For the third time in his five years of ruling Zambia, President Edgar Lungu invited journalists to State House for a press conference. Further to the press conference, the Head of State used the opportunity to interact with media practitioners, and engage in one on one conversations. This was a very insightful experience for us.
It is only in order that we start by praising President Lungu for breaking the silence. Like Laura Miti says, when a Head of State engages with the press and takes time to respond to concerns affecting the nation, it gives the population an assurance that there is a father figure in charge. This was a very commendable gesture, and we hope for many more press conferences to come.
Now that we have gotten that out of the way, we would like to report what we observed at this special occasion. There are two Edgar Lungus in State House, and we were privileged to meet them both. One Lungu addressed the nation at the beginning of the event and the other Lungu walked around to shake hands with us. These are two different characters; we will explain how.
His memory was on point. This is a President who doesn’t like the press, to start with, and on two previous occasions when he held press conferences, he never interacted with them. But at the Friday event, he was able to remember a lot of journalists by name, the institutions he knew them from and what they used to report on before he became Head of State.
He was jovial, exceptionally friendly and created time to pay attention to what everyone had to say to him. He cracked jokes to cheer up some scribes who looked gloomy (probably tired and frustrated by the long hours of standing and waiting for his arrival); and he also showed serous concern to the submissions from some media owners.
There is no doubt, President Lungu knows how to socialize. Maybe that’s why people confuse his sense of humor with humility, because there is no dull moment with him. But of course, those who watched his national address earlier watched a totally different human being.
The second Edgar Lungu we met at State House is the Lungu that the majority of citizens are familiar with. The Lungu who addressed the nation has very dry jokes. He jokes about national issues. He doesn’t listen to advice, doesn’t care about people’s concerns and he surely hates the idea of interacting with other political stakeholders. He is not interested in dialogue. Above all, he is stubborn.
Think about this. A question was posed to the Head of State: “Your Excellency, the Constitutional Court has ruled that ministers who illegally stayed in office after dissolution of parliament in 2016 must pay back. The last time we heard from your office, you said you were consulting technocrats on the way forward. Why are you subjecting the Constitution Court judgment on ministers to further consultations, yet you consider the judgment from the same court over your 2021 eligibility final and unquestionable?”
The President’s response was a cocktail of arguments, which can all be summarised in one word – arrogance! He was practically telling the nation that the ministers will not pay back because the President who ordered them to break the law has immunity and cannot be sued.
President LUNGU: “I have talked to the ministers and they’re saying, ‘we will sue you because you made us stay,’ they are saying ‘we worked!’ And that’s a very valid, moral argument. I asked the International Labour Organization (ILO) to give me some of the conventions we subscribe to as Zambia; some of them don’t encourage working for mahala or slave labour. So, are you saying that those ministers fondokad (laboured) for nothing?
I don’t want to be at loggerheads with the courts of law, I respect them because of my background as a lawyer, and I know that we should not question some of these decisions, but this one is being questioned! So, for me, when you ask me, you confuse me because I wish we could pay back the money and end this one. But from what I am seeing… it’s not as simple as saying that, ‘Edgar Lungu is eligible to stand in 2021,’ this is more complex.”
This is the other Edgar Lungu whom we met at State House. He arrogantly disrespected and belittled the powers of the Judiciary. He out rightly encouraged lawlessness and cheered his ministers to disobey a court order. These two Edgar Lungus in State House have conflicting personalities. The one who is cheerful and shows compassion for the people around him is not in charge of the country. The one governing is the brutal and clueless Lungu who speaks with so much confidence, yet he doesn’t know what he is talking about. He has no recovery plan for Zambia.
Anyway, thank you for inviting us to State House bwana Lungu, It was nice seeing you up close. But in terms of using our occasion to address serious national issues, we wasted each others’ time.