No Religious Political Parties, Please! …Source of conflicts

By Henry Kyambalesa

I wish to advise the Registrar of Societies not to register political parties which are based on a religious platform, such as the “Christian Democratic Party,” and the “People of This Way Party” or “People of The Way Party.”

The registration of such political parties will open up a “can of worms” that will lead to those who believe in Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Jainism to attempt to establish and register political parties based on their religions.

There is a possibility that the formation of such political parties is fostered by the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation by the late Dr. Frederick Chiluba at State House on 29th December 1991, which was later incorporated into the Preamble of the 1996 Republican constitution, and which the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) tried to retain in the failed Constitution of Zambia Bill, 2010.

It could also have been fostered by Article 16 of the same Bill about Christian Values and Principles, which could have provided for the State to “direct [its] … policies and laws towards securing and promoting Christian values, beliefs, ethics, and morals….”

For the umpteenth time, I wish to urge political, religious and community leaders in Zambia to guard against the imposition of any particular religion on the entire society. The Republican constitution particularly should be a neutral document that should not discriminate against atheists or pagans, or those who believe in Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, or any other religious denomination.

In the long run, the Declaration is likely to make non-Christian citizens to feel that they are second-class citizens. And, as Venkatesh Seshamani has argued, a feeling of religious superiority is likely to develop among Christians by virtue of their religion having been accorded constitutional status, which may lead to bigotry that would prompt them to view non-Christians as lost souls.

Clearly, the Declaration was made without serious consideration of the dangers of dragging religion into the political arena. Religion is deadly if it is not handled with utmost caution.

The precarious problem currently facing Algeria, Nigeria, the Sudan, Afghanistan, and a host of other countries around the world which are beleaguered by religious conflicts should serve as a clear warning to each and every peace-loving Zambian to refrain from creating a similar situation that will dog our beloved country in perpetuity.

We should not be blinded by our having experienced no serious religious conflicts so far, but as our country’s population and the membership of each religious denomination swells, we would be short­sighted and naïve not to anticipate and make an effort to forestall the incidence of such conflicts. We need to act proactively. To wait until the consequences of our failure to reason are upon us is to leave serious problems for future generations to grapple with.

And such failure will eventually prove to us that experience, in relation to this issue, teaches fools, since we have thus far not been able to see beyond our noses.

What Zambia needs is a secular state that genuinely recognizes and safeguards each and every individual’s freedom of worship and the freedom to choose one’s religion. At the same time, we should enact legislation that should PROSCRIBE the following in a deliberate effort to forestall the potential for disruption of public order and socio-economic activities by cliques of fanatics from any religious denomination:

(a) The use of public funds by a local or national government to set up a church or mosque, and/or to provide any form of support to any given religious group, institution or activity;

(b) Official participation by government leaders in the affairs of any given religious group or institution, or official participation by any given religious leader or group in political or governmental affairs;

(c) The use of a religious platform by any individual or group of individuals to form a political party;

(d) The use of a religious platform by any individual to seek a leadership position in any of the three branches of government—that is, the legislature, the judiciary and the executive;

(e) Inclusion of denominational religious subjects in the curricula of schools funded by the government;

(f) Subjection of candidates for election or appointment to public office to a religious test expressly or otherwise requiring them to declare their religious affiliations;

(g) Desecration of any religious symbols or objects by any member or members of Zambian society;

(h) Religious sermons or statements by any individual or group of individuals belonging to any given religious grouping or denomination which are contemptuous to, or are designed to slight, other religious groupings or denominations; and

(i) Conducting of religious sermons or ceremonies involving ten or more people in non-religious public arenas without a police permit, or conducting such activities on public modes of transportation that are not chartered by groups involved.

In countries where government leaders have not provided for these kinds of safeguards mainly due to lack of foresight, violent clashes among religious groups in their quest to dominate the political sphere, and to impose their religious laws on the citizenry, have become exceedingly difficult to contain.

As it is often said, prevention is better than cure!

Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammad summed up the perilous nature of religious conflicts in his address to the World Evangelical Fellowship in May 2001 thus: “Once started, religious … [conflicts have] a tendency to go on and on, [and] to become permanent feuds.”

In a country that is already inundated by violence and threats of violence on a regular basis mainly by cadres from the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) and some of the opposition political parties, to add the potential for religious conflicts would be akin to spraying gasoline over burning charcoal.

In all, I am confident that religious institutions in Zambia will continue to provide the moral and spiritual direction to our nation in an era that has been high-jacked by unprecedented violence and moral decay, and to articulate the people’s demands on the government for a more democratic, more peaceful, more prosperous, more egalitarian, and more environmentally sustainable society.