Statement by British High Commissioner regarding general elections in Zambia

“Ladies and Gentlemen of the Zambia media,

I would like to welcome you all here today, as we set out the UK’s Election Engagement programme for the upcoming General Elections that will take place across Zambia later this year.

As close bilateral partners, friends within the Commonwealth and fellow members of the Global Community of Democracies, the UK has been a strong supporter of Zambia’s democracy for decades. Our development and diplomacy activities have supported Zambia’s elections processes over many years, in line with the fundamental rights and freedoms that Zambia’s Constitution provides its citizens. And this year will be no different.

Our Elections Engagement Programme is focused on contributing to peaceful and safe elections, where votes are cast freely, counted credibly, and polls are open and accessible to all voters. This is based on the rule of law being upheld, including:

  • the right of Zambians to express their will through freely cast ballots
  • equal rights and protections afforded to all parties and candidates
  • the principles of democracy, good governance, and the respect for human rights, as enshrined in the Zambian Constitution

Working with and through Zambian institutions, organisations and citizens, alongside international and multilateral partners, is central to our approach.

Therefore, today, I am pleased to announce that the UK is contributing £500,000 (approximately 16 million kwacha) to the “Democracy Strengthening in Zambia” (DSZ) programme, as managed by the United Nations Development Programme.

Our funding will allow the UK to continue to support the Zambian election process through a variety of ways. These include:

  • electoral operations that are more transparent, efficient and inclusive
  • strengthened and expeditious resolution of electoral disputes at local level
  • equitable access and coverage on public media coverage to all contenders
  • support to the civic authorities to provide safe civic and political space

Moreover, we have allocated significant additional funding to strengthen our cooperation with Zambian organisations:

  • to ensure that local observers have sufficient resources and capacity to monitor polling
  • to ensure that access to the electoral process is not denied to those who live on the margins of society – the poorest, the disabled and the voiceless

This collaboration with local partners will also help more people understand the electoral process, to ask questions that connect politics to their everyday lives, and be better informed for the unique decisions they are asked to make as part of a modern democracy.

All of this reflects our passion for democracy, our understanding of its flaws, but also our celebration of the democratic right that all Zambians have to shape and share in their future.

So in addition, I wanted to use this opportunity today to say a few further words directly to the Zambian people, Zambian politicians, institutions and all those with a stake in the upcoming elections.

I have been the British High Commissioner to Zambia for over 18 months. During my time here, I have met with a broad range of Zambian society, across all provinces, tribal and linguistic backgrounds. Wherever I have been, I have been met with warmth and respect for the UK. I assure you that this respect is reciprocated.

We should not ignore that the nature of the UK’s history with Zambia is complex and there are many who look upon the past with discomfort. Nevertheless, connections between the UK and Zambia run deep and across a wide range of areas.

Over many years, the UK has worked tirelessly with hard-working Zambians to build a stronger health system, expand education opportunities, and create new jobs and investment.

We avidly celebrate each other’s culture, as epitomised by the strength of feeling in Zambia for the English Premier League, or by the British Council’s work supporting brilliant young Zambian poets, filmmakers and musicians, and the role the UK has played to support local Zambian artisans and craft-makers to take their products to global markets.

Our common interests extend over many areas, in bilateral partnership and multilateral fora. And our shared values form the beating heart of this relationship.

Earlier this year, the UK’s Foreign Secretary said that the UK was “committed to serve as a force for good in the communities in which we invest.” This is certainly true about the relationship between the UK and Zambia. Together our countries have a broad and deep friendship. The UK is committed to being a force for good in Zambia. It is in the UK’s national interest to ensure our investments, whether in business or in development, are backed by a secure and stable political and economic environment.

A key component of our friendship is built upon Zambia’s reputation for democracy and good governance. Since the re-establishment of multi-party elections in 1991, Zambia has stood out from many of its neighbours for its strong democratic tenets. Indeed, Zambia has historically influenced the foundation of democracy elsewhere in the region.

The UK is a steadfast advocate for Zambian democracy and we will continue to support the government, the institutions and the people of Zambia in efforts to hold elections that credibly reflect the will of the Zambian nation. The work we will support through our elections programme will help enable state institutions, civic authorities, civil society organisations and political parties to play their full part in the elections.

We recognise that the role of public institutions is challenging during the charged environment of an election. This year, in which elections could be as hotly contested and closely run as any in Zambia’s history, it is especially important that everyone across all public institutions, the media and civil society can operate without fear. They must know that whatever Government emerges as victor will respect the role they played.

A strong friendship between partners also requires understanding, confidence and tolerance. Understanding each other’s points of view, having the confidence to give constructive feedback, and the tolerance of listening to such feedback without spoiling the friendship.

With this in mind, I wish to speak about trust.

The importance of trust in an electoral process is paramount.

If there is trust in the process, then all stakeholders can engage freely, confident that their rights will be protected and a safe platform provided for their voices to be heard.

If there is insufficient trust, then the fundamentals of a free, fair, credible and peaceful election can be undermined.

People need to trust that freedoms of speech will be fully respected. That all respectful voices – be they of journalists, of academics, of ordinary citizens; of whatever political persuasion – can be heard, respected and debated. People should not feel – or be – threatened merely for expressing different views or perspectives.

People need to trust that their freedoms of assembly will be upheld. That leaders and members of all parties are granted equal opportunities to travel the country and to gather their supporters. That whatever restrictions that are necessary to ensure the safety of citizens, especially in these days of the Covid-19 pandemic, are applied equally to all.

People need to trust that the rule of law will be applied evenly and fairly. To quote the Lusaka Declaration of 1979 “everyone has the right to equality before the law and equal justice under the law.” Conditions that bind one stakeholder should also bind their competitors.

There is no place for violence. Disagreeing with someone’s political affiliation is not a reason to hound them from their office, to commit physical harm, to forcefully disrupt radio broadcasts, or to damage their livelihood and property. To quote again from the 1979 Lusaka Declaration:

Children have the right to be brought up and educated in a spirit of tolerance and understanding so as to be able to contribute fully to the building of future societies based on justice and friendship.

What message does seeing acts of violence, not only being committed, but also going unpunished, give to the children of Zambia? All of us have a responsibility to discourage and call out violence in the strongest possible terms.

I re-affirm that the UK is a friend of Zambia. And the UK wants its friend to be prosperous and stable, a fellow force for good in the world. The UK does not favour one candidate or one party over another; that choice is the people of Zambia’s alone and is a matter on which we would never seek to interfere. Between now and Election Day, the UK is committed to working with all stakeholders across the political spectrum to help build trust in democracy and the electoral process.

Zambia is a country that is full of beauty, an abundance of natural and human resources and almost unlimited potential. It is the UK’s highest ambition here to see Zambia’s potential fulfilled and for every Zambian to have access to a good education, to good healthcare, to be able to find a job, put food on their table, to view the great natural wonders of their homeland and to live in peace and security. All these things are possible – and it is the democratic electoral process that stands as the basis for these things being fulfilled.

This is why free, fair, credible and peaceful elections in Zambia matters to the UK, and why the UK will do what we can to support a process that seeks to attain these goals.

Thank you.”

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