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The Strange Mystery of President Lungu

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President Lungu

President Lungu

By Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa
President Edgar Chagwa Lungu is a very strange and mysterious President. I am aware that Presidents are not born, they are made by circumstances.
President Fidel Castro of Cuba never ran for election or re-election. But there he was giving press statements and holding press conferences almost every week or so throughout his presidency and he also used to write a weekly column in Granma. He was also giving extensive interviews to foreign journalists and talks with foreign leaders.
The aim of those weekly press conferences or statements, interviews and the newspaper column was to expound economic, political, cultural etc programmes, policies, direction and trajectories of his party and government. Castro would explain why any particular policy was adopted by the Party. He would explain the reasons for the success or failure of any and each significant policy. He would explain in miniature the impact of US and world economies  on the Cuban economy and with statistics and transparency that Cubans could grasp. Castro’s speeches were not a laughing matter. Most were long and Castro never read his speeches. They were from memory. He could string a raft of statistics about tons of sugar production, exchange rates, amounts in millions or billions in foreign exchange, the figures in drops or increases in the price of rice or sugar or tobacco and so on. I once endured a 9 hour non- stop Castro speech at Revolution Square in Havana. I didn’t stay through the whole speech but I continued listening on radio on my way to Varadero, the tourist capital of Cuba. That is one of the reasons why Castro stayed so long in power, his people trusted him. He was transparent. His people’s problems were his problems. His people understood that his dictatorship was different from the dictatorship of apartheid, of General Pinochet in Chile, Mobutu in Zaire, Museveni in Uganda, Duvalier in Haiti and so on. Dictators imposed by American democracy, including the Cuban one albeit performing a contrary role to what the Americans wanted, something that President Obama recognized and reversed American policy. America was the one in the wrong and not Castro.
President Barack Obama joined the American tradition of addressing the American people and setting the economic and other agendas for America for the next year. He also presented numerous  press conferences, many briefings and wrote columns in the papers as well as dealt with specific pressing topics in extended tv-covered speeches. And all American Presidents did that. Obama continues to do that even when he will not run for election ever again.
President Kenneth Kaunda had five year development plans and he used to give extended speeches about where Zambia was going and why. Many presidents in the world do that except in dictatorships where there is no accountability though Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse Tung used to give extended speeches and wrote countless books and monographs explaining the ideological basis of their policies.
The point of all this is to query why President Lungu has so far only given two press conferences since he assumed power on January 20th, 2015, almost a year and half ago, knowing full well that press conferences are one of the major vehicles of leadership and accountability. They are different from budget speeches though this second press conference sounded more like a budget speech. During press conferences, presidents are queried by journalists, unscripted. President Lungu did not also participate in a presidential debate last year, a strange decision in itself. Lungu is a lawyer and knows the importance of communication. Lungu publicly stated that he had no vision. Was the lack of press conferences and a newspaper column a statement to that effect. Was that an imprimatur of the self-confession? Was he content to rely on state-owned media vuvuzelas of ZNBC, Daily Mail and Times of Zambia?
Now to specific economic issues that demanded clear-cut policies and transparency.
Lungu has always known that Zambia has problems in accessing cheap oil. Even when oil prices all over the world dropped, they didn’t drop in Zambia, necessarily. Being landlocked is just one explanation but it doesn’t explain all. Yet Lungu only goes to Saudi Arabia two and a half months before the election and promises that Saudi Arabia would supply cheap oil. Why were Zambians made to endure oil shortages and high prices since Lungu came to power when there was allegedly a cheap source of oil in Saudi Arabia? Lack of vision? It goes the same for borrowing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Why were Zambians made to endure all these hardships when loans allegedly to alleviate their problems could be addressed through the assistance of the IMF? Why are we only now being told that load-shading will be resolved in two years, why weren’t we told last year or several months ago, and not two and half months before the election. Why all of a sudden commissioning of a solar energy plant when the whole world is so advanced in solar energy technology? Lack of the self-confessed vision! It is so apparent as to why.
Regarding all the infrastructure that is being undertaken like roads and so on most of whose blue prints were  started under the Movement for Multiparty Democracy government, why is this government pumping its chest and showing off what they have done! That is what governments all over the world do. They develop their countries. It is taxpayers’ money. It is not cause for boasting and showing off as if they have done something  that they are not supposed to do. Something extraordinary. Imagine a father standing outside his home and calling his children to listen to what he has to say to them and to the world and begins to boast that he has bought food for his children and that they have a roof over their heads and so on despite the shortages. The children would just look in amazement and tell their Dad, “Daddy, that is what you are supposed to do, we all contribute to the household but you are squandering most of the money in gambling, traveling and misplaced investments and corruption”. The children would also say, “Daddy, you and other dads before you have neglected to develop where the majority of the people live- in shanty compounds and rural areas. Roads in the rural areas are not tarred as are those in Kanyama, Kalingalinga etc. There is no electricity in rural areas. People still travel distances to access water. Daddy do your job. It is not your money”. What the government is doing is the minimum of what they are supposed to be doing. They couldn’t just be sitting in their offices and do nothing and still get paid. Besides after fifty years, Zambians should have been trained by now to construct their own roads, build solar plants, engineer building their own hotels, have top class medical facilities with Zambian doctors and not have two out of three of our dead presidents dying abroad. We wouldn’t have most of the loans from the IMF and Europe going to benefit the Chinese and Indians and other foreigners who construct our roads and other infrastructure.
If Lungu failed to hold press conferences, write a column and project his vision while he was facing a re-election, can you imagine what will happen after August 11, 2016 when he will no longer be facing a re-election!

Dr. Munyonzwe Hamalengwa teaches law at Zambian Open University.

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