“It is not being a satanist to be wealthy, it is not being corrupt to be wealthy. Te sambi ukulya bwino, te bu satanist ukwikala bwino. Bonse efyo tu kabila (it is not satanism or a sin to eat well and live in luxury, that is what we all long for). So, what I am saying is that we must give jobs and opportunities for people to make money decently and in a lawful manner,” this is what President Edgar Lungu said to Kabwe residents last weekend.
But is it really right and fair to become so rich while your country gets poorer? Unless you are President Lungu or one of his like-thinking cohorts, the answer is no. When he was poor like the rest of us, the hunger-stricken aspiring Chawama member of parliament did not think this way, but tables have turned now so he has come up with cunning words to justify his new social status. In fact, we interpreted President Lungu’s message as saying: “Now that I am wealthy, it is not a crime to be rich.”
We, the poor Zambians, are saying to President Lungu and those who seek to govern us that we would rather remain poor, but in a rich country. That would be better than a few of us who have links to State House becoming rich in a country that remains poor. We believe that our standards of living will be higher if we live in a rich country, no matter where we fall on the income distribution scale.
Sadly, our suffering population is in such a precarious dilemma because President Lungu’s justification of being so rich in a poor country is quietly shared by some heavyweights in the opposition. They, too, see nothing awkward about being filthy rich in a poor country, and we can make this conclusion judging by how they keep those who live around them. That is why they flash their luxury lifestyles of expensive family celebrations on social media before going to address the poor in the compounds. In our opinion, that is not how affluent leaders who are concerned about the poor are supposed to live.
Without accusing Michael Sata of having committed a crime by under-declaring his asset worth, we do not think that the PF founder was as poor as he portrayed himself. Those who worked with him during his life in opposition will tell you that he could afford a very luxurious life if he wanted. But he considered it a form of injustice to flaunt your riches in a poor country. It is for this reason that at the time of elections, Sata declared nothing huge of striking significance in his net worth, save for seven guns and a non-runner Toyota Cressida kept at his house.
Even during his Presidency. We recall that when Sata went to church and his wife lured him onto her iPad for Bible referencing, the pictures we took of this couple’s use of technology were a contradictory depiction because some of his followers thought it was a luxury he could not afford. Linking Sata to wealth appeared to be a stark contrast because he was considered to be poor.
We also remember that at the second memorial of Sata’s death, his widow Dr Christine Kaseba told a very touching story about the late president’s old ‘rubber-strapped’ cell phone, which he refused to let go.
DR KASEBA: “Many of you would agree with me that Michael Sata remained true to himself. He even refused to change his cell phone number because he believed that it was the same number that propelled him to the Presidency and he needed his people to get hold of him easily. He even refused to change a ka Nokia 3310. He believed that what he needed to do was adequate using a 3310 and he died while using that same phone, which was actually faded. It was a bit embarrassing when we went outside the country and he took out his ringing phone and everyone was looking at how faded it was.”
On the contrary, we still have the Airtel number that President Lungu used before becoming Head of State, but it has never been reachable since January 25, 2015. Anyway, that is not a crime at all. Mr Lungu has the right to choose new friends now whose bank accounts speak the same language as his. But what we find wrong is widening the gap between the poor and the rich, which we feel our Head of State is doing.
We note that President Lungu qualified his statement by calling for decent and lawful wealth creation opportunities. Unfortunately, it cannot be said to be creating decent and lawful employment opportunities if empowerment programmes are targeted at only PF cadres – in fact, a few lucky PF cadres.
Giving the black mountain to PF structures in Kitwe, Chingola and Luanshya is not creating decent and lawful employment opportunities. Giving Higer Bus empowerment loans to PF youths is not creating decent and lawful employment opportunities. Leaving the revenue collection at council markets and bus stations in the hands of PF cadres across the country is not creating decent and lawful employment opportunities.
The fact that there is no youth empowerment programme that our President can point at, which is not under PF control, means that he is not working for Zambians, but for himself and his cohorts. It is easy for him to think Zambian youths are being empowered because the only youths he sees are those around him who can afford steroids.
It is on this basis that we tell Mr Lungu; Sir, it is a serious crime to be a super-rich President, as you have become, when civil servants are not paid and universities are shut down owing to no money in the Treasury. It is a serious crime for ministers to be filthy rich when villagers in their constituencies are surviving on wild fruits! Above all, it is a very unforgivable crime for a President to protect a rich minister who is arrested for accruing unlawful and indecent wealth!