from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – ZAMBIA is hailed as a case in point of a country in which the churches carry the trust of the people and make a decisive contribution to the reestablishment of democracy.
As the largely peaceful Southern African nation heads for polls that are set to be the most fiercely contested and amid fears a disputed outcome could plunge the country into crisis, the church’s role cannot be underestimated.
Religion has waded into the heated political terrain.
In a no-holds approach, the Christian community has sternly addressed the political elite and the electorate.
They have been warning against rabble-rousing ahead of, during and beyond the August 12 elections that are again set to be a two-horse race between the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) of incumbent, President Edgar Lungu, and the United Party for National Development (UPND) led by his fiercest rival, Hiakande Hichilema.
Some 17 other candidates have raised their hand for the presidency of the former British colony.
Campaigns have kicked off and as per norm during the pre-election madness season, politicians have been promising the electorate the proverbial heaven on earth.
The Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection (JCTR) has alerted the public to this trend and urged Zambians to be wary of such pledges.
JCTR offered a forthright message to politicians in a country where politicians have a reputation of promising so much for so little.
“Aspiring political leaders must articulate economic growth programmes that respond to the needs of the poor and the vulnerable and how as leaders they are going to contribute to the common good and the preservation of human dignity of every Zambian,” the JCTR stated.
Alex Muyebe, the JCTR Executive Director, waded into the country’s well-documented debt crisis that has been a prevailing issue leading to the polls.
Elections will be held on the back of an economic malaise punctuated by Zambia defaulting on a $42,5 million payment of a Eurobond.
“It is not enough for the aspiring candidates to end at promising paradise to the electorates, which as we know is impossible in the face of the huge debt Zambia has,” JCTR stated through its spokesperson.
JCTR has thus urged the electorate to be wary of fake pledges.
“(It is imperative to) analyse and interrogate the campaign messages to determine their practicability and viability as it is imperative that all candidates presenting themselves for election demonstrate how they are going to address this debt crisis to ensure improved social service provision throughout the country.”
A coalition of Christian denominations has also waded into the prevailing political atmosphere.
It noted local politicians, especially from the ruling party, have already been “crisscrossing” the country to make donations in various churches and parishes.
It is believed the so-called donations and gifts are meant to influence Christian voters to look favourably on their benefactor and political party.
Church leaders in a document jointly signed by George Lungu, President of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops, alongside leaders of the Council of Churches in Zambia and Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia are wary of the politicians’ conduct compromising the church’s prophetic mission to “speak truth to power.”
“As a conscience of the nation, the church must be non-partisan and avoid receiving gifts that have the potential to make it lose its prophetic voice. In the run-up towards the elections, the church remains committed to playing a reconciliatory and peace-building role,” the coalition of churches assured.
Zambia’s population is estimated at 18,839 million.
According to estimates, more than 95,5 percent of the country is Christian.
The majority of Christians are either Roman Catholics or Protestants but there is a surge in new Pentecostal churches, which have attracted many young followers.
Violence marred the 2016 elections when the Electoral Commission announced Lungu as the winner with slightly more than 50 percent of the vote, ahead of Hichilema, who according to the elections body secured almost 48 percent.
– CAJ News