|Zambian State and Church at loggerheads - Part 1|
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Kabwata Baptist Church. However, they are an excellent talking point...Elders KBC.
Retracing the way forward By Charles Kachikoti
Without question, Government and Church are twin sisters that have no choice but to hear each other out because they have spoken and listened to each other in years past. The Church, speaking in this case of Roman Catholics and the range of other charismatic and non-charismatic churches both ancient and contemporary, is by biblical injunction expected to counsel individuals, families and leadership structures at all levels. It is expected to leverage social progress by engaging Government on specifics. In fact the Church is expected to compliment good works and criticize bad works of Government wherever and whenever they are in evidence.
The Church plays not only vital but decisive roles in the moral and spiritual development of the citizens of Zambia, but also provides crucial uplifts in areas of health, education, agriculture, human rights and governance, and economic development at large. The list is inexhaustible. It is true that politicians meet people, but pastors always have ready audiences in the individual souls they attend to by way of personal or familial ministry, and in the congregations they address weekly and, in certain circumstances, daily. Therefore, the Church, speaking on issues that cause communal disquiet and anxiety, is in a competent and authoritative place to air people’s concerns. And when it does so, Government must listen.
President Rupiah Banda is by nature a diplomat, and on account of vast experience a statesman. It is in keeping with his character to seek dialogue with all classes and sections of society, as heard when he outlined his key commitments in his inaugural speech on November 2, 2008: “Eight weeks ago I launched my campaign to be President of the Republic of Zambia. For me to be President is to be President of all Zambians. I promised to be the agent of continuity, delivering the pledges of the 2006 MMD manifesto. I also promised to deliver good governance, to continue the campaign against corruption. Underlying all of these was my main goal of fighting poverty. We have come a long way these last seven years but there is still much to do. Too many Zambians have been left behind; they do not share in the economic prosperity of the Zambian economy.” On this count, the concerns of the Church are the concerns of the Banda administration.
A presidential inauguration speech outlines aspects of a party Manifesto; it is a foundational, defining statement amounting to a Mission Statement. And it was there that the President of all Zambians committed himself to working with the opposition. Therefore it should be taken that he committed himself to unity across political boundaries: “Today I offer my friendship to Michael Sata, Hakainde Hichilema and Godfrey Miyanda. I do so because it is not my intention to govern a divided nation. It does not matter which party you voted for, at the end of the day we are all Zambians. In my campaign launch speech, I said the words ‘united we stand, divided we fall. This election will not divide us, it will unite us all in a common goal. We may be a country of many tribes, of many languages, different religions and of many colours but never forget we are one nation. So to the leaders of the opposition parties I ask you to work with me for all Zambians. In Parliament we must put aside petty squabbles and do what is right for the Zambian people.”
The Church in Zambia has historically engaged Government on matters that warrant urgent redress. The prospect of bloodshed in 1991, arising from anxious panic in the Unip camp and impatience in the opposition camps, saw the Church take the initiative to bring all parties to the negotiating table. That mediation spared the country from slipping into explosive violence. In fact it is because of intensive prayer among believers that all the general and by-elections since then have, in spite of bile and vitriol in the campaigns, in spite of incidents of violence in scattered spots, been restful. Considering the simmering heat during each campaign period, the peace of voting day has been illogical and abnormal. Of course divine happenings are abnormal to the human eye. Given that the inaugural speech threw open doors of communication, the Church should do several things.
Approach and engage the President and his Cabinet ministers, and parliamentarians in tow. Visit them and talk. President Banda is open to all definitions of people and is always willing to talk; which position demands that his officials also open up and talk. That some of them may be unapproachable or allergic to dialogue does not mean President Banda endorses barbed silence or promotes distant governance. He frequently appeals for open dialogue and the Church necessarily needs to take advantage of that. As one of the freedom fighters of this country, President Banda can not now, of all times, espouse violence against any group of people – least of all the Church. To date, Zambia’s fourth republican president is the most misrepresented and ill-understood of the heads of state we have ever had. The pictures sold of him through media reportage are starkly different from the friendly, convivial fatherly figure you meet in person – and many of his visitors will admit. One picture that has gained currency is that the President and his Cabinet are hostile to national interests and interested only in personal pursuits; and are therefore beyond reach.
That Zambia’s economy has sailed through the eye of the global finance hurricane that is still damaging mortgage holding in the US should demonstrate that Rupiah Bwezani Banda has kept his eye on the ball and has scored goals in various sectors. He is not running Zambia with his eye on personal interests which – if you know his long background in politics and business – were established long before he left politics in the year 2000. It is still possible for the Church to meet the President or his officials to frankly and honestly thrash out all things thorny and prickly. It is still possible for the Church to play its intermediary role when relations between the MMD and opposition parties threaten to boil over and spill nitric acid on their voters. It is still possible to deepen mutual understanding between the MMD Government and the Church and the people at large.
The author is Chief Policy Analyst for Press and Public Relations at State House in Zambia. He has been a born again Christian of good standing for over 27 years now. Look out for the end-PART 2- next week!