Hasty decisions will lead Zambia into cold war

We have said before that President Edgar Lungu’s worst enemies are not the opposition leaders, but those who surround him. Anyone who takes time to examine the blunders that the Head of State makes can tell that more often than not, the President is ill advised.

The latest development where State House announced the expulsion of the Cuban Ambassador to Zambia, His Excellency Nelson Pages Vilas on grounds that he attended an opposition Socialist Party event, is an example of bad advise given to the Head of State. We have difficulties believing that President Lungu woke up on Easter Sunday and said, ‘I don’t like what this new guy from Cuba did yesterday and so I want him to leave my country’.

Why do we say this? To begin with, what the Cuban Ambassador said at the Socialist Party gathering is different from what President Lungu’s spokesperson Amos Chanda claims.

“The Cuban Ambassador attended a party function and announced at that party function that he will support the opposition party that has been formed, which is the Socialist Party. He wished them well and went further to announce that they have his support,” Mr Chanda told journalists at a media briefing.

One doesn’t need to be a political scientist to deduce that this is the misinformation that State House advisors fed the Head of State before he approved the decision to expel the Cuban Envoy. That is the reason why we believe President Lungu has bad advisors.

If in any case the President did in fact make this decision without anyone enticing him to it, then indeed Zambia is in the hands a little frightened man, as Brebner Changala put it. In fact, being ill advised cannot be an excuse for bad leadership. A Head of State must have a spine, a mind of his own. A leader of a country cannot afford to make hasty decision which end up embarrassing his own government in this manner.

President Lungu cannot claim that he received an intelligence briefing which contained what Mr Chanda told journalists. It is a lie that the Cuban Ambassador said he would support the Socialist Party. Not even social media had this kind of fake news, so where did State House get this misinformation?

If we were told that the Cuban Ambassador held a clandestine meeting elsewhere with the Socialist Party leaders at which he pledged his support to the opposition, we would understand. But to claim that he verbally endorsed and offered his support during the public event which every interested citizen watched, is a huge embarrassment on State House.

Ambassador Vilas said: “Please forgive me for speaking in Spanish. I hope that during my time here in Zambia I may learn English so that I can speak better to you. And please forgive me because I must leave this event early because I have other planned activities. But I wanted to be with you at least for a few minutes. We wanted to share our greetings from our communist party of Cuba to the Socialist Party of Zambia for this grand day, and also give greetings on my personal behalf. We wish all the best to the Socialist Party of Zambia and to all of you. Viva Zambia!”

The decision to expel the Cuban Ambassador based on the above statement is not only unfair, but also very dangerous to Zambia’s international relations. It is an international scandal. This move only adds to the growing notion that our country is under an aggressive dictatorship.

We know that the intention by State House was to defuse the international support which the Socialist Party mobilised. That is why they deported journalists and other leftist world leaders right at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport after they arrived to attend the said event. However, what the government has delivered is sympathy and maximum publicity to the new political formation. The country was debating whether it was wise for Dr Fred M’membe to join politics, given the respect he earned as a world press freedom hero, but now the news agenda is about the impact this man may have on the political front.

Hasty decisions are costly in politics. Expelling a duly accredited senior diplomat at the rank of Ambassador is not a small undertaking. It has serious ramifications which cannot be ignored. How can the President make such a huge decision in less than 24 hours? Could President Lungu have expelled Ambassador Vilas if he had ordered a week-long investigation into the matter? Why didn’t he summon the Envoy first to hear his explanation before sanctioning such drastic punishment on him?

The Patriotic Front and its government must learn to have patience before they lead Zambia into cold war with international allies. The world is watching as we continue to deport political leaders from other countries who may form governments in the near future. President Lungu and his State House staff must learn to stomach some of these minor developments or at least deal with them stealthily. There was no harm in summoning Ambassador Vilas and quietly warning him to stay away from politics. After all he is not the first foreign diplomat to attend an opposition party event.

In February 2016, barely six months before the general elections, 16 foreign Ambassadors went to Hakainde Hichilema’s residence and ate lunch with him and his party officials before wishing the opposition UPND “all the best” in the elections. The PF government never expelled these diplomats. Instead, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the visit was a sign of Zambia’s growing democracy. So what has changed today for Ambassador Vilas to deserve expulsion?

We are also waiting for the PF to tell the nation if anyone questioned them in 2011 when they were in opposition and invited American Ambassador Mark Storella at their party convention in Kabwe. Didn’t Ambassador Storella wish the PF “all the best” in the 2011 general elections? So why is State House punishing someone over a practice that has benefited the PF in the past?

We say to President Lungu, Sir, your conduct falls short of a leader who is confidently in control of a nation. This decision to expel Ambassador Vilas has embarrassed you personally, your government and the rest of us as citizens of Zambia. Advisors are there to tell you what you enjoy hearing, but if you can’t distinguish bad from good advice, then you are a terrible leader and we are ashamed to have you.

         

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