For many years now, I have been calling for dialogue among our political and civic leaders. This became more urgent after the disputed Presidential election of August 2016 and the shambolic manner in which the Constitutional Court handled the Presidential Petition. It is undeniable that all these developments have left our country very deeply divided as never before.

Divisions of this nature have the potential to saw seeds of ethnic and political divisions which our country can do without. Zambia has always promoted dialogue among warring ethnic and political formations in the region and beyond, with salutary results which have contributed in no small measure to regional and international peace. Why then have we failed in recent years to build instruments of dialogue among ourselves and why have we continued to talk at each other instead of talking to each other?

We set up a Centre for Inter Party Dialogue many years ago, with the support of the Netherlands Institute for Inter Party Dialogue, to enable our political leaders to meet regularly, which has now become moribund. What is the point of promoting dialogue in other countries if we as Zambians fail to talk to each other and reach out to each other as brothers and sisters who are committed to developing and building a better Zambia for all? We set up that Centre to strengthen leadership capabilities, create an infrastructure of peace building, creating capacity for implementing whatever agreements are reached, promote trust among our leaders and institutionalise the culture of meaningful dialogue. Real dialogue will go a long way in promoting political, economic and social stability.

Our country faces many challenges such as energy, governance, weak institutions, lack of trust among political leaders, the electoral process, human rights abuses, low economic growth, threats to press freedom which have led to a clamp down of some private media houses as never seen before, falling educational standards in our institutions of learning, uninclusive appointments into government and the public service, mining policy, use of unpalatable language by leaders against each other, state church relations, application of the public order act, political violence, agricultural policies, the role of NGOs , hate speeches, health facilities, youth unemployment, among many other issues.

The contribution of dialogue in promoting peace and harmony in our country should not be trivialised or underestimated. It plays a hugely indispensable role in facilitating consensus, strengthening peace, building trust among and between our leaders, preventing election and political violence.

Experience in many parts of our globalised world has shown that although dialogue does not always guarantee success, there is sufficient evidence to show that the impact of dialogue always leads to lowering of tensions at different levels of society. When citizens see their leaders talking, it breeds relief and confidence that all is well in our country. Admittedly, dialogue is not always able to address all the variables and the potential for conflict in a society, but it lays a solid foundation for seeking solutions to given problems. Dialogue requires adequate preparation, credible facilitation, sufficient political commitment and inclusiveness. Complex political problems and deeply embedded patterns of distrust and hostility, such as what we are witnessing in our country, cannot be solved through one off dialogue events, but through a sustainable and continuous process. Ultimately, we should work towards building a political culture that resorts to dialogue as the first response to rising tensions and misunderstandings.

It is the duty of all of us as Zambians and particularly political and civic leaders to invest in institutions that assume responsibility for dialogue and that enhance the potential for the success of dialogue. We should as a country encourage our leaders at all levels to treat each other with respect even when they disagree and to learn to sit down in a calm and thoughtful manner to discuss and find solutions to the many problems facing our country. SADC leaders also have a duty to help promote dialogue, using the existing early warning systems, help to bring leaders together and encourage them to embrace building blocks for peace. Blaming each other, using threats and name calling will not bring peace, but only entrench hatred.