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In Zambia, a Phone App Allows Citizens to Participate in Drafting Their Constitution

BY Lisa Goldman | Friday, November 2 2012

Screenshot from phone app page.

Zambia is in the process of writing a constitution that will reflect the aspiration of the people. In order to make the process inclusive, the government has created a phone app that allows people to read the draft, sharing and commenting on pages. The Zambian draft constitution app is available free for download on Google Play — but not on iTunes, which shows the extent to which low-cost Androids are kicking dust in the face of the prohibitively priced iPhone in developing nations.

The description of the app reads:

The Zambian Draft Constitution App is aimed at addressing the lack of knowledge of the nation's laws on the part of the citizenry.

It helps the nation understand their rights and how the country is governed. The project's focus is to ensure Zambians review and have a working knowledge of the first draft constitution by providing an easily accessible content for mobile phones and tablets, by so doing we help the government reach more people and get accurate feedback for their review process.

The app allows users send a comment to the Constitution review commission of Zambia. Allows users to search for a key word thereby making it user friendly. while reading, the user can share an area of interest with a friend via sms, email, facebook, twitter or any other social network app installed on a phone.

In its country brief for Zambia, the World Bank describes it as having strong democratic foundations and a fast-growing economy. Its capital, Lusaka, is the seat of COMESA, the African free trade zone. But the landlocked state has its problems — like a failure to alleviate poverty, which afflicts the majority of its citizens.

This is Zambia's third attempt to write and ratify a constitution and the government seems determined to get it right this time — primarily by making the process as transparent, inclusive and consensual as possible. The Technical Committee on Drafting the Zambian Constitution (TCDZ) has a comprehensive, link-rich website that includes the names of all the committee members with their bios, as well as previous drafts and the current draft in seven local languages.

In an October 18 editorial, the Times of Zambia (the slogan on the masthead reads "forward with the nation") comments that it "is impressed with the patriotism shown by members of the general public in five districts where consultations [on the draft constitution] have so far been conducted. The editorial also expresses "...hope that a people’s Constitution which over the years has eluded the Zambian people is in the making."

Interestingly, local Catholic clergy oppose describing Zambia as a "Christian nation" in the preamble to the current draft of the constitution. The Lusaka Times reports that the bishops said "a country cannot practice the values and precepts of Christianity by a mere declaration," adding that "the principle of separation between State and Religion must not be lost."

“If Zambia is a multi-religious Country, a fact that was recognized in the preamble of the first draft of the Technical Committee, to say that Zambia is a Christian nation would be in contradiction with this fact,” they submitted.

The bishops also said they opposed any clause that supported "abortion, death penalty or mercy killing,” which is a combination that would probably raise eyebrows amongst evangelical Christians in the United States, who oppose abortion but support the death penalty.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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