Political violence can only end with cultural transformation – SACCORD

SACCORD Executive Director Boniface Cheembe during press briefing at Lusaka's Pamodzi Hotel-picture by Tenson Mkhala

Zambia’s challenge with ongoing political violence is difficult to address because the vice requires a cultural transformation to effectively deal with it, says SACCORD executive director Boniface Chembe.

In an interview, Chembe called for enhanced political will from political leaders towards the fight against political violence.

Asked if the current leadership had exhibited the political will required to fight political violence, Chembe said more needed to be done.

“We believe that the political will is there, like from the example I gave in the lead-up to the Mayoral by-election where leaders committed themselves to desist from engaging in acts of violence and we did not witness much after that commitment. So, there are efforts that are being put in by political parties. But what they need is support, especially in elections that are too tightly contested because the stake tends to be high. So, constant stakeholder engagement with the political parties would assist in ensuring that issues of political violence are dealt with. So, yes, we believe that to an extent, there is political will and there is evidence to showcase that political will by political leaders to stop acts of violence. But more needs to be done. It’s not easy to transform a culture. Cultural transformation is very difficult and in order to basically achieve that objective, you need constant engagement because acts of political violence happen at difference levels. And at all those levels, you require constant engagement and constant action to transform that culture that has characterized our politics for some time,” Chembe said.

He said the national dialogue served a much bigger purpose beyond just addressing political violence during election periods.

“The national dialogue is a lot bigger than the continued discourses of political violence. Of course, one of the aspects the dialogue is supposed to touch upon is the issue of the prevalence of political violence. But over and above that, the national dialogue is about legislative and institutional reforms so that we create a much more conducive environment where equalling the playing ground are concerned. Suffice to say, issues of violence would have been tackled under the dialogue process. But from our point of view, we believe that occurrences of political violence can be stopped if there is commitment by the political parties to basically stop the incidences of political violence. We are aware, for example, that in the lead up to the Mayoral by-elections in Lusaka, we saw the ruling Patriotic Front and the opposition United Party for National Development stop the occurrence of political violence and we did see a reduction in that particular regard,” said Chembe.

“So, what matters is for stakeholders to continue encouraging all political players to continue as much as they can to endeavour to put an end to occurrences of political violence and, of course, we do trust and believe that the national dialogue process within and outside itself would also compliment as well as supplement to the efforts that stakeholders continue to engage with the two leading political parties and, indeed, all other political parties to make their supporters understand that leaders may differ politically, but that they are not sworn enemies. So, we believe that political violence can be addressed in two ways: one is for political parties themselves working and engaging and the second level is the national dialogue.”

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