“EDGAR Lungu is a good man, but the people around him are bad”. We can’t count how many times we have heard this expression before. At first it made sense, some bad decisions that we have seen come out of State House could not make sense being attributed to the Head of State. Bad pronouncements suited the ‘bad advisors’ and indeed they took the blame for anything mindless that came out of the presidency.
During the era of Kaizer Zulu and Amos Chanda, President Lungu succeeded at hiding from public scrutiny. He carried himself as a responsible father who had disgruntled, stubborn and untamed sons. Everybody asked the question, why is President Lungu keeping his stubborn advisors? Can’t he see that they are making him unpopular? As a newspaper, we wrote editorial comments, many of them condemning the conduct of the presidential aides at State House.
To the President’s credit (one would say) he let them go, one after another, in very unusual circumstances. It’s over a year today since Mr Amos Chanda left State House and it will soon be a year since Mr Kaizer Zulu was fired. The President has a new political advisor and a new press aide. By any measure, these are the quietest presidential advisors you can ever come across. They are quite a contrast to their predecessors.
So the question we are now faced with as citizens is; how has this helped State House? Has this move helped in bringing out the glorious side of President Lungu? Is State House making more reasonable decisions now? Is the presidency more dignified now? The answer is a categorical no! In fact, the fact that these new advisors are not (yet) involved in any controversies leaves the President absolutely naked. Anything unreasonable that comes from State House comes straight from President Lungu’s mouth. They let him say it himself so that the people can see him for what he is.
Speaking from a strictly political point of view, one would argue that President Adada actually made a mistake to let his ‘stooges’ go because now the whole country can see the limit of his reasoning. We recall how Honourable Chishimba Kambwili, Mr Peter Sinkamba and other critics condemned Mr Chanda for “overstepping his boundaries”. He was told on many occasions to stick to his lane as spokesperson, but the former aide would defy that and accept to look ridiculous in an effort to make his boss look reasonable.
Here we are today, there is nobody to take blame for the Head of State’s blunders. Let’s look at the protest by the youths for example. President Lungu personally told the Minister of Home Affairs to make sure that anyone who will take part in the corruption and freedom protest is arrested. “Those of you in Lusaka who are plotting to bring chaos by saying ‘we will demonstrate, no we will do this’, freedom of speech, freedom of insulting people, we will deal with you under the law, ‘We want freedom! We want freedom, [freedom] to make noise?’, Kampyongo deal with these boys,” said President Lungu. Is it reasonable for a sober President to issue such a directive?
What is wrong with citizens disagreeing with the pronouncements and decisions made by those whom they elected into power? What has President Lungu and his government lost since those youths outwitted the police and conducted their protest in the bush? Where is the chaos that the President said the protesting youths would bring about? Surely, President Lungu’s directive would have been understood, if not condoned, had it come from an advisor, not a democratically elected Head of State.
In contrast, we are reminded of an incident in August 2017 when UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema was released from prison after months of incarceration. A group of sympathisers organised what they called “thanks giving prayers” but the police banned the church gathering saying the organisers had no police permit. We recall that it was Amos Chanda who persuaded the police command to rescind the ban and that gathering went ahead.
Again in October 2018, a group of civil society organisations asked for a permit to stage a protest against corruption and bad governance at Parliament grounds, the police command in Lusaka objected. When the organisers of the protest appealed to the Home Affairs Minister, Honourable Stephen Kampyongo shocked the country by overturning the police decision and allowing the protest to go ahead. He then sent police officers to protect the protesters and the PF cadres who attempted to interfere were brutally manhandled by police. These two rare decisions by the minister and the press aide were made without any known directive from the President.
We are trying to contrast this record against the narrative that “President Lungu is a good man, but the people around him are bad.” We don’t know if there are still any people who can buy that story. Which bad people surrounding the President are we going to blame for Mr Lungu’s dictatorial habits now that Amos and Kaizer are no longer at State House? Who influenced him to put a bounty on the heads of Pilato, B-Flow and the other protesting youths?
We do not need to pretend anymore. There is no one surrounding President Lungu who has made him unpopular. There is no decision that he has made or a pronouncement he has issued which can be blamed on ill advice. When he declares public protests a crime, he does not do so because anyone has misled him. In fact, he is the one who has been misleading the people around him, giving them powers they do not have, endorsing corruption and defending dictatorial actions by his ministers. In our view, the people around President Lungu are good, but the president is bad.