country's political affairs. A leading Zambian churchman I discusses that question, describes what action religious leaders took and looks to the future.
The Christian Church is not divorced from the society in which it operates. On the contrary, it is part and parcel of that society. In Zambia the Church has shared and, hopefully, will continue to share the joys and hopes, the sufferings and anxieties of the people of this country and the world at large. As to what role the Church should play in politics, divergent views have been and continue to be expressed.
I see the role of the Church in society basically as expressed by our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Luke, where He says: 'The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the Good News to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind new sight, to set the down-trodden free, to proclaim the Lord's year of favour' (Luke 4:18-19). This essentially means that the duty of the Church is to preach Christ in both word and deed, and to foster peace and justice as well as to promote the common good.
While refraining from partisan politics because she has a pastoral ministry to all regardless of political affiliations the Church, I believe, should avoid passivity or indifference on the pretext of maintaining neutrality. In the case of political, social or economic oppression she should unhesitatingly exercise her responsibility to 'set the down-trodden free'. God has revealed Himself as the protector and defender of the poor, the powerless and the oppressed. In the Book of Exodus God took a clear and decisive stand: 'I have heard the cry of my people in Egypt... I mean to deliver them' (exodus 3 :7). In matters of this nature the Church has simply no choice but to make a fundamental option for the poor and the oppressed.
From the foregoing it is clear that the prime role of the Church is not to make decisions concerning the type of political system to be adopted in a given country. Yet the Church does have the right to pass moral judgements even on matters touching political order, especially when basic human rights are at stake.
The Christian Church in Zambia has always played a positive and constructive role in local politics. When for example in 1979 the then government of Dr Kenneth Kaunda attempted to impose atheistic 'Scientific Socialism' on the country, Christian Churches strongly opposed the move and the Government had to abandon the idea.
In July 1991 a serious political impasse occurred over the controversial Mvunga Constitution. President Chiluba's Movement for Multi-Party Democracy had serious objections to certain articles in the Constitution perceived as having been tailored to concentrate power in the hands of the then President Kaunda and perpetuate his rule. A frightening scenario had been set; the nation was gradually drifting towards civil strife. It was the Christian Churches spearheaded by the Catholic Church which saved the day. Following a flurry of behind-the-scenes diplomacy, reconciliation was achieved between the UNIP government and the MMD at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Lusaka on 24th July 1991.
Sensing the tense atmosphere during the period leading to the October presidential and general elections, the three mother bodies, viz the Christian Council of Zambia, the Zambia Episcopal Conference and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, formed the Christian Churches Monitoring Group (CCMG) to ensure that elections were free, fair and honourable. On being joined by other bodies like the Law Association of Zambia, the Press Association of Zambia, the Women's Lobby and UNZASU (University Students Union), the organisation became the Zambia Elections Monitoring Co-ordinating Committee. ZEMCC was non-partisan and intended to objectively observe the campaign environment and the entire process during and after elections. The organisation kept its ears to the ground and had an eagle's eye for such malpractices as intimidation, acts of violence, bribery and vote-rigging.
The Church-dominated ZEMCC quickly swung into action. It called on the citizens of Zambia to pray for peace and God's guidance. A vigorous civic education campaign was mounted. Registered voters were urged to show political maturity by voting responsibly and in accordance with the dictates of their conscience. The organisation made effective use of the national media in urging people to put national interest and the common good before personal gain, power and prestige. The message that multi-party politics, as opposed to one party rule, meant living in peace with people of different political views and affiliations was beamed over and over again. On polling day (31 October 1991) ZEMCC was able to field 3000 monitors throughout the country. Thanks to this effective mobilisation of monitors and the presence of foreign observers the elections turned out to be one of the cleanest and fairest Zambia and Africa as a whole have experienced. ZEMCC's motto: 'Setting a standard for Africa' had become a reality.
It has been said in some quarters that, given the fragile nature of national unity in many African countries, a multi-party system of government may encourage destabilisation. There is some truth in the assertion but the situation in Zambia is different. The country boasts several favourable factors. Over the past 27 years of Kaunda rule the country achieved a degree of unity, peace and stability which is unique in Africa and respected throughout the world. The people of Zambia should take credit for their open and frank approach to social and political issues, and especially for their apparent resolve never to betray their national motto of: 'One Zambia One Nation'. Some history is also behind this happy development. Some 60 years ago people from various tribes within the country and from neighbouring countries started trekking to the Copperbelt in search of employment in the developing mines. The cross-cultural contact that ensued and still continues today has helped to build a culture of mutual acceptance. The Copperbelt is the home of some 2 million people, and its influence on the rest of the country is immense.
The former UNIP government of Dr Kaunda must have learned the hard way that the Church just like the Labour Movement are potentially formidable enemies of dictatorial regimes. From July 1990, when the Catholic Bishops issued a pastoral statement entitled 'Economics, Politics and Justice', a number of top UNIP leaders became hostile. They issued threats against the Church accusing it of preaching hate. The former President should have listened to the advice of the Church instead of pitting himself against it.
It is to be hoped that the new MMD government of President Chiluba has taken a leaf from that situation. The Church and the State are neither rivals nor enemies but partners in development. The new government is doing the right thing in consulting the Church on national issues. What still remains to be done, however, is to establish a Church/ State Consultative Committee. This will put in place a reliable communication channel between the two institutions, which need to be in contact at all times and not only in times of crisis. It is in this vein that most Christian Churches regretted the lack of consultation and lack of preparation of the nation when on 29 December 1991 President Chiluba suddenly declared Zambia a Christian nation. The unnecessary misinterpretation of the President's intentions that followed could have been avoided had consultations with the Church taken place.
The Christian Church played the midwife at the birth of democracy in this | country. Having helped to build an i enabling atmosphere that yielded free I and fair results reasonably accepted by | all, the Church has not folded its arms.
It still feels duty-bound to work for the strengthening of the institutions and operations of democracy. Because of this conviction, the Christian Council of Zambia and the Zambia Episcopal Conference-two powerful Christian bodies in the land-have joined hands with other civic groups and NGOs to form FODEP (Foundation for Democratic Process). By promoting a new political culture of civic responsibility through education about the rights and responsibilities of both leaders and citizens, FODEP hopes to achieve its objectives. The Foundation is keenly interested in monitoring human rights abuses and corruption. It will generally speak out also on issues that may jeopardise the democratic process.
FODEP did just that on 7 March this year following the much publicised and politicised search on 5 March of former President Kaunda's personal belongings. Disturbed by the hostility the event stirred, the Foundation issue a Statement calling for calm. The Organisation was to speak out again on 19 May. Two MMD Cabinet ministers had been manhandled at the funeral of the former MP Shart Banda in Chadiza four days earlier. The flurry of accusations, counter-accusations and irresponsible statements from some MMD and UNIP leaders prompted the statement. The UNIP Party Secretary General, Mr Kebby Musokotwane, was reported to have talked of a 'recipe for bloodshed', while the Minister for Local Government and Housing, Mr Michael Sata, had called for the 'kicking out of UNIP from markets'. As the vanguard of democracy FODEP reminded all political parties to respect elected leaders. Elected leaders were in turn also reminded of their duty to serve all Zambians regardless of political affiliations.
The Church in Zambia has truly tried to be a channel of peace; bringing hope where there was despair, love and understanding where conflict reigned, to paraphrase the prayer of St Francis. I believe it will continue to work for the strengthening of institutions and operations of democracy so that our nation may prosper in peace. I.C.B.