Since its birth in 2016, the Ministry of National Guidance and Religious Affairs (MNGRA) has been surrounded in controversy. The Ministry was formed without a proper raison d’être. Thus, congratulating the Ministry’s first Minister, Godfridah Sumaili, and decorating her with superlative virtues as President of Jesus Cares Ministries and an exemplary member of Joe Imakando’s Bread of Life Church, Pastor Mudenda Choolwe confessed not knowing the “full description of this ministry”. Three years after the Ministry’s creation, its Permanent Secretary Howard Sikwela is reported as saying the Ministry needed a policy to guide the implementation of its mandate “as most people do not have an understanding of what it is about”. And that’s odd.
I don’t know public administration, but this appears an admission that for three years, the Ministry was doing chipantepante at our expense. The Patriotic Front created the ministry in haste for something else and only later started laundering and rationalizing an idea that shouldn’t have seen the light of day. In this article I want to unmask a bit the MNGRA.
According to Naomi Haynes, an authority on Zambia’s Pentecostalism, Zambia is “Africa’s only self-proclaimed Christian nation”. The ‘Christian nation’ was initially attributed to Frederick Chiluba’s 1991 declaration. Recently, however, there has been a move to push the declaration to nearly a century and half ago by attributing it to the Scottish explorer David Livingstone. In his eulogy of Reinhard Bonnke, one of Zambia’s born-again heavy-weights, Nervers Mumba wants his mentor in on the act as well.
We can only speculate on the attempted shift of accolades from Chiluba to Livingstone. It could be because of Chiluba’s egregious plunder of Zambia and possibly his adultery among other worldly mischiefs. Not good for Pentecostal PR. So, pinning it on Livingstone sanitizes the Christian proclamation. After all, how many Zambians would recall the sins of a man in a preliterate, pre- social media society? It could be that by backdating the declaration to an anecdotal prayer of a dying Scotsman in the 19th century, the Lungu-Sumaili alliance makes the declaration more prophetically profound. Lastly, perhaps God and his son Jesus being white males, the Christian nation declaration is more credible if it was uttered by a white male person.
Of course, others may not see Livingstone as the bringer of Zambia’s so far elusive beatitudes. They may see him as part of a larger scheme of British empire building and not on a mission to salvage savages from their primitive gods and ways of life. To quietly rob a people, you must first trash their culture, put a knife on the things that hold them together. Once things fall apart, you can stitch them together in your own image to serve your preordained goals. So rather than seeing Livingstone’s aims as salvation for black inhabitants of the Dark Continent, we should rather see his goal as Anglo-inculturation in readiness for colonial takeover with its accompanying racism and resource expropriation.
National Values and principles
In trying to rationalize her Ministry, Sumaili and her protegees like the National Clergy Consultative Forum (NCCF), will not spare a chance to refer to Article 8 of the Zambian Constitution. Their Ministry’s legitimacy and relevance is enshrined within our country’s Constitution! Or so they want Zambians to believe. I will list the values or principles and briefly show contrary to Sumaili’s pretentions, her Ministry is redundant. It was never missed before and will not be missed once it’s been scrapped off.
The Constitution in Article 8 identifies the following as national values and principles: (a) morality and ethics; (b) patriotism and national unity; (c) democracy and constitutionalism; (d) human dignity, equity, social justice, equality and nondiscrimination; (e) good governance and integrity; and (f) sustainable development. The Constitution never says these values and principles are Christian. Specifically (a) does not say “Christian morality and ethics”. These tenets are simply human values and can be explicated and defended on a number of sound deontological grounds or Ubuntu ethics that appeal only to reason and not to some arbitrary divine commands.
The listed values could be in a constitution of any random mature democracy. Human values are simply those things which are good for any human being regardless of sex, creed, color, ethnicity, region, or sexual orientation. They are good things for every nation to aspire to. It is no accident therefore that many international normative frameworks such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will have similar values, principles and aspirations.
Sumaili and her praise-singers are not oblivious to this glitch, that the values in no way identifies them as authors or enforcers. The NCCF has emerged with much pomposity and blackmail to adulterate Article 8 from human values to Christian values. Their support for the ill-conceived Constitutional Amendment Bill 10 of 2019 boils down to that. They want recognition, more power, privileges, and money. They will lobby tooth and nail, by hook or crook to ensure the change in their favor is retained in the proposed Constitutional amendment.
The NCCF chairperson George Mbulo uses scaremongering language that not adding the Christian prefix to ArticleS 4 and 8 will open “up our nation to foreign elements and practices that maybe detrimental to our people”. Why do Zambians listen to modern-day Pharisees demonizing countries that are way better than us on the same things we call national values? Let Mbulo name any country with those ‘foreign elements’ and compare that country’s service delivery, electoral, transport, education, health, welfare and justice systems to Zambia’s. Can this man compare England or Norway to Zambia? Isn’t that ludicrous and mischievous? In a veiled threat to the PF, Mbulo claims millions of Zambians will lose trust in the PF government if they fail to secure the replacement of ‘multi-religious’ nation with ‘Christian nation’ and insertion of ‘Christian morality and ethics’. Such is the group’s impunity that they can intimidate an elected government into bending to their whims. Are Mbulo’s NCCF’s schemes Godly or deadly?
To quote from Zambia’s legend P. K. Chishala’s classic Church Elder song: “Hosanna! Emomuliila!” The desperation of Sumaili, Mbulo and other church elders or papas is not because of any value addition to the national values and principles. It is all about them. Tithe and offering, tax-free, are not enough. They want to eat from the pulpit and from Caesar. This is a sinister form of state capture in which these clergy want to have unfair access to state recourses for themselves, families, friends and church members. Without any demonstrable competencies and dubious doctorates, we have seen them rise to high public offices in government, parastatals, boards, commissions, and committees to the detriment of those properly qualified and the citizens. This trend of Zambian Pentecostal clergy increasingly being rewarded by the state has been duly documented by scholars including Professor Austin Cheyeka.
I have argued that Sumaili and her clergy want material things through entrenching Pentecostalism in government institutions. It is their personal and collective unbridled appetite for power and money that is motivating them to push for Bill 10’s changes to Articles 4 and 8 of the Constitution. Levy Mwanawasa immediately did away with the Ministry of Religious Affairs under the Office of the President as well as the Ministry without Portfolio (MwP). He rightly identified these two ministries as redundant and a drain on scarce resources, resources that can go towards actually bettering the lives of majority poor Zambians.
Mwanawasa relied on experts to turn Zambia’s governance and economy towards that of a middle-income country. The PF secretary-general, Davises Mwila, does not want people who ask about inflation and exchange rate. But just glance at Mwanawasa’s inflation and exchange rate to see where his wisdom took the country. There is no theory in economics or development studies that says a country must use religion to prosper. There is no sound theory in philosophy or political science that says countries must use Christianity to ensure human rights and justice. To the contrary, Christianity fosters discrimination, through holier than thou mentality and the illusion of divine election. This attitude has resulted in genocides, discrimination, and other human rights violations. Unfortunately, it’s too late for Lungu to follow Mwanawasa’s wisdom. Unless, perhaps he gets the unlikely chance to be president beyond 2021. The PF’s desperation in the recent Chilubi parliamentary by-election and narrowing margins do not augur well for his party’s future in government.
From the time the MNGRA came into being, what we have seen is Sumaili acting as MwP, a Jack of no trades. Her public actions have largely been duplication of other ministries’ especially the Ministry of Home Affairs. She was linked the deportation scandals of some rival clergy as well some innocent and popular South African entertainers, Zodwa Wabantu and Somizi Mhlongo. I think her actions border on lawlessness as her overzealousness in enforcing her self-righteous and paternalistic morality undermines the work of the police and immigration professionals. Sumaili and her friends must release their Shime-Waza on Zambian institutions and retreat to do their abracadabra in their churches, homes, and personal lives. Let the money being wasted on them be diverted to clean up in our shanties; to help widows, orphans, and unpaid retirees; to pay student bursaries; to provide street lighting and motivate the police for more secure neighborhoods.
Dr Julius Kapembwa
Lecturer in Philosophy and Applied Ethics
University of Zambia