A response to Henry Kyambalesa: the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation

This article seeks to respond to Henry Kyambalesa’s article “Zambia: the declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation” published on http://www.lusakatimes.com/?p=23244 which I had accessed on January 20 2010. I will respond to several salient points from his article.

First, Kyambalesa’s assertion that the Declaration was an imposition of religion on the Zambian society is not quite right. Zambians have always been a religious people. And in our ethos the dualism between religion and politics that is a new western innovation does not exist at all. For Zambians, religion and politics co-exist. Specifically with regard to Christianity, it was not Chiluba who made Christianity the religion for Zambia. From the time that the missionaries set foot in Zambia, the Zambian people enmasse adopted the Christian religion as their religion. This fact was recognized by Kaunda as well as other independence leaders before and after independence. Christianity played a huge role in Kaunda’s government and he would refer on several occasions, to Zambia being a Christian nation. On the other hand, Kaunda’s downfall within the Zambian political spectrum in 1990 could be partly attributed to his abandonment of the Christian faith. Kaunda’s embracing of Dr. M.A. Ranganathan’s religion was unacceptable among many Zambians who felt that Zambia’s leader should be a Christian.

Secondly, Kyambalesa alleges that the Declaration is unconstitutional and as such is likely to lead to religious intolerance. In asserting this he quotes Dr. Seshamani. But Dr. Seshamani himself supports declaration and asserts that, Hinduism has no problem with the Declaration since Hinduism is polytheistic. The Islamic Council of Zambia has, while being cautious, as well supported the Declaration. Zambia’s constitution as it stands now does guarantee freedom of conscience for all. The Declaration that we are a Christian nation does not automatically lead to intolerance at all. All religions and a citizen’s entitlement to practice that religion are guaranteed to all. In fact, the courts of law have on a number of occasions asserted this important constitutional principle. In the cases of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, Zambia’s High Court and even the Supreme Court have protected this church from closure. So far there have been no religious riots in Zambia. When Zambians rioted against the UCKG or against the Hindu Temples in Livingstone, it was not because of religion per se, but it was due to false rumors that had circulated that these institutions were participating in ritual killings—a very sensitive matter for witchcraft conscious Zambians.

Thirdly, Kyambalesa feels that the Declaration dragged religion into politics. Again as I have mentioned above, Kyambalesa wants to create a dualism that does not exist among Zambians. We are a religious people, and we cannot abandon religion regardless of what we are doing. We have used our religious convictions to support leadership, and at the same time we have used our religious convictions to rebel against leadership. Kaunda used the Bible to fight against colonialism, and once in power he relied, for a period, on the Bible to guide the nation. Even without the declaration, religion would always play a part in Zambian politics—it is who we are!

Fourthly, on a secular society, it would be necessary to find out what Kyambalesa actually means by that. Secularism requires serious definition so that we all know what we are dealing with. A secular state is never a guarantee of freedom of conscience. England has an established church, but still guarantees freedom of religion. The USA has a lot of religious symbols in its politics, but still guarantees religious freedom. Secularism has the potential to drive out religion from society. And in fact, secularism cannot take root in Zambia, because Zambians are by nature very religious people. Both Hindus and Muslims would greatly disagree with the establishment of secular society. Secularism is a western innovation and does not conform to the pattern of African people!

Fifthly, Kyambalesa cannot have it both ways. You cannot keep the church out of politics, and keep politics out of the church but still expect the church to continue providing moral and spiritual guidance to the nation. The activity of providing “spiritual and moral guidance” to the nation as you have written is very political in nature. If you choose secularism, then you cannot expect religious institutions to play those roles you have said the church should play. You cannot have it both ways!

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