Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops secretary general Fr Cleophas Lungu says talks on who can or cannot represent a political party during dialogue are unnecessary.

And Fr Lungu says President Edgar Lungu has confirmed attendance to the January 18 launch of the dialogue process.

In an interview, Fr Lungu highlighted the major issues which were expected to be discussed during the process, saying that was more important than questions on whether or not NDC leader Chishimba Kambwili can attend the meeting.

“Since June last year, we have met different stakeholders, not just ZCID, we have been meeting event people from government and we have been receiving submissions on what will be important to discuss. We met with the leaders of the national trade unions, we met with the CSOs, we received submissions even from some individuals and the women, the youths, so we have concerns from different sectors and that is what is going to form the agenda. Generally speaking, we are talking of four categories of issues, the first and the most important, it is an overwhelming voice coming through that we need to address issues of governance and how we do our politics in terms of constitutional and electoral reforms, being civil and increasing levels of tolerance, in terms of making the institutions of governance more independent and professional in their operations. We are talking of how to address things like media freedoms and things like that,” Fr Lungu explained.

“The second category is economic and social issues, there we are talking how can we bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, how can we reduce the levels of unemployment, how can we reduce poverty, how can we empower Zambians to be more innovative? How do we address the issue of the debt? Corruption? And if one denies that there are issues there, just go to TIZ who submitted to us a number of issues. How do we address the issue of misapplication of public resources as we read in the Auditor General’s report year in year out?”

He said tribalism was also on the agenda.

“Then the third sector will be cultural issues and like we saw in 2016, issues of tribalism, issues of where I come from is important, there are insinuations that tribe and region now is becoming a big factor in terms of you accessing power, in terms of you accessing jobs, but we are saying our motto is One Zambia, One Nation, why is this becoming important now? Are we going forward or backwards? And also the role of traditional leaders, for example, they shouldn’t be partisan, they should be the custodians of unity and how they administer resources like land, which is very controversial right now,” he said.

“Then the fourth category are religious issues. We are saying, yes, as church, we are not saying that we are angels, because there are certain members of the church, individual leaders, pastors, priests, bishops, name them who behave and conduct themselves at variance with our Christian or religious values. Sometimes the church, if it is not careful, it can lose its campus, it can lose its authority. Sometimes politicians are going to abuse the church if it is not careful and so we are saying we have issues amongst ourselves as religious leaders, is it right for a church for example to be promoting people to stop taking ARVs, to say ‘just pray’, you know, we are saying no, we are not making Zambia a better country if we go that route. Or if we say ‘be fasting and eating grass’ no, that’s abuse of religion.”

He said those issues were more important than discussing who should represent what political party.

“These are some of the things we are going to talk about so please, don’t ask me whether Chishimba Kambwili will participate or not, that’s not an issue, let’s talk constitution, institutional reforms and how we can better manage our electoral process so that elections become a time to celebrate our democracy,” he said.

“We are also quite amazed that way before time, people are already talking about who should attend and who should not attend. In our view, we have not issued any statements on who shall attend and who shall not attend… So unlike our friends, who are focussing on certain individuals, we are not targeting anyone, we are not [dictating] ‘this one must attend, this one must not attend’. That is not our interest. Our interest is building an all inclusive Zambia.”

And Fr Lungu said President Lungu had confirmed attendance to the January 18 meeting.

“I would like to believe that what led to His Excellency the President of Zambia not attend is not the church, it was the confusion that was instigated and the propaganda that was advanced by a well known institution, and I will not waste my time to name it. They issued a statement to say that we have cancelled this meeting, so what Plot One had was the conflicting statements and messages. When we followed the matter with them, they have indicated and confirmed that it is not really in their mind, the issue of invitation, it was the issue of the confusion that led to the President not attending. Going forward, we are saying the church will take full charge of the communication and full charge in terms of driving the process so that we minimise the risk of sending conflicting messages,” said Fr Lungu.

“On whether or not State House has confirmed, yes, we have not just written to them, or not just heard their response, but we have met His Excellency several times in the recent past and every time, he has confirmed that he is going to attend. So in our view, there is no trace of doubt that he is committed to this process. He has put it in a very categorical way, ‘I want this thing to succeed, please help us, lead the process, take leadership and let us move forward’, so 18th is confirmed. And 18th is not the dialogue itself, it is just the launch of the process, meetings and sessions will begin after.”