UPND vice-president Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba’s “Panga for Panga” statement reflects the opposition’s loss of trust and confidence in Zambia Police, says Forum for Democratic Process (FODEP) executive director Chimfwembe Mweenge.

And Mweenge says the violent pronouncements coming from political leaders, including the opposition, shows that the much-talked about national political dialogue is needed now more than ever before.

Mweenge said people should not be quick to condemn GBM’s call for UPND supporters to defend themselves when physically attacked by opponents, saying it could just mean that the opposition had lost confidence in the country’s law enforcement agencies.

“We need to ask ourselves, where have we gotten it wrong that we can have leaders saying that they will defend themselves? I think it’s important to actually sit down and not to quickly condemn, which has been the culture always where we want to say ‘this is bad, this is good’. Many times we do not sit down and look at what is motivating people to utter such statements, and from our own end, this brings us to the issue of the application of the Public Order Act. If you have leaders who will come out and say ‘we are going to defend ourselves’, it shows that there is a problem. The problem is that such leaders do not have trust in state institutions that are supposed to provide law and order. And I think that merely condemning such people to say what they are saying is wrong, will not help,” Mweenge said in an interview with News Diggers! yesterday.

“I think it’s high time we talked about dialogue, zero down to the Public Order Act because that statement [from GBM] simply shows that the UPND do not have trust in the police. And I think it’s important to sit with them and ask them to say, why don’t you have trust in such an institution? Because that institution is funded by tax payers’ money, that institution has got a bearing on the Constitution. I think that is very key to interrogate because we have seen nations such as Sudan; the way Sudan is disintegrated is because state institutions lost track of the citizens. Young people became motivated because of the situations, they were armed and so it became a tit-for-tat. So we can only pray that we don’t get to such a state.”

Mweenge encouraged the PF and UPND to put their political differences aside and come to the dialogue table for the sake of the nation.

“It’s important that our leaders look at this political situation very carefully, aside emotions and political jackets. These problems are actually non-political, we need to actually interrogate them from the perspective of the nation. Violence will never be justified and whether one is provoked, violence will never ever be justified. And I think that it is very important that both the UPND and the PF look at this issue objectively and in the interest of the nation because at the end of the day, the nation is broader. This nation is beyond PF and UPND and that is very important to understand because there are so many people who actually may not even have an interest in politics of the nation. So such people should not have their rights being trampled upon because of political differences,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mweenge said the PF leadership should see to it that the much-talked about national political dialogue was not only convened but was also successful.

“We call upon the leadership in PF to ensure that this much-talked about dialogue, not only is it convened but at the same time bears fruit. And actually, we look at some of the tenets of democracy such as the application of the Public Order Act because that is where some of these issues are coming from. It is about how citizens are enjoying their rights. In fact, it has been stated that there cannot be societal rights if individual rights are not provided, so if one engages in violence, what they are actually doing is that they are trampling upon individual rights. The rights to assemble, the rights to express their minds. Because essentially that is what actually make up societal rights,” observed Mweenge.

“And as we have heard in Chilanga where people are saying ‘this time around it’s going to be tit-for-tat’, I think that’s most retrogressive, but I think we shouldn’t be very quick to condemn without actually interrogating the root causes of what has let people to come to the conclusion that the only way they can participate in a fair and democratic election is via defending themselves.”