Out of the blue, a press statement hit us last week on official State House headed paper with all the authenticity marks, in which President Edgar Lungu was condemning and urging Zambians to reject alien homosexual practices that he said were threatening Zambia’s values and undermining the foundation of a Christian Nation.
“President Lungu says his administration’s promise in July this year to the Zambian people that he would not introduce gay rights in exchange for donor aid is unequivocal. The President says certain rights enjoyed in other parts of the world cannot be replicated in Zambia because they are taboo to many, if not all Zambian cultures. The President has since cautioned politicians being courted by foreign powers to embrace gay rights to think about the future of Zambia, even under the lure of huge finances being dangled by foreign powers,” read part of the statement from Mr Isaac Chipampe at State House.
For a moment, we wondered what this statement was talking about and whom it was referring to. We were lost because there was no story in mainstream media about any Zambian opposition figure promising to establish and uphold gay rights. But later, we learnt that State House was reacting to a social media article about Mr Hakainde Hichilema of the opposition UPND. We were in shock because one glance at this social media article showed all the ingredients of a fake news story. How could State House miss this?
Part of the shock came from the fact that when President Lungu was issuing this statement, he was in New York addressing empty chairs at the United Nations General Assembly, a situation which should have concerned him more. How did this gay rights story find itself on the priority page of the President’s talking notes while in America? Did Mr Chipampe just wake up to do a statement on this issue without the President’s authority? We don’t think so because so far, Mr Chipampe has proved that he works on garbage-in garbage-out basis. What he is told to do is what he does. So who authorized this embarrassing statement from State House without any efforts to verify what they were responding to?
We are at pains to blame this embarrassing incident on the Office of the President Special Division because we really think they can’t fail to verify this simple story. Yes, we were told by Mr Rupiah Banda that the Intelligence wing feeds the Head of State with a lot of lies, which cost the former president his 2011 election. But when we look at this specific incident, we do not think that it would be fair to blame them for lying to the Head of State.
Can the intelligence wing, even in its lying state, fail to find out whether Mr Hichilema was in the country or not? A simple call to the chief of the immigration department would have solved that piece of the puzzle. The so-called Brenthurst Foundation has a website; would it have been hard to find out if the organization had a conference at all in Italy, which the Zambian opposition leader could have attended? We do not think so.
Of course, if we are wrong, and the State Intelligence was involved in verifying this fake news before the Head of State could comment on it, then we have a much more dangerous situation in this country that should concern us all. We must be very worried that the State is operating under a very broken system that is feeding the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces with misinformation and unverified data.
That second problem is that the Patriotic Front government is very desperate for news that diverts people’s attention from the real problems facing the country. They have been very badly hit by scandal after another. This regime is so disfigured that even they cannot recognize themselves. So they are always looking for opportunities to get a break from public ridicule.
That is why when this fake news story popped up on social media implicating Mr Hichilema, State House and the Ministry of Information scooped each other on issuing reactions to a fake news story. Before the reporters and their editors at government owned media could finish transcribing the statement from Mr Isaac Chipampe at State House, another version from Honourable Dora Siliya was knocking. It was as if they had seen gold; they all jumped on the opportunity to condemn the opposition leader.
Now, we wish to submit that in this gay rights story, State House and the Ministry of Information are guilty of alarming the public, fabricating information, causing the publication of fake news, defamation of character and many other offences that one can think of. So who are they creating media regulation laws for since they are the ones in the forefront of spreading fake news and misinformation? How are the cyber security laws going to protect innocent citizens from cyber bullying when State House and ministries are leading an onslaught on defenseless citizens?
Shame on the lying State House and the Ministry of Misinformation.