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UNDERSTANDING THE NATIONAL IDENTITY:

....PEACE AND HUMAN DIGNITY

THE struggle for the political liberation of the African continent in the 1970s and 80s bore a human and financial toll on Zambia.

A toll that inevitably won many of our neighbors their independence and freedom. An even deeper toll was borne on the country which sacrificed its wealth and human life to attain freedom and governance as we know it today. Zambia stands among the first African nations to introduce democracy and multiparty politics which ended the one party and so often dictatorial character of those politics in much of Africa. We became the forerunners for multiparty politics and its attendant benefits. Diplomacy in Africa, too, would be incomplete without mentioning Zambia and various interventions to ensure peace in Africa into the 1990s.

Zambia has championed political and later economic freedom on the continent of Africa, providing leadership and refuge through the decades. Interestingly, Zambia served as the last chair of the OAU and the first for the AU IN 2001. Zambia remains a sanctuary of many refugees to this very day. Peace That Zambia is a peaceful nation is as much a norm and mantra as it is fact. Our national history is replete with service to other countries in the most material ways possible, perhaps going a step further than most. It is in our DNA: The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Peace Process, The Lusaka Peace Accord (for Angola), Frontline States and many more efforts in defense of human dignity and sovereignty.

Some many other interventions have gone unmentioned. It is difficult to envision a Zambia that is less dignified than our proud history. Impossible to imagine a Zambia in future without a voice to speak for mankind. When we spoke for the Frontline States, we were not a developed economy, and the statistics show how poor our economy was. Similarly, when we intervened to ensure that African refugees are not denied their human dignity, we were still a less developed country. . We did not calculate our worth or our voice according to our financial status. And somehow, wealthy nations heard when we spoke against colonialism, apartheid or civil wars in Africa.

  • What we have done well, among other things, is agree on a practical electoral system where the eligible can vote (universal suffrage), and secondly on having limited terms of office for elected officials, particularly the Presidency.

We punched above our weight and earned the respect of giants. Name a peace meeting in the history of Africa and you will see Zambia on the high table. Be it the formation of regional trade blocks or representing our embattled neighbors at the United Nations. Even defending less fortunate countries like ourselves at the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) programme in 1997. We have stood for worthy causes as a country throughout our history. National Identity Domestically, in the process of building our own national identity, we have had various national conversations to create a constitution that resembles who we are and what we want to be. For example, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) was removed from under the Vice-President’s office and made independent in 1996 and much has evolved since then. The ECZ will continue to evolve as long as our nation sticks to democratic tenets. So far, the Commission has ably delivered elections that are becoming templates of transition for Africa given the 2011 and now 2021 elections. The conformity to international standards and best practice speaks for itself now – something that was envisioned by the founding father of democracy in a 1994 statement. . What we have done well, among other things, is agree on a practical electoral system where the eligible can vote (universal suffrage), and secondly on having limited terms of office for elected officials, particularly the Presidency. We have had several planned and unplanned elections at presidential and parliamentary levels. By and large, losing candidates have viewed the judicial system as an avenue to resolve grievances instead of opting for violence. This must not be taken for granted because such decisions are deliberately tailored towards peace and the supremacy of the rule of law for all. This also shows that we have an identity that cannot be defined only by elections.

The Court While the electoral system has a history of overseeing a shift in power from one leader to the next, the courts have not yet overturned the decision of the electorate in favour of the grieving party as Malawi did in their previous elections. We all saw what happened in the recent elections in the United States of America when their congress was raided because of a belief in a particular ideology that supposes that government systems have ignored a particular group. So strong was this belief that most feared it would cripple the image of America in the world, particularly that country’s democratic credentials.

Inarguably, we are probably the only country in Africa where three serving Presidents have handed over power in respect of that noble identity of peace and courage to pass the baton. Three different political parties have conceded power to the opposition (as opposed to changing presidents but retaining the same political party). As our democracy grows, the voters’ card has taken on increasing significance as an armor to speak, defend, change, or advance a set of ideas. The national mindset is becoming more participatory than observational. In this scenario, the right to vote becomes a symbol of defiance against the distortion of national identity. The most recent display of the youth vote in the August 2021 election testifies to this fact.

‘’Peace is a luxury difficult to bring back or maintain especially if lost. The freedom to speak is hard to withdraw when disparities are noticed. The freedom of choice is even harder to contain once people have experienced it. Ours is a glorious history too valuable to dispose at a single voting event. Ours is an identity whose minimum is the sky.’’

Other people say you never truly know your ability until you are faced with a challenge bigger than you. I concede that the new generation of Zambia has reminded us once again through the 2021 elections of our identity to define our own future. In the final analysis, democracy will no more be foreign concept to the future generation, they will redefine it and perhaps refine it to finally match the identity of this great Zambia.

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