Jesuit Scholars Call for Inclusive Constitutional Reform Process in Zambia

Credit: JCTR

Jesuit scholars in Zambia are calling on the administration of the Southern African nation to ensure the constitutional reform process is inclusive, taking into account “input of different interest groups”.

Early this year, the country’s Minister of Justice, Mulambo Haimbe, said the government has begun the Constitution reform process. 

In a statement issued Sunday, October 23, officials of the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR) say previous attempts to reform the Constitution of Zambia have been driven by the ruling party’s motive to entrench itself in power. 

“It is not clear if the current administration will be any different and avoid the pitfalls of the past by ensuring that the constitutional reform process really does result in a document that the people have participated in drafting by considering the input of different interest groups in the country,” they say in the statement issued ahead of Zambia’s 58th independence anniversary celebration.

JCTR officials say, “A major problem with past amendments of the Constitution has to do with the process of amendment. Previous presidents have opted to establish either commissions of inquiry under the Inquiries Act, or have used their executive powers to establish committees to prepare draft constitutions.”


They say the difficulty with the bodies tasked to amend the Constitution is that they operate “solely according to the terms of reference given to them by the president.”

“Moreover, at the end of their work, they submit a report to the president, who is then able to cherry-pick which recommendations to follow. Not surprisingly, presidents tend to choose the recommendations which seem to be the most politically expedient to the government at the time. In other words, the process of constitutional reform is ultimately driven by the Executive and is really not in the hands of the people,” the Jesuit scholars lament.

To ensure Zambia attains a people-driven Constitution, the officials of the Lusaka-based research, education and advocacy institution propose three considerations to aid the process of reviewing the Constitution. 

There is need to enact laws that would provide a roadmap for the entire Constitution review process, they say, and explain, “This legislative framework is crucial to a successful constitutional reform process. It would stipulate the important dates when each period of preparation of the constitution would need to take place.”

JCTR officials add that the framework would be important in setting out the roles and limitations of everyone in the process and could also safeguard the input submitted by the public in the process. 

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“Having this framework in place at the start of the process would avoid any unnecessary delays in the reform,” they say. 

There is also the need to revise Article 79 of the Constitution of Zambia, which states the procedure for amending the current law. 

“The wording of this section needs to be amended in order to avoid the injustices of the past,” the Jesuit scholars say, and explain, “The wording indicates that in order for a successful national referendum to take place, not less than 50 percent of the registered voters need to vote. This formulation of the provision led to an injustice in the 2016 referendum.”

The results of the 2016 polls indicated that 71% of people voted in favor of the referendum, the Jesuit scholars say, and recall that because only 44% of those registered voters cast their votes, the referendum failed. 

Similar challenges marred the 1996 referendum process, they further recall, adding that considering what happened in the previous polls, “it becomes clear that if the voice of the people is to be heard through a national referendum, the wording of Article 79 needs to be amended.”


“The voter turnout requirement needs to be removed. If it is removed, then it means that if the majority of voters are in favor of whatever text is produced by the constitutional reform process, then the text will be approved. It cannot be stopped because of voter apathy, for instance,” they say. 

Another consideration, JCTR officials say, is the need for a good balance of the key players in the reform process, including politicians, legal professionals, and members of the public.

“As much as one would advocate avoiding a disproportionate influence by politicians over the reform process, one needs to provide space for their input. They are the elected representatives of the people. As such, their ideas will be important in producing a solid constitutional draft for the people,” they explain.

The Jesuit scholars say the views of legal professionals are required, since the Constitution is a legal document. 

They underscore the need for input from members of the public, saying such views “are indispensable since we desire a people-driven Constitution.”

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“As long as the constitutional reform process continues to be driven by the Executive, a perception that ‘the current administration is manipulating the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) and the judicial process to increase their number of MPs in parliament for the purpose of amending the constitution to entrench themselves in power’ will persist,” the Jesuit scholars explain. 

They add that failure to incorporate the public in the process “will inevitably have a negative impact on our budding democracy.”

“This celebration of 58 years of independence provides the nation an opportunity to introspect and check the worrying tendency in this country of crippling and destroying the opposition by hook or by crook. For democracy to thrive in Zambia, we need a healthy and vibrant opposition,” JCTR officials say in their statement issued October 23.

Magdalene Kahiu is a Kenyan journalist with passion in Church communication. She holds a Degree in Social Communications from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). Currently, she works as a journalist for ACI Africa.