The Choma Declaration

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==The Choma Declaration==, A Government of National Unity

Dr Kenneth D. Kaunda Lusaka

Sunday Post Newspaper September 10, 2006


The Choma Declaration of June 1973 is not only an important event in terms of the unity of the Zambian people. Its importance goes beyond Zambia's borders. It is of importance to the entire continent of Africa.

We often talk about the 74 tribes of Zambia. In another article in this Post column, I referred to new tribes, tribes of colour for that matter. This is an acknowledgement that we received, and accepted, people of various colours, people from other continents, as fellow human beings. We saw them in the same way we considered ourselves in the group of 73.

With apartheid in South Africa as strong as it was, it was important for us, if we were to develop the philosophy of Zambian Humanism in its true form, to show by example that what we were talking about was being implemented. Zambian Humanism was to do with acceptance of the human being where ever they may be or have come from, the human being from east, west, north, and south. All these we accepted as God's children.

It is this approach to appreciating human beings as a family of our Creator that led us to invent the motto "One Zambia, One Nation." It had been part of our struggle for independence. Indeed, I wish it were still part of our struggle, as a nation, to build from the 73 plus groups a strong and united nation.

After seeing what has happened in many parts of our beloved continent, who can fail to feel the importance of this approach? We cannot refer to the important Choma Declaration without first of all thanking all those of our leaders who agreed to be part and parcel of that great development. Central in this is Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula. I do not think that without his consent we would have achieved that great national event and what followed.

We also remember his contribution around Zambia's independence. When there was pressure on him from those of us in the UNIP leadership, on one hand, and on the other, the settlers led by United Federal Party, to join in coalition, African National Congress's Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula chose to come with us. From that action, we were then able to form the first black government. That move helped to take a short step forward into major developments ahead of us.

It is important for the youth of today to know how serious at our independence the situation was with our neighbours in our region. Due to colonial and racial injustice, there were liberation struggles going on west of us in Angola and Namibia, then South West Africa. On the east, we had Mozambique. On our southern border was Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.

There was of course apartheid South Africa further south. These liberation movements in these countries had very tough freedom struggles. Many of the leaders of the freedom movements have gone ahead, passed on. But I am clear that one of these days, some of our freedom fighters will write about these struggles so that we are all well informed about what actually happened.

Those who read my diary in The Post should not get tired of reading about how much Africa as a whole owes to Tanzania and the first president, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere. Liberation movements were looked after by the Tanzanian government and people. When we became independent, because we shared borders with the oppressive countries, the liberation movements moved their headquarters from Dar es Salaam to Lusaka.

The racist regimes therefore found it easier to reach out and bomb our bridges and infrastructure than to bomb bridges in Tanzania. Internally, there was also political tension and fighting amongst political party members. Considering the internal and external situation at that time, we in Zambia had to come together to form what was more or less a government of national unity. The UNIP government's leadership, which I was privileged to be president of, decided to approach Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, some one we fondly referred to as "the Old Man." A lot of discussion took place between us.

As the discussions were taking place, in 1972, the National Commission on the Establishment of a One-Party-Participatory Democracy in Zambia, popularly known as the Chona Commission, from being chaired by Mainza Chona, was formed to go around the country to get the views of the people as a whole. The Chona Commission did an extremely important job in getting the views of the people. On December 13, 1972, when the constitution was amended to have only one legal party, Zambia became a One Party Participatory Democracy.

Old Harry agreed to be together with UNIP. After all this Mr Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula proposed that since Choma was the major political centre of the African National Congress, we should, after the whole agreement was reached, go and sign the agreement in that town. That is how it is known as the Choma Declaration.

That day of the signing of the Choma Declaration was simply fantastic! We were gathered expectantly and joyfully. That hour was an extremely important one for Zambia. I could clearly see that it was going to strengthen Zambia. At the signing, I felt it was a time of great tiding for the nation. When it was signed, we embraced. There was great clapping and cheering around us. The women were cheering greatly.

It was a great moment. We had started off as a multiparty system at independence. The new government system following the Choma Declaration became the "One Party Participatory Democracy." With hindsight, it would have been proper to name that system we had a government of national unity, as that was what it was. The purpose was to bring all the people of Zambia together. The people of Zambia had made a decision for the great benefit of Zambia.

The new system ushered in the Second Republic. In the new system, we looked and the ANC MPs in parliament and shared some ministries. Old Harry did not want to take a position but many people from ANC were taken into public roles and institutions. In our performance in government, there was a lot of cooperation between those who had come from ANC and UNIP. And all over the country, people were working together.

While there had been inter party fights and killings, when we came together, these ended. We thanked God there was peace in Zambia. The people of Zambia began to work together much more. Development programmes were easier to implement all over the country. That unity helped to give Zambia stability.

Besides helping internal unity and development, it also made it more manageable to stand up to the challenges of the colonial and racist regimes around us. Because of the support we were giving to the liberation movements, the regimes were hellbent on destroying Zambia. The regimes bombed us.

At home, we had some labour leaders that did not agree with us supporting the liberation struggle. They made nasty remarks but we believed that what we were doing was right. This was our expression of "Love thy neighbour as thy self," and "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Sadly, the racists' killing of Zambia's people and destruction of property was a price we paid.

Apartheid South Africa and the racist regimes wanted to destabilise us internally also. There was the Mushala gang they sponsored to carry out armed attacks against us. In 1980, there was an attempted military coup they supported. I thank God they did not succeed. Some plotters were convicted in open courts of law.

But I used my presidential authority of the prerogative of mercy and to change from the death sentences to life imprisonment. Besides supporting coup attempts, the racist regimes looked for various ways, including economic measures, to destabilise us. With the hostility around us, what would have happened if we had not formed that government of national unity? We can see how much support the Boers gave to Mr Frederick Chiluba when we went back to the multiparty system in 1990.

There is no doubt in my mind that without the government of national unity named "One Party Participatory Democracy," we could not have achieved much for the needy and the freedom struggle. The Declaration was God sent, helping the people and the region. With intensification of the freedom struggle in the region, by 1975, Mozambique and Angola, despite internal conflict, were independent. By 1980, Zimbabwe was born, with Namibia following in 1990. By 1990, the situation in the region had improved.

We, working with the freedom fighters of South Africa, had managed to have Nelson Mandela and his colleagues released from prison. Immediately that great son of Africa was released, the first country he visited, in February 1990, was Zambia.

To join us in receiving Nelson Mandela in Lusaka, we invited a number of leaders from Africa and other parts of the world. It was good to see how happy Dr Mahathir Mohamad prime minister of Malaysia, was! He had been invited as Chairperson of the Commonwealth, which had played an important role in calling for the release of Nelson Mandela and his colleagues. All over the world, we were all very happy to witness the arrival of Nelson Mandela and the dawn of a new South Africa.

So, by 1990, things were greatly changing. The problem of racist regimes had changed. We were working closely with our independent neighbours.

In Zambia, there was then a general call to go back to the multiparty system. Earlier, in 1988, we had gone through general elections and were on another five year term. By 1991, we still had three more years to go.

In our constitution, we had a provision saying that should there be need to go back to the multiparty system, there was to be a referendum. I could see that the call to go back to a multiparty system was getting louder and louder. Yet the constitution called was clear about calling for a referendum. I decided to face the situation.

I said to myself that it had been necessary to go to a government of national unity, under the One Party Participatory Democracy way, but the call to go back to the multiparty system was loud. I did not think any one would blame me if I took a necessary decision on my own. I therefore decided to face the situation and announce that because we were going back to the multiparty system at the call of many people, I did not think there was need for a referendum to change the constitution.

So, in December 1990, I signed the repeal of the article that allowed only UNIP as sole party, thus getting Zambia back to a multiparty system. The first republic was between October 1964 and December 1972.

The Second Republic was ended in December 1990. I signed in the Third Republic in December 1990. Through discussion with other political parties, the church, and civil society, a new multiparty constitution was in place in August 1991. In preparation for the multiparty system of the Third Republic, I wanted all Zambians to participate freely.

Those involved in coup attempts were set free. And whenever someone was imprisoned for an offence that might stem from unlawful political action, on release I always invited them to lunch at State House. So, in the Third Republic, I invited those that had been charged with coup attempts. We wanted to start afresh s one family.

In the multiparty elections of October 1991, the Movement of Multiparty Democracy, MMD, led by Mr Frederick Chiluba, on November 2, 1991, took over office from us. He was there two terms. Following the December 2001 elections, Mr Levy Mwanawasa, also under MMD, took over from Frederick Chiluba. I, like others, always pray that Zambia will have stable politics that will lead to development and peace.

I must emphasise that the Choma Declaration greatly helped Zambia. Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, who passed away in 1983, and his colleagues contributed a lot. Without it, I don't think Zambia would have been very different from what has happened in many African countries. It is by declaring that step that we have brokered the peace and stability that we have enjoyed. Through the unity it had created, it helped in the transition back to the multiparty system.

The many attempts to destabilise Zambia failed because of that giant step we took together as a nation. There is a lot to learn from this, even today. Even today, we still need a strong base for unity and "One Zambia, One Nation."