By Mwansa Pintu
Catholic News Service
LUSAKA, Zambia (CNS) — The Catholic bishops of Zambia said the country faces numerous unresolved political and economic challenges that hinder development and harm the dignity of people.
In a charged pastoral statement issued at a news conference in Lusaka Jan. 23, the bishops expressed concern that progress toward relieving poverty and improving human life could be reversed if the government fails to change some of its practices.
Archbishop Ignatius Chama of Kasama, president of the Zambian bishops’ conference, accused the government of intimidating people to prevent them from participating in governmental affairs.
"The political environment in Zambia, today, is characterized by manipulation, patronage and intimidation of perceived government opponents," Archbishop Chama told reporters.
Archbishop Chama described a tenuous security situation surround food distribution and availability in the small southern African nation. He said food security was weakened by the late delivery of farming supplies, particularly fertilizer, for the 2013-14 growing season.
Many families in the country were struggling to obtain enough food because of rising prices, a result of the removal of government subsidies for corn, called maize by Zambians, and fuel, Archbishop Chama explained.
Archbishop Chama also accused the government of paying little attention to the proper management of the nation’s health institutions which, he said, resulted in deaths that otherwise could have been avoided.
"People were dying when nurses went on strike and they continue to die now when government has punished the nurses by firing them," the archbishop said.
In addition, the prelate addressed the ongoing work of drafting a new constitution for the country. Archbishop Chama urged those writing the document to ensure that a "people-driven" constitution is enacted soon.
Contents of a draft constitution were leaked in mid-January. It contains changes in presidential powers as well as electoral reforms. Presidential aides said the government had not yet received the draft.
The constitution’s final draft "should without further delay be released to the public and other stakeholders" and must follow the outline for openness and greater citizen participation in government as announced by the committee drafting the document, Archbishop Chama added.
Zambia has revised its constitution four times since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1964 as successive governments have molded the document to silence opposition parties and entrench their stay in power. The current review would lead to the country’s fifth constitution in Zambia’s half-century of independence.