Political commentator Sishuwa Sishuwa says it is divisive and demeaning for President Edgar Lungu to liken Bembas to thieves.

Sishuwa has also condemned President Lungu for likening the numerical superiority of the Chinese to cockroaches.

In a statement, Monday, Sishuwa urged President Lungu to apologise for his ‘ill-advised, irresponsible and poorly chosen remarks’.

“It is unacceptable to stereotype any group of people as thieves or cockroaches-like and most disappointing when such cruel and prideful prejudices come from the President. The President’s comments are not excusable. Neither do they need any clarification or sugarcoating. They are simply crude, gross, demeaning and most irresponsible. I am extremely disappointed, though not surprised, that the President missed a chance to apologise when he was leaving for Japan since he likes holding press conferences at the airport. I hope he apologises, when he returns from Tokyo. If he had a more competent and effective political advisor than Kaiser Zulu, the President would have by now proffered a ‘humble’ apology inspired by ‘genuine’ remorse and regret.”

Sishuwa urged President Lungu to draw lessons from Levy Mwanawasa on the political consequences of disparaging any ethnic group.

“The deliberate efforts of this administration to stir up ethnic resentment will have long term consequences. I recall that in March 2003, then President Levy Mwanawasa described MMD figures, mainly from Luapula and Northern provinces, who did not support his anti-corruption campaign as ‘stinking and dirty’. This seemingly innocuous remark was seized upon by then opposition PF leader Michael Sata and presented as a criticism of all Bemba- speaking people in general. Sata’s ethnically-laced campaign helped him to mobilise Bemba-speaking voters and establish the PF in Luapula and Northern provinces. By the time Levy tried to make amends, it was too late as most voters from those Bemba-speaking rural communities, outraged by the fact that a man who rode on their support in 2001 to win the presidency could indirectly disparage them like that, had already migrated to the PF. I urge Lungu to learn from history before it punishes him”.

Sishuwa further advised President Lungu to moderate his language and choice of words when speaking in public.

“President Lungu will do well to work on the tone of his sometimes divisive and even corrupt language. Yes, he has every right to make whatever points he wishes to put across, but he should do so in a manner that engenders unity and respect for the office he holds. He will also do well, in future, to stick to the written script when making public statements, especially in instances where a written speech exists. Most of the irresponsible and embarrassing comments that Lungu has uttered as President have come from off-the-cuff statements. When you listen to the speech he gave at the Economics Association of Zambia dinner, you will note that both his assertion that 6 out of 10 thieves are Bembas and that the Chinese are as numerous as cockroaches were off-the-cuff remarks that were not part of the written speech. Such carelessness takes way from his more substantive message, where one has been said. There are not many people who will remember what else Lungu said at that EAZ dinner, but few will ever forget his crude utterances against the Bembas and the Chinese. I am also disturbed and extremely disappointed that a section of the audience even clapped and ululated for the President when he was uttering those offensive comments. What sycophancy! He deserved to be rebuked, even only by way of loud silence”, Sishuwa said.

“Lungu’s reference to fellow human beings as cockroaches-like is, from all points of view, tasteless, despicable and dehumanising. In case the President does not know, “cockroaches” was the term used to describe Tutsis during the 1994 Rwanda genocide, so it is no joke at all, especially given the sensitivity around the growing sense of frustration among many Zambians that the Chinese are receiving preferential treatment in several sectors of the economy at the expense of many locals, who feel neglected by their own national leadership. In this climate, any dehumanising language like Lungu’s is dangerous. If xenophobic violence results from this, Lungu will be at least partly responsible. As a citizen, there are times when l genuinely feel terribly embarrassed to have Edgar Lungu as my President. I generally consider him as a nightmare for Zambia, a disaster for the rule of law, democracy and good governance, and arguably the most divisive leader that Zambia has ever produced, though his predecessor, Michael Sata, is not far behind on that front. The good thing for Lungu is that unlike Sata, he is still alive and has enough time to change, for the better. If he does not change, I could see future historians debating which was the most dire legacy of Lungu’s rule: economic collapse, or ethnic conflict, or tolerance for corruption, or the betrayal of Zambia to foreign commercial interests, especially Chinese, or the destruction of state institutions?” Sishuwa stated.