At the most unlikely event – away from politics – President Edgar Lungu sparked a fresh debate about his stay in power after he ‘announced’ that he would only be going upto 2021.

This is stark in contrast to what the Head of State said in Solwezi recently when he declared his candidature for the next general elections, preceded by a sharp warning to Constitutional Court judges against disqualifying him.

“Whoever will be President will have to carry on with engaging you because you are not politicians,” President Lungu told members of the Zambia Association of Manufacturers yesterday.

But the remarks by the Head of State confused his political rivals, while leaving PF supporters and Zambian diplomats serving abroad in panic. The rest of the general citizenry turned to social media to offer their own interpretations of the President’s statement.

Was the President joking? Has he been briefed about the decision made by the Constitution Court judges over his illegibility to recontest the presidency in 2021, or was the Head of State trying to dupe his opponents while paving way for a favourable court outcome?

These were some of the questions which Zambians were asking in WhatsApp groups, on Facebook and on various social media platforms.

Even during his interaction with the manufacturers at Radisson Blu Hotel on Thursday, President Lungu noted that his comment tensed his audience, but his clarification raised more questions.

“The economy knows no politics, whoever will be President will have to carry on with engaging you because you are not politicians, you are economic players and you will always be there. Government just makes it conducive for you to succeed,” President Lungu said.

“Together, we can achieve industrialisation with unity of purpose. We can transform Zambia into an industrialisation hub. So let us all rise to the occasion and ensure that industrialisation becomes a reality in our lifetime, or in my term of office. And by the way I am only going up to 2021.”

Watch the video:

A few people in the audience laughed whilst others remained silent forcing President Lungu to offer a ‘clarification’. “Yes, I am only going up to 2021, unless otherwise. Thank you very much, God bless you.”

Take a listen:

Earlier at the event dubbed: “Meet the President dialogue”, President Lungu said his government would do everything possible to promote consumption to locally manufactured products.

“It is clear enhancing local content or the purchase and use of local products in various value chains is crucial for Zambia’s industrializing agenda. Again, we are saying that we will allow you to import only when the materials cannot be found locally unless you show us that these materials will not get you to produce the right quality and quantity of what you want to produce locally. But when we realise that you need to import, I am sure we will be talking to the Minister of Finance to see how we can give you room so that you produce competitively. Not only on quantity but also in quality…we want to make sure that you buy Zambian, Trade Kings has already set the standard, but only when we can’t buy Zambian will we allow buying from abroad including manufacturers,” President Lungu said.

“It is therefore pertinent that all government departments should make concerted efforts to procure locally manufactured products and give preference to those products in all government contracts. I think we will enforce those with ease. If goods can be found in Zambia, the quality is good enough, why go and get them outside the country? This is one very very low hanging fruit which we can harvest quickly. If there are such statutory instruments to be passed, we can pass them overnight. My government will do everything possible to promote the consumption of locally manufactured products as this is crucial to advancing Zambia’s industrialization agenda and national development.”

He however encouraged local manufacturers to improve their products.

“I wish to urge all of you present here and those not present to continue using the Zambia Association of Manufacturers as a platform to engage in meaningful dialogue with the government. I am also concerned about the high number of imports which as you have already heard outweigh exports and this brings us to the fact that we need to improve tremendously on the quality of our products, including packaging,” President Lungu said.

He said he would continue engaging other countries to remove trade barriers in order to help manufacturers grow their businesses without constraint.

“The government is aware of this challenge and is supporting the growth of regional trade by implementing infrastructure development at border points such as one stop shops to enhance ease of accessibility but we think that the more we work with you, it will be easier to achieve our objectives. We also engaged in talking to respective governments to address various bottlenecks our manufacturers face on the regional and international markets when exporting so as to create a level playing field for you. I was in South Africa and I did not mince words when I spoke to President [Jacob] Zuma about it and I think we are trying to get somewhere and recently again when the President was here, we talked about this issue that as SADC I think we will persistently pursue the need to have a level playing field for manufacturers and traders in Zambia and in the region,” said President Lungu.