President Edgar Lungu has continued touring the country in the name of inspecting development projects. Wherever President Lungu goes on his so-called tour of duty, he meets ruling party officials whom he tasks to mobilise votes ahead of the 2021 general election. There is nothing sinister about this combination of government and party activity on the part of the Head of State. This has been the norm since time immemorial.
The only problem we have is that this government has banned all other gatherings of political nature on the basis of the prevailing Coronavirus outbreak. Opposition leaders are being denied permits to interact with their political party officials to strategise and mobilise ahead of next year’s election the way President Lung is doing. So every project that President Lungu inspects or commissions ends up being a PF campaign meeting, while the UPND, NDC, DP, PAC, NAREP and other opposition leaders are not being given a chance. This is not fair!
We have noticed that there is now an increase in the number of projects that the Head of State is inspecting because he wants to have as many political meetings as possible. While we don’t find anything wrong with a Head of State touring the country, we must state that it is not normal for President Lungu to inspect every project that government has embarked on. Where are his ministers and permanent secretaries? Where is his State House Special Assistant for Project Monitoring and Evaluation? If AVIC International has constructed staff houses for Zambia National Service officers, what is wrong with handing those housing units to the ZNS commander, Defence Minister, Provincial Minister and the State House official in charge of project monitoring?
In our view, the explanation that President Lungu is gallivanting across the country to inspect projects is a song meant to put the opposition to sleep, and people should not waste time listening to his lullaby. The real reason the Head of State has been on this vigorous countrywide tour, supervising the construction of everything from toilets to fish ponds, is because he is on a full-fledged campaign. He has decided to give himself a head-start. This is typical of tyranny.
President Lungu is in gear 5 of campaigns ahead of the 2021 general elections. If anyone doubts this, they must listen to what he says whenever he takes to the podium. The man doesn’t finish his speech without asking for votes, and calling on his party structures to mobilise new members ahead of the elections. If that is not a full-fledged campaign, then we don’t know what is.
On February 8, 2018 when he visited Ndola, President Lungu told the opposition to join him in the campaigns. He said: “People are saying I am traveling a lot and I am campaigning; yes! Campaigns have started, so what? If you want, you can also start campaigning, elections are in 2021, I am doing my job.” This is July 2020, meaning President Lungu has been campaigning for the past three years. But what space has he left for his competitors to campaign? Nothing! Again, this is very unfair in a democracy.
And that is not the only problem. The other unfortunate thing about early campaigns is that they paralyse the functions of government. Ministers, members of parliament and all other appointees of government stopped focusing on delivering services to the people a long time ago. They have instead been going out to secure votes.
This is why we are seeing a lot of campaign-based project implementation. However, campaign-based projects are not development; they are nothing but campaign gimmicks, which last only as long as the campaign itself. Some of the projects which the President has been commissioning will never be completed, especially if the people in that region do not show interest to support the party in power.
If there is COVID-19, President Lungu should sit down spend time with his family. If he feels the risk is not serious for him to continue touring the country, he must extend the opportunity to his rivals. If he wants to take the risk and head out to mobilise his party, the same privilege should be granted to the opposition.