Siding with the Zambian people rather than the president

By Richard Lee | November 13th, 2013

Zambia’s Technical Drafting Committee deserves a very loud and sustained round of applause. As well as the vocal support of people across Zambia and, indeed, across southern Africa.

Because the members of the committee tasked with drafting the final version of Zambia’s new constitution have done something that very few officials, technocrats or bureaucrats ever do – they have refused to bow to the illegitimate demands of the authorities and have sided, instead, with the wishes of the public rather than the president.

In a remarkable move last week, the committee refused to sign its Final Report because the Minister of Justice, the powerful and increasingly unaccountable Wynter Kabimba, had ordered them to print just 10 copies of the final draft constitution and hand them all over to the presidency – in clear contravention of the committee’s original mandate and terms of reference, which stated that the committee would simultaneously hand the draft to the government and publicise it for all Zambians to see.

When the Minister gave his order, few believed that the committee would refuse to follow his instructions. The committee had, after all, been appointed by President Sata and so it was expected that they would meekly submit (as so many other presidentially-appointed committees and commissions across SADC have done) to the will of his minister and deliver all 10 copies to State House.

But they didn’t. Instead, they came out fighting – publicly rejecting the government’s order, stressing that they were not prepared to be part of a conspiracy of silence, and calling for a meeting with the president.

The public statement sent shockwaves through the country, galvanising all those – including the majority of Zambians, opposition parties and civil society – who wanted the constitutional process to be open, transparent and truly people-driven.

And they have now made it very hard for the Patriotic Front government to keep the draft under wraps. The authorities have been able to push for complete control over the draft until now – with many believing that they must be intent on altering it in some way in secret sessions in State House – because they thought they had complete control over the technical committee.

It must have been a real shock for them to find that this was not true – and that the committee had a will of its own.

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