October 16, 2003

Disputes over indaba prolonged

Government has appealed to opposition political parties intending to boycott the national symposium because their concerns have been addressed. Chief Government spokesperson Mutale Nalumango announced that the doors were still open to all invited delegates.

However, Zambia's four main opposition parties, the United Party for National Development, Heritage Party, Patriotic Front, and the Zambia Republican party (ZRP) have said they would boycott the indaba. Church groups, the influential Oasis Forum, which represents lawyers and civic bodies, and the Non Governmental Coordinating Committee (NGOCC) and its affiliates, have also said they would not attend. The indaba initiative has been plagued by criticism and suspicion ever since president Mwanawasa announced it in September and called the meeting to iron out differences over national issues.

The critics claim the objective of the indaba is unclear, judging from the lack of prioritising of topics to be discussed. "The agenda is too wide for any meaningful debate. Currently the country is facing serious challenges around the constitution review process, the fight against corruption and the need for inter-party dialogue. We would have expected the indaba to have been focused on one or two issues for the set time frame," explained Florence Chibwesha from the NGOCC.

The government has faced a gruelling time over civil society demands for a genuine constituent assembly, strike action by public sector workers for better pay, splits within the ruling party, an aid freeze by the donors to punish overspending, and the ongoing challenge in the Supreme Court to Mwanawasa's election victory.

Secretary to the cabinet, Leslie Mbula, has shrugged off the opposition complaints and advised them to go ahead with their boycott because the indaba was not called to discuss narrow political concerns, but broader national issues. "Not everyone wants to talk about politics. There are other issues that interest people," he said.

The Zambia Union of Financial and Allied Workers (ZUFIAW), the only labour union to accept the government's invitation, said the boycotters were not being sincere. "People have been crying for this opportunity, and everyone was agreed that we needed to have a meeting to resolve issues, so why are they boycotting?" asked ZUFIAW president Cephus Mukuka. (The Times of Zambia, Ndola/IRIN)

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