Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema officially opened the Democracy Summit in Lusaka, Zambia, on Thursday. In his speech, he urged African leaders to strengthen electoral integrity, human rights, and financial disclosures, and too shun coups. This is his speech.
The Summit For Democracy is significant to Africa. It contributes to our firm resolve to strengthen democratic governance on the continent.
A resolve to abhor unconstitutional change of government.
A resolve for democracy that delivers tangible dividends to our citizens. As a continent, we are determined to promote democratic governance as enshrined in the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
We are eager to promote and strengthen good governance by institutionalising transparency, accountability, and participatory democracy.
It is for this reason that the theme for this summit for our continent is "Free, fair, and transparent elections, as the foundation of democratic governance".
Distinguished delegates, the theme captures the need for commitment to the principles of democratic governance. Principles that respect the rights of citizens to vote, the right to participate in governance, and the right to hold accountable those charged with the responsibility to govern.
It further calls for commitment to legislative reforms that seek to strengthen institutions of governance that are responsible for the management of elections.
Distinguished delegates, during the first Summit For Democracy that took place in December 2021, participating heads of states made progressive commitments to make democracy more responsive and resilient.
As a continent, our commitments reaffirmed the need for democratic renewal and the need to address threats to democracy.
Among the commitments, we pledged the following:
1. To combat disinformation;
2. To strengthen electoral integrity;
3. To promote human rights, especially for women, youth and persons with disabilities;
4. To address inequality on the continent;
5. To use technology to foster democracy and human rights;
6. To strengthen enforcement of financial disclosures;
7. To use financial systems to combat corruption.
Distinguished delegates, we note with satisfaction that most of our countries have made strides in actualising these commitments and we encourage continued progress.
We must work hard to improve in areas requiring further attention. We have an opportunity to use this summit to learn from each other.
On our part as Zambia, we committed to ensuring a free media, protecting freedom of assembly and association, as well as ensuring an independent electoral commission.
During this summit we are pleased to learn that we are making steady progress towards fulfilling our commitments and the aspirations of our people.
The media is operating freely without interference. The law that regulates freedom of assembly and association, our Public Order Act, is being reviewed to ensure that fundamental freedoms of our citizens are protected.
We have continued to maintain the independence of our electoral body, the Electoral Commission Of Zambia, as provided for under our constitution.
We have repealed the law that criminalises defamation of the president and we are willing to do more to strengthen democratic tenets in our country.
Distinguished delegates, as a continent, we are all in agreement that free, fair and transparent elections are the cornerstone of democratic governance.
This ensures credibility in the elections and subsequently legitimacy of any government. To achieve this, we need strong and resilient governance institutions.
We need independent and credible electoral management bodies. We need independent and professional judiciaries.
We need independent, free and responsible media. In addition to having strong institutions, we need to ensure that we have enabling policy and legal frameworks that:
1. Guarantee predictability of holding elections;
2. Provide a grievance and complaints redress mechanism;
3. Ensure freedom of assembly and freedom of association.
Distinguished delegates, for democracy to thrive our citizens must freely participate in the electoral processes devoid of harassment, violence, intimidation and malpractice.
As such, there should be freedom of expression, access to information and the adherence to law and order.
This will allow our citizens to make informed decisions and freely elect leaders of their choice.
Distinguished delegates, civil society is a critical component of any thriving democracy. A vibrant and active civil society contributes to, among others, free, fair and transparent elections.
The role it plays in voter education, election monitoring and observation, as well as conflict resolution, cannot be overemphasised.
We have a duty to ensure that the democratic space for civil society is supported.
Distinguished delegates, we urge all countries on the African continent to introspect and undertake necessary institutional, policy and legislative reforms to guarantee free, fair and transparent elections.
This is what our people deserve. This is what our continent deserves. This is what our world deserves - free, fair and transparent elections, the foundation for democratic governance.
In the words of the late former United Nation Secretary General, Koffi Annan, "…democracies without credible elections are no democracies at all".
We must remember that elections are a mechanism for arbitration of political rivalries, and peaceful and democratic rotation of leadership… credible elections must meet three essential criteria: inclusiveness, transparency and accountability.”
Distinguished delegates, allow us to conclude by extending our sincere gratitude to all those who worked tirelessly to make this momentous summit a success.
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