Zambian churches have expressed doubts about a recent declaration by President Frederick Chiluba who said that, contrary to previous statements, the country's constitution would not be changed to allow him to run for a third term in office.

Chiluba was first elected in 1991 promising privatization of state industries and major economic reforms. But his government has been plagued with accusations of mismanagement, corruption, and infighting.

The president appeared on national television May 4, after the ruling party's national convention re-elected him unopposed as leader of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), the nation's ruling party. He denied he would make a bid for a third term. Speaking slowly and emphatically, the Zambian leader said: "I promised that when I served my two terms, I would leave office. I will stand by my word." He said that he had not done or said anything to contradict these statements.

However, he added: "Whereas I agree that the constitution should not be amended willy-nilly, I do not agree that the constitution cannot be amended."

Throughout his television address, President Chiluba stressed the need for a referendum on the question of a third term, but gave no indication of whether or when he would call one. "A national referendum would seem to be the only means by which all Zambians can be afforded the opportunity to decide once and for all," he said.

Many of those opposed to a presidential third term fear that a referendum would favor Chiluba, as many members of the electoral commission are Chiluba supporters.

A former member of Chiluba's cabinet said after the television address that the president was trying to calm political tensions temporarily because an African summit was to be held here in July.

Major church organizations were also skeptical.

"It is very difficult to believe that the president will keep his word," Father Joe Komakoma, executive secretary of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP), told ENI. Referring to "his inconsistencies on the issue," Father Komakoma said, "President Chiluba has broken the trust of the churches and the Zambian people as a whole. And once this trust is broken it's very difficult to rebuild it."

The priest said several actions suggested that the president did not plan to step down at the end of 2001 as scheduled. The current national budget had no provision for the president's retirement package. And some members of parliament who refused to support calls for constitutional changes had lost their jobs as government ministers, while others had been expelled from the MMD.

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Leaders of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ), which has 2 million members, are also doubtful.

Paul Mususu, a pastor and EFZ's executive director, told ENI that the continued political "persecution of those opposed to the third term indicates something different from what [Chiluba] has been saying. It shows that the man is not about to leave politics."

If the Zambian leader were sincere, Mususu said, he would have been "talking about looking for a successor, and finishing construction of the institute for democratic studies which he says he will start running in retirement."

Mususu said the president's wish to remain leader of the ruling MMD party was another indication that he wanted to maintain political power.

Wina Simposya, a pastor and program manager of the Christian Council of Zambia (CCZ), told ENI: "It will take a long time for Zambians to believe that President Chiluba will keep his word about not going for a third term."

President Chiluba had kept the Zambian people guessing for months about whether he would back changes to the constitution, allowing the speculation to divide the country politically, Simposya said.

Despite their doubts, the churches claim partial responsibility for Chiluba's public disavowal of a third-term bid.

"This shows, once again, that the churches are a big moral and political force," said Mususu. "There is no politician who can ignore the churches."

But, he added, "the battle is not yet won."

Lieutenant General Christon Tembo, a former vice-president under Chiluba, agreed with the churches. He said President Chiluba wanted to ease political tension to allow a heads-of-state summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) here in July.

"I think what the president is trying to do is to calm the tension in the country, get donor support to continue flowing and fight for the chairmanship of the OAU," Tembo said. "Thereafter he can go back to his old agenda."

Tembo is one of 23 public officials, including cabinet members and deputy ministers, who were sacked after publicly opposing Chiluba's plans for a third term.

"The church will continue to be alert, because when you have a president who is inconsistent, anything can happen, anytime," Mususu said. "We will only believe him completely when he finally leaves office."

Related Elsewhere

Christianity Today's earlier coverage of Zambia includes:
Church Leaders Publicly Oppose Third Term for Christian President | But Zambians are divided over whether Frederick Chiluba should stay. (Apr. 12, 2001)

Weblog: TBN's Paul Crouch Gets Involved in Politics—Zambian Politics, That Is (Apr. 4, 2001)

Zambian Churches and Lawyers Oppose Presidential Plan for Third Term | Evangelicals, Catholics, and others unite against changing country's constitution. (Mar. 5, 2001)

Zambia's Churches Win Fight Against Anti-AIDS Ads | Church leaders are concerned that condom promotion encourages promiscuity. (Jan. 12, 2001)

Archbishop Caught in War of Words with Zambian Government | Pentecostal leader says government 'ineffective,' selfish. (Feb. 10, 2000)

Eight Years after Zambia Became Christian Nation, Title Not Convincing | Immorality and corruption on the rise, say church leaders (Jan. 18, 2000)

Zambia President Disillusions Christians (Mar. 2, 1998)
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Other news stories about Chiluba and the church in Zambia include:

Chiluba warns against tension | International community, church, should stay out of third-term debate, says president — Panafrican News Agency (May 10, 2001)

Stop being partisan, Chiluba tells church | Guide nation spiritually, not politically, says president - The Post, Lusaka, Zambia (May 11, 2001)

Chiluba and the church | What the Church is preaching is repudiation, rejection and hatred of the system—hatred of injustice—not partisan hatred.- Editorial, The Post (May 11, 2001)

More news articles on Zambia, Chiluba, and the church in that country can be found at and WorldNews.