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Tutu Fellow champions a constitutional democratic win in Zambia

Bill10inParliament

2014 Tutu Fellow Linda Kasonde has been at the forefront of a legal battle since 2019 to prevent a change to the constitution by the Zambian government. Zambia’s Constitution Amendment Bill (No. 10 of 2019) aimed at weakening the legislature, judiciary, and state institutions that provide necessary checks and balances. “Bill 10”, as it was known, also threatened to change the electoral system to make it easier for the incumbent to win the 2021 presidential election and to hold on to power through gerrymandering. In a victory for the people, the bill has been defeated in the legislature.

Chapter One Foundation - which she founded - and the Law Association of Zambia, sued the state on the basis that the proposed Constitutional Amendment Bill was unconstitutional when it was first proposed.

They lost, but that did not discourage Chapter One Foundation, which proceeded to mobilise citizens and took the campaign to the people, along with other civil society organisations.

In rallying support against the amendment, Linda presented some compelling reasons: “What Zambians need to ask themselves is what happens if the politicians - whose powers are meant to be limited by the Constitution - control the process of constitutional amendments, instead of the people to whom the Constitution belongs? The answer has been observed repeatedly. Zambia has made several constitutional amendments since 1964 and most of those processes have been controlled by political parties in power. The results have been reduced transparency, reduced accountability and subsequently reductions in the checks and balances over government. The people of Zambia have been poorer for it – literally.”  She further stated that the Amendment Bill was “destructive to the fabric of our democracy.”  In an article in The Mast, she said that if the bill was passed, it would have the effect of turning the country into a one-Party dictatorship.

When the Bill went to parliament for the second reading, the government was unable to garner the two thirds majority needed to pass the Bill, thanks to the opposition to it and some independent MPs. Linda congratulated all the members of parliament, civil society, churches, and ordinary citizens who stood firm in defeating Bill 10. She expressed that this defeat is a collective victory for Zambian democracy and the future of the people.

After the bill was defeated, Linda said “This is a gift that we have given unto ourselves." "The greatest victory is the re-awakening of the Zambian people to the fact that their voice matters, and that people power does work. We hope that this lesson will not be forgotten as we continue to face many governance issues as a democracy,” she said.

She also said that "credit belongs to several CSOs, Church leaders, artists and individual citizens as well as the MPs who didn't vote for Bill 10."

Linda is a lawyer and human rights activist and the current Vice-President for Africa for the Commonwealth Lawyers Association. She also has the record of having been the first woman to be elected as President of the Law Association of Zambia in the history of the Bar Association in Zambia. Chapter One Foundation, which she founded, promotes and protects human rights, human rights defenders, constitutionalism, the rule of law, and social justice in Zambia.  The foundation does so through civic education, advocacy, and strategic public litigation.

Additional news posts on the defeat of Bill 10 can be found at MweBantu and at Diggers.

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Sunday, 17 October 2021

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