Zambia: Insulation of Politics from Religion

By Henry Kyambalesa

Henry Kyambalesa
Asia 728x90

16 March 2023

Upon reading a news article in Lusaka Times about brother Dr. Dan Pule’s official announcement of his candidature for the 2026 Presidential and General Elections on the Christian Democratic Party’s platform, I am prompted to explain the need to keep region out of politics in this article.

Freedom of worship, as well as the choice of one’s religion, is one of the basic individual rights which every government needs to formally recog­nize and safe­guard. However, there is an apparent need for cou­ntries which have a diver­sity of religious denomina­tions particularly to intro­duce laws designed to keep religion out of political and public affairs.

The religious conflicts currently irking Nigeria, for example, where religion, apart from ethnicity, is the most explosive issue in the country’s political arena, should underscore the necessity of such pieces of legislation. Daniel E. Agbiboa and Andrew E. Okem have succinctly described the predicament facing the country in the following words:

“Nigeria is usually characterized as a deeply divided state in which major political issues are vigorously and even violently contested along complex ethnic, religious, and regional lines.”

The laws should, among other things, ban religious activities and programs which have the potential to indoctrinate credu­lous memb­ers of society. Obviously, this does not imply that religious denomina­tions in any given country should not free­ly advocate their values, be­liefs and causes as interest groups. In a truly democratic society, any and all societal groups should have a right to seek to be heard in governmen­tal decision making, and to articulate their demands on the govern­ment and society’s other groups and institutions.

The rationale for pieces of legislation designed to keep religion out of politics, educa­tion, and other public spheres of society that wholly or partly fall under the auspices of any given country’s gov­ern­ment is to forestall the potential disruption of public order and socioeconomic activities by cliques of fanatics from any of the country’s reli­gious denomina­tions.

Such legislation is particular­ly criti­cal for countries where efforts by national and local govern­ments to break the bondage of the majority of indigenous people to misery, want and destitution has been thwar­ted partly by violent clashes among religious sects.

Specifically, there is a need for a country’s legislative organ of government to seriously consider the prospect of DISCOURAGING or PROSCRIBING the following in a deliberate attempt to forestall the potential disruption of public order and socioeconomic activities by overzealous and chauvinistic religious leaders:

(a)  The use of public funds by a local or the national government to set up a Church, Mosque, a Synagogue, or any other house of worship, and/or to provide any form of support to any given religious group, institution or activity;

(b)  Official participation by government leaders in the affairs of any given religious group or institution, or official participation by any given religious leader or group in political or governmental affairs;

(c)  The use of a religious platform by any individual or group of individuals to form a political party or alliance;

(d)  The use of a religious platform by any individual to seek a leadership position in any of the three branches of government—that is, the legislature, the judiciary or the executive;

(e)  Inclusion of denominational religious subjects in the curricula of schools funded by the government, except studies relating to world religions without delving into the content of their sacred books;

(f)  Subjection of candidates for election or appointment to public office to a religious test expressly or otherwise requiring them to declare their religious affiliations;

(g)  Desecration of any religious symbols or objects by any member or members of society;

(h)  Religious sermons or statements by any individual or group of individuals belonging to any given religious grouping or denomination which are contemptuous to, or are designed to slight, other religious groupings or denominations, and which can ultimately lead to what may be referred to as “religious chauvinism”; and

(i)  Conducting of religious sermons or ceremonies involving ten or more people in non-religious public arenas without a police permit, or conducting such activities on public modes of transportation which are not chartered by groups involved.

Some of these safeguards would, of course, need the legislature to prescribe the nature or kinds of punishment that would be meted out to convicted violators.

With the foregoing kinds of safeguards, a government does not need to place any restrictions on the construction of Churches, Mosques, Synagogues, Temples, or any other houses of worship, or have restraints on the expansion of any religious denomination.

In countries where government leaders have not provided for these kinds of safe­guards mainly due to lack of foresight, violent clashes among religious groups in their quest to dominate the poli­tical sphere, and to impose their religious laws on the citizenry, have become exceedingly difficult to contain.

The precarious problem currently facing Algeria, Nigeria, the Sudan, Afghanistan, and a host of other countries around the world which are belea­guered by religi­ous conflicts should serve as a clear warning to all peace-loving citizens of any given country to refrain from crea­ting a simi­lar situa­tion that is likely to dog their beloved countries in perpetuity.

These countries are experiencing recurring incidents of religion-based conflicts—conflicts which have occasionally culminated in violent clashes between and/or among religious groups in their quest to dominate the political sphere and/or impose their religious laws on the citizenry.

As it is often said, prevention is better than cure! Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammad summed up the perilous nat­ure of religi­ous conf­licts in his address to the World Evangeli­cal Fellow­ship in May 2001 in the following words: “Once started, reli­gious … [conflicts have] a tenden­cy to go on and on, [and] to become permanent feuds.”

The Registrar of Societies should not have registered the Christian Democratic Party because Article 60 of the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment), Number 2 of 2016, Clauses 2 and 3 prohibits the formation of such parties in the following words: “A Political Party Shall NOT—(a) Be founded on a religious, linguistic, racial, ethnic, tribal, gender, sectoral, or provincial basis, or engage in any kind of propaganda that would be deemed to be based on any of these factors ….”

At this juncture, one would do well to advise Dr. Pule and his inner circle to seriously consider the prospect of briskly re-registering their political party by removing the “Christian” part of the political party’s name. As a responsible, patriotic and peace-loving citizen of our Motherland, Dr. Pule will do well to promptly take this piece of advice seriously.

The removal of the “Christian” part of the party’s name should be done briskly in order for our beloved country to circumvent the potential for those who believe in Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Jainism, or the Baha’i faith to use the existence of the Christian Democratic Party as an invitation to establish religion-based political parties.