University of Zambia lecturer Sishuwa Sishuwa has wondered if President Edgar Lungu’s call for the reopening of churches is designed to accelerate the spread of COVID-19 and create a pretext for delaying Zambia’s 2021 election.

Meanwhile, Dr Sishuwa has noted that the driving factor in Zambia’s economic and health crises is not the coronavirus disease, but the “exceptional incompetence of the country’s leadership”.

In a series of tweets regarding President Lungu’s recent decision to allow church gatherings despite the surge in the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases in the country, Dr Sishuwa identified the 2021 election as a possible motivation.

“Is President Lungu’s order for the reopening of churches designed to accelerate the spread of Covid-19 and create a pretext for designating it as a “war” against the Republic? This scheme would enable Parliament to extend its life for 12 months and delay Zambia’s 2021 election. In an attempt to delay the election, the President could be relying on Article 81 (2) of the Constitution. Notice how eager he was to emphasise the coronavirus as a “war against the country” in his address”, Dr Sishuwa tweeted.

Article 81 (2) of the Constitution of Zambia provides that “The National Assembly may, when the Republic is at war, by resolution supported by a simple majority vote of the Members of Parliament, extend the term of Parliament for not more than twelve months at a time.”

During his national address on the coronavirus, President Lungu said church meetings could take place subject to strict adherence to public health safety guidelines.

The Head of State said “the country was at war, a public health war. Who is the enemy? The enemy is the novel coronavirus also known as Covid-19, which is engulfing the whole world at a rate never seen before in history”.

Dr Sishuwa tweeted that the President’s reopening of the churches and his reference to the coronavirus disease as a “war” may have been strategic.

“President Lungu does not care much about Zambia’s plight. His vision is power and accumulation. We can accuse him of not working on nearly everything else, but not on retaining power. There, anything or anyone who tries to stand in his way risks being “crushed like a ton of bricks”, he wrote on Twitter.

“When it comes to mischief, he is very creative. Otherwise, his decision (to reopen churches) does not make sense. Going by the public response so far, many would rather see churches closed. The question is: what motivated President Lungu to reopen them? Would the spread of the virus accelerate if churches, which facilitate mass gatherings, were not reopened? The limited transmission of the disease so far has been encouraging. That could change with the relaxation of the measures that were responsible for the limited transmission.”

Dr Sishuwa tweeted that incompetent leadership rather than the coronavirus was responsible for the many challenges facing the country.

“The driving factor in Zambia’s economic and health crises is not the coronavirus disease; the virus has only removed the covers over previously existing socio-economic crises and starkly revealed the exceptional incompetence of the country’s leadership, creating a perfect storm!” wrote Dr Sishuwa.

He said that the country’s incompetent leadership was likely to claim more lives than the coronavirus disease.

“The arrival of the coronavirus disease in Zambia has only exposed the country’s tragic lack of competent leadership, one that possesses the required knowledge, skills, discipline and judgement. Left unaddressed, this lethal condition will claim more lives than COVID-19.

“Governance is the weak factor in this crisis, not the disease! We have had a leadership deficit all along. The arrival of Covid-19 has only laid bare this truth. To the PF, it is a blessing, as it provides them with just another excuse to justify their incompetence: it’s global!”, Dr Sishuwa tweeted.