Former Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba says there is a danger that comes with a Republican President speaking off the cuff when addressing the public because anything he says, even on a lighter note, is consumed seriously as government policy.
Recently President Lungu made a statement on the Copperbelt saying “ubomba Mwibala alya mwibala”, a Bemba idiom which was interpreted as an encouragement for people to steal from their work place. The Head of State however said he was misunderstood.
At another event in Solwezi, President Lungu last year threatened that there would be chaos in Zambia if the Constitutional Court barred him from contesting the 2021 elections, but State House came to his defence saying the media quoted him out of context.
Kabimba who is also Rainbow Party General Secretary told News Diggers in an interview that it takes a very skilled speaker to address the public without relying on a written speech.
“This thing of speaking off the speech started with president Chiluba, Kaunda never used to do that. There was not time that president Kaunda would address journalists at the airport, at no time! And I remember every time when president Kaunda came from a trip abroad or went to the AU summit and came back, he would always make a statement that ‘I have to brief the central committee and brief cabinet before I can address the nation’. So there was no time that you would listen to Kaunda and got the impression that what he was saying was his personal opinion. He was always speaking as president of the country and that what he spoke about represented the government position,” Kabimba explained.
“When president Chiluba came on the scene who deemed himself to be an orator, that is when we saw the change in this culture. The position I have taken even as an individual is that it is very dangerous for a president to try to speak off the speech because the president cannot be heard making a joke to the public. So you cant say ‘sorry, when I said ubomba mwibala I was joking’. There is nothing like that when you are president. If you are misunderstood by the people or your comment is misinterpreted, you only have yourself to blame. The president must always make serious policy comments which represent the position of his cabinet. If you are going to speak off the speech, you must be a very skilled speaker. That is the problem that the Americans are having with President [Donald] Trump because when he tries to speak off the speech, the fellow is just a disaster. And the White House has to quench the fire for him.”
He said unlike President Trump who always has his skilled Cabinet justifying his public statements, President Lungu didn’t have a skilled team to do so.
“Unfortunately, Edgar [Lungu] doesn’t have even a smallest fire extinguisher to quench fires for him. If I were him, I would be extremely careful in speaking off the speech. And then he turns around to blame the people that have heard you that they misunderstood. So our position as Rainbow Party is that we should see seriousness in government pronouncements both from the president and the ministers. We don’t want to be spending time looking at a Bemba dictionary or insoselo ishamapinda (speaking in proverbs) to start interpreting what the president meant,” Kabimba said.
“We must expend our energies on real issues in order to develop this country, we are a poor country, that is why the IMF now can’t come to our aid. We are deeply in debt. We have hunger now which is stocking us because of the poor rains this year, we have issues of bread and butter, we have people that are dying in UTH every hour when they shouldn’t die, we have children that are out of school. How are you going to develop this country with an uneducated populace? And yet we are spending so much time on trivialities at the expense of development.”
Kabimba observed that government officials and State House staff were spending a lot of time justifying president Lungu’s careless statements.
“People going to take airtime and radio airtime to try to justify what the President said. Surely that time can be used productively to progress this country. Again, Edgar has a lesson to learn that the president never jokes. Whether you are before the PF gathering or you are enjoying yourselves, because you are always the epitome of what the government stands for. The secretary general of the PF should never be heard to be joking because he is the high ranking official in the party and in the government. The vice president should never be heard joking because she is number two in the country. The ministers should never be heard joking because they are running ministries and they are suppose to be telling us policy issues,” advised Kabimba.