Four Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have formed a breakaway coalition with a wishful mandate of defending and protecting the outcome of the on-going National Dialogue Forum. The Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA –Zambia); the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI); Southern Africa Centre for Constructive Resolution of Disputes (SACCORD) and another unheard-of called Chrizzina Democracy University, say the Forum is such a friendly gathering filled with the spirit of “republicanism and motherland”, whatever that means.

“The last two weeks we have participated in the Forum, we have observed the free, objective and passionate debate among all members of the Forum in the spirit of republicanism, motherland and one Zambia, One Nation with stakeholders openly agreeing and disagreeing. From the process going on at the Forum, we don’t believe that our people’s agenda and our CSOs’ agenda may completely be defeated as we have seen the cordial spirit and attitude of give-and-take from all members of the Forum,” argued MISA vice-board chairperson Hyde Haguta.

“To us, what is going on at the NDF is a clear indication that the interest of Zambians is being protected and secured. As CSOs, we can now confirm that the NDF process is more credible and focused. We are sure and confident that this national dialogue process is in safe hands of participating institutions.”

This is what happens when you lose the sense of shame; you begin to make outrageous commitments based on arguments that only exist in your head! And this is the consequence of not paying attention to the concerns of other people. It is testimony that you can’t have meaningful dialogue when you don’t listen to the actual arguments of those who oppose your views.

To our knowledge, no one feared that there would be chaos or bloodshed at the National Dialogue Forum. No one said they would stay away from the process for fear of being prevented from contributing to the amendments. There is no NGO or church mother body that predicted that freedom of speech would be curtailed at the Forum. Those who stayed away were protesting for two major reasons: one, the fact that in the absence of consensus on proposals, government would carry the day because the voting threshold is in PF’s favour.

Maybe we should break it down more explicitly for the easier understanding of our friends at the four NGOs that seem to be so hyper after consuming the confectioneries offered at the dialogue event, to the extent that they now want to outdo Dialogue Forum spokesperson Isaac Mwanza in pushing for the government agenda.

Let’s ignore the fact that a majority of participants at the Forum are linked to PF and government. Does MISA, YALI, SACCORD and their university ally know that the chairperson of the National Dialogue Forum Professor Muyunda Mwanalushi is also Chairperson of the National Economic Advisory Council (NEAC), which is an adhoc economic advisory body of the President with its offices situated at Government Complex? Do they know that Professor Muyunda Mwanalushi is in effect one of President Lungu’s advisors because NEAC is specifically created to advise the President on economic matters?

Do these NGOs know that the NDF committee secretary – Patrick Chisanga is also the board chairman of the Lusaka South Multi-Facility Economic Zone, which is a 100 per cent subsidiary of the IDC, of which President Lungu is board chair? Do they realize that, in effect, both the chairman and his deputy were chosen from the President’s inner-circle?

People are saying: “it’s surprising that President Lungu could appoint the two as chairperson and committee secretary when clearly, there is overwhelming conflict of interest as they are both already employees of the President.” There is no way the two can be impartial in this whole process. To make matters worse, the other participants at the Forum were appointed by the Secretary to the Cabinet who is another appointee of the President. That’s what the boy-cotters are protesting against!

The second reason why organisations of integrity boycotted the Forum is because whatever proposals participants submit will be subjected to Cabinet Approval and later surrendered for parliamentary debate through which a two-thirds majority will have a final say. The argument people are making is that PF, with all its independent MPs put together do not have a two-thirds majority to pass these Constitution amendments without the support of the UPND. In the end, this process will be a waste of scarce resources!

How do these NGOs hope to fix that? Who are they to assure citizens that they will protect the resolutions? None of them is a Cabinet Minister; none of them is a member of parliament. There is no law in place that guarantees that whatever proposals that MISA, YALI SACCORD and Chrismar (or whatever the name of the other NGO is) will be included in the final outcome of the Constitution amendment. So, on what basis are these four NGOs assuring citizens that this process is safe and credible? No wonder they are always accused of being paid to think with their stomachs because they are sounding as if the Ministry of Justice has hired them.

And funny enough, these NGOs have the audacity of questioning the integrity of those who boycotted the Forum, saying the protesters are not any different from citizens who stay away from voting because they can’t trust politicians. How can this even be an example? Voter apathy is condemned because the power to vote for a President (for example) lies entirely in the hands of ordinary citizens; Cabinet or Parliament has no say on what the people decide and there is a law that protects the election outcome. The more people vote, the harder it is to manipulate the election outcome. Can this be the same as refusing to take part in a sham process that other people will have a final say on?

And these NGOs shouldn’t make a mistake of thinking all those who are attending the Dialogue Forum are happy or that they support the process; some participants were sent by their organizations purely for the purpose of spying. But like they have already told you, they will never support the motion in Parliament.

So, ba MISA, YALI, SACCORD and all those other excited NGOs, stop promising people what you have no control over. Don’t take so much pride in being ridiculed and humiliated. Stop trading your integrity for material gain. Zambia desperately needs your wisdom, not your freedom of speech.