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Sunday, 24 January 2010

Qualifications for the Republican Presidency (Guest Blog)

I am shocked by the National Constitutional Conference’s adoption of articles requiring a Republican presidential candidate to have a bachelor’s degree as a minimum academic qualification, and to have been resident in Zambia for 10 consecutive years preceding any given presidential election.

It is abundantly clear that such clauses are designed to exclude certain individuals from contesting the Republican presidency, and are seemingly initiated by MMD members of the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) and their sympathizers.

I have argued below why it is undesirable to have such clauses in the new Republican constitution.

Minimum Academic Qualifications:

The adoption by the NCC of an article which requires a Republican presidential candidate to have a minimum academic qualification of a bachelor’s degree is outrageous for the following reasons:

(a) It is not based on evidence from Zambia or anywhere else in the world suggesting that a president’s competence is directly related to his or her academic qualifications. In other words, it is mainly based on hunches rather than on facts!

(b) There is no academic degree offered anywhere in the world which can equip an individual with the qualities that are needed in political leadership, such as emotional stability, patriotism, selflessness, fair-mindedness, patience, compassion, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, and the ability to make compromises with people who have dissenting views.

(c) Most academic degrees are not designed to equip students with the requisite knowledge and skills relating to political or national leadership.

(d) The Republican president appoints qualified advisors to provide him or her with decision inputs in dealing with legal, economic, political, and other matters.

(e) The Republican president is expected to appoint competent government ministers and charge them with the responsibility of advising him or her on matters relating to national projects and programs, and spearheading the implementation of such projects and programs.

(f) The clause, if it is eventually included in the new Republican constitution, will inevitably require all office bearers (including the vice president) who are constitutionally expected to take over the presidency under special circumstances to be holders of academic degrees. And

(g) The kinds of national policies, projects and programs a presidential candidate promises to pursue are more important than his or her educational attainments.

There is, therefore, a need to retain Article 123 (1) (e) of the Willa Mung’omba draft constitution, which states that a person would only be qualified to be a presidential candidate if he or she had obtained the minimum academic qualification of a Grade 12 certificate.

The 10-Year Residence Requirement:

What is really the rationale for a constitutional clause requiring a presidential candidate to have been resident in the country for 10 consecutive years preceding any given election? In other words, what is such a requirement supposed to achieve?

There are many reasons why Zambians temporarily reside in foreign countries, such as to pursue studies, to work for the Zambian government in foreign missions, to work at foreign-based branches of companies registered in Zambia, to pursue investment opportunities, or to seek employment due to the widespread unemployment currently obtaining in the country.

These are all good reasons why some Zambian citizens have, now and again, found themselves temporarily residing in foreign countries. Why, then, should their native country’s constitution deny them the opportunity to vie for the Republican presidency?

There is a need to remove this requirement because it discriminates against citizens who temporarily live in foreign countries for good reasons.

Over the years, the people’s call for a non-discriminatory Republican constitution that is expected to stand the test of time has been loud and clear. Unfortunately, those who are entrusted with the noble task of delivering such a constitution to the people seem to have personal and/or partisan stakes in the constitution-making process.

I wish to request each and every member of the NCC to heed the people’s call for a constitution that will meet their needs and expectations in order to save financial and material resources that are likely to be devoted to another constitutional review commission in future.

Henry Kyambalesa (Guest Blogger)


  1. The education clause is aimed at Michael Sata, and the residency clause is aimed at Clive Chirwa.

    In the US constitution, it is illegal to make laws aimed at a single individual business or entity, such as the Republican attempt to make a law prohibiting federal funding for ACORN.

    This is called creating a 'Bill Of Attainder'. Perhaps a similar prohibition should be included in the Zambian constitution.

  2. Requiring ANY qualifications at all is insulting to the voters. There should be one qualification only; -being able to convince over 50% of voters to vote for you. Any other requirement is saying that voters are not smart enough to decide for themselves who would make a good leader. If someone who never went to school wants to stand-let him. He will get as much support as he is worth. Same applies to ,those in other minority groups or for that matter if you are female.(Still a major handicap in Zambia) You may be qualified but if not worthy in the eyes of the voters you will not get elected. If a candidate can fairly win an election it doesn't matter what their age, gender, race, tribe or previous residence is because the voters will take those factors into consideration when voting. Making roadblocks before letting the voters choose is robbing them of their right to choose.

  3. R. Henson, I beg to disagree with your idea that there should be only one qualification i.e the ability to get the support of 50% of the voters. This would be reckless on our part as convicted criminals, mentally unsound characters and all hues of individuals pursuing some populist agenda would by appealing to the emotions of the disadvantaged find their way into the corridors of power. Consider the compromise that the framers of the USA constitution had to achieve regarding the presidency.
    "......The Electoral College is a controversial mechanism of presidential elections that was created by the framers of the U.S. Constitution as a compromise for the presidential election process. At the time, some politicians believed a purely popular election was too reckless, while others objected to giving Congress the power to select the president. The compromise was to set up an Electoral College system that allowed voters to vote for electors, who would then cast their votes for candidates....."
    I think a variety of qualifications are needed including education. But as to whether a degree is necessary is another issue all together. The idea of a president just relying on advisors is not good as ultimately, the final decision is in the hands of a president who has heard all sides and has understood the issue at hand. Not one who has simply been told what needs to be done by silky smooth advisors with agendas.

  4. R. Henson,

    I agree with your assessment.

    These are the very points I made on :

    When mulongotism met sakism

    Defending Mulongotism?

    The clauses presuppose that people are stupid and are not capable of distinguishing a good candidate from a bad candidate.

    Of course it might be that the electoral system is broken and bad characters always get in regardless of the people's choices. But surely then the answer is fix the electoral system not focus on artificial restrictions.

    It strikes me this is a Zambian syndrome. I was perusing through the Mines and Minerals Development Act 2008. I could not believe it places age restrictions on who can apply for a license! It says if you are under 18 you cannot have an exploration license! Surely if you are sane and capable and have money - you should be able to start a mining business? Not in our country!

    There are many such mind boggling laws...

  5. Every job must have qualifications. I am surprised that today Zambians who only yesterday, wanted councillors to have a minimum qualification of Grade 7 think they should have any person regardless of their educational background. Then, why have people go to school?

    To have a President without qualifications is very dangerous. It must be understood that at every level of decision making, you need a person with the capacity to be analytical, understand issues, know how to gather around him/her the right type of advisors who in turn shall assist him/her govern effectively and with efficiency.

    Zambians, you have seen what the same unqualified diplomats have been doing to Zambia or even the misplaced civil servants including the cadre type of PSs and DCs, Town Clerks etc. A sweeper must have qualifications. A CEO must have qualifications etc.
    The problem with Zambians is that you are more woriied of just one Michael Sata. For goodness sake, what has he been doing all this time. He has been in the limelight since indipendence, surely he could not get any of these qualifications?

    No wonder the man enjoys insulting and has no regard for even his own traditional leaders. May be his lack of adeqauate education explains his attitude.

    I want to disagree with the NCC where it wants to bar persons who have been living abroad from standing for the Presidency. I think that is unfair. But Viva Degree Requirement Clause! Abash barring Zambians living abroad!

  6. What makes the system work is a free press. If the press is free and ZNBC was separated from the party in power then all information about a candidate will be known to the voters and they will be free to choose based on that knowledge. If a candidate has a bad past record- let the voters know it. If he is young and has no political record - let them know it. Let them know his age, health, marital status, financial status, education and experience. A few people will always vote for inappropriate people but it is their right and their choice. I refuse to believe that the majority of Zambians cannot choose wisely and have to have candidates preselected for them by someone else's arbitrary standards!


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