IT HAS become important to determine the dominant social and political force behind the current constitution-making process.
Somehow there is a mistaken belief that a constitutional draft presented to a referendum is the magic wand that will assure the nation of a people-driven and time-tested Constitution. This is not true. There is no guarantee that the people of Zambia will automatically accept a constitution simply because it has been presented to the referendum.
If anything the purpose of a referendum is to seek the widest possible consensus to validate and legitimize a draft Constitution. If sufficient numbers are mobilized the referendum can reject a draft. A failed referendum without consensus will be an expensive useless exercise. Ask the Kenyans.
Instead of fighting over the mode of adoption, we should be seeking compromise and accommodation to ensure that any subsequent draft is acceptable to a large majority of the people.
It is not the form and process that will ultimately matter but the content.
The current “impasse” is not new. The country has seen to the enactment of four constitutions or large-scale constitutional amendments, all of them characterized by mistrust between Government and those in opposition or civil society.
The very fact that this remains a restive matter in our nation, means that we have yet to find a suitably fashioned Constitution and constitution-making process that will satisfy all the contending parties and interest groups.
The present draft is suffering from the same vicissitudes that other draft Constitutions have suffered before and may not be the silver bullet that Zambians have been looking for. Unless a transparent, accommodating and compromise process is followed we are bound to embark on yet another constitution-making process.
Most of the debate lies in the manner the constitution will be adopted. Because of mistrust our Constitution coalition would rather the Constitution was adopted by referendum, the opposition coalition would rather the less contentious clauses were adopted by selective amendment in Parliament and somehow the Government now seems amenable to the referendum which does not appear particularly feasible considering the time and resource limitation.
At the heart of the impasse is the need to create sufficient consensus around a document that will receive as wide acclaim as possible.
It is important to note that whatever way the final document will be reached the final seal of approval and legitimization must come from Parliament through the legislative process.
The main issue therefore is to create sufficient groundswell and critical mass towards a document that can be owned by the people.
The Chief Government spokesman Mr. Chishimba Kambwili in a statement that has been largely misunderstood, has suggested that the people of Zambia hold the final trump card in the constitution-making process.
Understood in its context this means that the Zambian people must reach consensus that should address the various concerns of the widest possible range of Zambian society. The draft in its present form has been lauded as a veritable document, while some interest groups have condemned additions and omissions. The chiefs in particular feel threatened by clauses regarding land.
How then do we move forward?
Our colleagues in Kenya started by ensuring that an all-inclusive body was constituted whose draft was finally adopted in the National Assembly.
Why not assemble a truly representative body that will dissect the draft fully and make a determination as to whether the bill of rights will be affected and if so, how best to address the problem.
Nothing short of a compromise of integrity will give effect to a new constitution.