As questions began to emerge over Zambian President Michael Sata's commitment to following through on a campaign promise for a new constitution, the leader stunned with a comment mocking calls for a “people-driven” constitution by asking if any country had ever passed an animal-driven one.
During a swearing in ceremony of constitution office holders, the only time Sata publicly addresses the nation on television, he said:
And for all of you here, ask the most learned woman here, [acting Chief Justice] Madam [Lombe] Chibesakunda. You are always saying people-driven constitution, people-driven constitution. Madam, where do you have an animal-driven constitution? […] Have you ever seen an animal-driven constitution, which country because everybody is talking of people driven constitution, so once you produce the animal driven one, let’s ask Mr Phiri, once you produce the animal driven constitution, we compare the two constitutions, what we have and then we shall look at that.
As an opposition party, Zambia’s now-ruling party the Patriotic Front defeated the then-ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) in 2011 with a promise that when elected into office in elections later that year, it would pass a new constitution within 90 days of taking office.
A few weeks into office, President Sata appointed a technical committee to look into the previous constitutional making processes to come up with a new document. The promised landmark difference with the previous processes was to be that the draft constitution was going to be simultaneously released to both the government and the public and a referendum held.
With shifting deadlines and the constitution making process running into two years, the government changed its approach and asked the technical committee to only print ten copies of the draft constitution, which the cabinet was to study first. The draft constitution was later leaked via Zambian Watchdog and is now known as the “eleventh copy”.
Some started to cast doubt on Sata’s commitment to enacting a new constitution when he said that the country did not need a fresh document altogether but only amendments to certain clauses. At another time, Sata said the current constitution was still good because six elections had been held under it.
Nyalubinge Ngwende on his Brutal Journal blog wrote:
[…W]hen it comes to the constitution, President Sata will not fool us. The building of roads, universities, more schools and health facilities come to mean nothing if the citizens are enslaved by political tyranny that refuses to hand them a constitution meant to unleash their full liberties and broaden opportunities for citizens, regardless of their geographical position on the global map.
A people driven constitution is our choice and not that of PF!
Ngwende goes on to explain what is meant by a people-driven constitution in a country where Cabinet with the President as the head has a played a bigger role in the enactment of constitutions by excluding clauses that people had recommended and infusing those favouring the rulers:
When civil society activists are talking of a people driven constitution, they mean a good document that will stand the test of time; with statutes that meet the aspirations of the people and one that the people themselves will agree to.
Joining a chorus of other opposition politicians and civil society organisations, MMD President Nevers Mumba commented:
I think that God has allowed him to lose his way because I can’t imagine a President making such comments. What Zambians are saying is that look, we want a better constitution in which we participate in its formulation […] For him to make such comments shows arrogance of the highest level. I appeal to the President to be presidential about this matter. We are determined to have a new constitution, with or without him anyway.
Sata ordered government officials not to respond to the constitution debate. However, his Justice Minister and PF Secretary General Wynter Kabimba during a visit to Malawi probably gave away the biggest fear his government had in the draft document—50 percent plus one threshold for election to the office of the president and a presidential running mate for the office of vice president. Kabimba said:
There are all these demands about 50 percent plus one constitutional provision, running mate constitutional provision without taking into account that where these provisions obtain they have caused more problems than the solutions they should have brought about to society.
We can learn from others. We don’t have to make the same mistakes that others have made in order to do the right thing.