Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP) executive director Chimfwembe Mwenge says players in the dialogue process should have agreed upon specific terms of reference from the onset to avoid debates on who should table the talks.

Mwenge told News Diggers! in an interview that the Commonwealth envoy made a mistake by not putting up a clear-cut communication protocol where the PF and UPND, who are the major parties in the dialogue process would base their arguments during the talks.

He said the credibility of the dialogue process lies in the terms of references that will be put forward for facilitators in the process to follow.

“There has been so much talk regarding the facilitator of dialogue. Whereas we have heard the UPND saying they would love the Commonwealth to continue with that process that they began, which we think is a commendable thing having had the background information to what led us to the political scuffles in 2016. On the other hand, we also have the PF who are saying that they do not want any foreigner in the dialogue process and that it should be spearheaded by ZCID. We appreciate both angles for discussion but very little has been talked about in terms of what could be the terms of reference? I think it is very critical to both parties, the ruling party and the opposition political parties through the leadership, to actually engage the Zambian people in terms of the terms of references that would engage the facilitator because we have seen dialogue processes before, this is not the first time that we are having dialogue,” Mwenge said.

“We have had many dialogue processes before, in 2016 we had about three dialogue processes that were organised by the Church but none of those processes yielded any fruits because we put so much emphasis on who is actually facilitating but very little emphasis on the terms of references and the process itself and its outcomes. That is why we feel that the credibility of a facilitator to the dialogue (whether Commonwealth or ZCID), lies in the agreed upon terms of references and indeed the principles that would underpin the dialogue process. Very little has been talked about in terms of the principles and I think that it is very key that if this dialogue is going to go ahead and that participants are going to come out with tangible outcomes, it’s important that they engage in the terms of references. And we do have a very good starting point in Article eight of the Zambian Constitution, number two of 2016 that talks about national values. Perhaps we can begin from there.”

Mwenge feared that the country would return to the same challenges faced in previous dialogue processes if players fail to agree on clear-cut principles and terms of reference in the dialogue process.

“It’s important that players who are involved in this dialogue process begin to talk about these kinds of discussions because any others can come but as long as they are not guided with very clear cut principles and terms of references, we are bound to go back to the same failure that we had faced when we had dialogues before. The public will be able to know if the terms of references will not be actually abided by and I think that is where the question of capability comes in because it is whether this facilitator will be able to play by the rules that will be agreed by the opposing camps. I think that is critical because you cannot begin to say ‘you do not have the capacity’ if the terms of reference have not been made publicly available and this is where also the Commonwealth made a mistake. They should have made their terms of reference publicly available because the Commonwealth envoy, Professor Ibrahim Gambari used to say this is going to be Zambian-driven,” said Mwenge.

“But I think he should have gone further to define how the process was going to be Zambian-driven through terms of references. And this also ought to be made available publicly. We have learned a bitter lesson as Zambian citizens that politicians are very good at talking. We have had those dialogues and the biggest lesson that we learned was that there is actually very little follow through actions. We need to have a clear-cut communication protocol in this dialogue so that everyone is aware of their role. We have to put in very clear infrastructure to this dialogue.”