PRESS STATEMENT BY SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY GENERAL TO THE AFRICAN UNION AND HEAD OF THE UNITED NATIONS OFFICE TO THE AFRICAN UNION, MS. HANNA TETTEH TO MARK THE END OF HER VISIT TO ZAMBIA
4 June 2021
- The UN Resident Coordinator in Zambia, Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio
- Members of my delegation
- UN colleagues
- Members of the media
- Ladies and gentlemen
- ALL PROTOCOLS OBSERVED
Today marks the end of my visit to Zambia which began on Sunday 30 May. I have been in Zambia with members of my delegation from the Department of Political and Peace Building Affairs as part of the United Nations’ continued engagement and support to Zambia ahead of the August 2021 General Elections.
I want to sincerely thank the Government of the Republic of Zambia for the warm welcome and for all the courtesies that have been extended to us during this visit.
Let me also appreciate my colleagues from the UN family in Zambia under the leadership of our Resident Coordinator Dr Coumba Mar Gadio for their invaluable support in organizing this visit.
My gratitude also goes to all the stakeholders that we met for their time and candid engagement. We held fruitful consultations with Her Honour the Vice-President of the Republic of Zambia Mrs. Inonge Wina and various Government senior officials. Others included key institutions of democracy, Civil Society, members of the diplomatic corps, Faith Based Organisations, political parties, and the media who clearly articulated their perspectives on the country’s achievements and challenges ahead of the 2021 elections. These informative discussions provided insights into how the UN can further support Zambia to promote an atmosphere for transparent, inclusive, and peaceful elections that reflect the will of the Zambian people.
As I have pointed out during my consultations this week, this visit is not an Observer Mission because the United Nations does not typically observe elections. However, the UN provides support to its Member States through technical assistance and its good offices to help promote a climate for transparent, inclusive, and peaceful elections. Over the years, Zambia has cultivated a reputation for conducting credible and peaceful elections, with hitch-free transitions. It is essential to maintain and further nurture this. All citizens, regardless of their status have a role to play in this regard.
Let me now share some key issues raised during this visit:
- Elections within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic: We are all aware that Zambia is organising an election amid the COVID-19 pandemic. I note that the country has put in place measures to guide the conduct of the 2021 election campaigns to guard against a further escalation of the pandemic. What is important is that these protocols are applied consistently by the relevant authorities, so that all political parties and candidates are given equitable and equal opportunities to campaign despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.
- It is important for key institutions with an electoral mandate to undertake their respective functions in a manner that inspires public and stakeholder confidence. These include the Electoral Commission of Zambia, the Zambia Police Service, the Judiciary, media, political parties, and civil society.
- This further calls for the public in general and the electorate in particular to be informed and educated on how to safely participate in elections. In this regard, I am delighted to note that the UN, through its various agencies, has been supporting Zambia to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Application of the Public Order Act: Stakeholders raised concerns with the application of the Public Order Act. It is critical to ensure the maintenance of law and order to avoid political violence which often characterizes elections. However, we cannot adequately emphasize that the Public Order Act should be applied fairly across the board, with the sole purpose of securing an environment conducive to the conduct of peaceful, transparent and credible elections.
- This requires high levels of professionalism and political neutrality to be exercised by all agencies charged with the maintenance of law and order so that all political players are protected, and that violence is prevented. All efforts need to be made to stop violence, including against women, during the 2021 elections in Zambia, and beyond.
- Dialogue and peace messaging: Stakeholders raised the issue of limited space for dialogue which is critical in preventing political violence and promoting peace. We call on all political players to be open to dialogue and jointly address contentious issues which affect their political participation. In addition, during this campaign period, we encourage political actors, in particular those in leadership to convey messages of peace and unity as they have the power to influence public behavior and have a crucial role to play in ensuring that Zambians do not engage in violence. These actions are important to ensure that Zambia maintains its reputation as a beacon of peace on the continent.
- Inclusive participation in elections: For democracy to flourish, it is important that all special interest groups are given an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process. We note with concern that youth, particularly political party cadres are typically at the forefront of perpetuating violence. Youth need to be meaningfully engaged in politics and not serve as tools of violence as such behavior does not inspire public confidence in “our leaders of today and tomorrow”.
- Further, women and Persons with Disabilities are not significantly represented as candidates in the political process. I, therefore, wish to encourage the youth to be agents of peace and not to be associated with violence.
- Women in Zambia remain underrepresented in political processes. While women constitute over 50 per cent of the Zambian population and 53 per cent of the current Voters Roll, their participation levels in politics remain extremely low. Ensuring that men and women are equally participating in elections without barriers is at the core of democracy. Political parties must support women candidates, and collectively challenge mindsets that promote negative stereotypes of women leadership. This calls for affirmative action within the parties to adopt more women as candidates at all levels and support them throughout the electoral process. Exclusive dependence on the First-Past-the-Post system in elections will not yield positive results in the short to medium term.
- Persons living with disabilities are usually left behind in many electoral processes including on the polling day itself. There is need by relevant authorities to ensure that polling stations and operations are accessible to wheelchair users and other people with physical disabilities. Other challenges include lack of or inadequate information in appropriate formats about voting for the visually impaired, all of which hinder persons with disabilities from effectively enjoying their rights. This is a human rights issue as participation in the electoral process is a right of every eligible citizen.
Ladies and gentlemen
- Access to Media: During an election, the voters need to know the choices of leaders available and their programmes in order to make informed decisions. The mass media is at the heart of this matter, especially the state-owned media. In our different meetings, we were informed that Public Media is not equitably accessible to all political parties. It is important that media should give equitable opportunities for all Zambians to know about all political players’ manifestos. This is particularly important in view of the suspension on political rallies which makes the media as one of the key alternatives for campaigns.
- Legislative concerns: We heard from various stakeholders the need to reform certain provisions in the Constitution. Stakeholders highlighted that the 14-day period to hear and dispose of a presidential petition was inadequate. Whereas in the long term, there is need to address these legislative concerns, in the immediate term, there is need to ensure that all stakeholders, particularly political parties are fully aware of the processes for legal redress.
- Let me close by wishing all Zambians a peaceful, inclusive, and credible election this August. As the UN, we will continue engaging the Government and people of Zambia to maintain and sustain peace which is essential for attaining the country’s development priorities.
I thank you all.