MANY a time, we have quoted President Edgar Lungu making outrageous statements and we have been accused of taking seriously things that he says when he is merely joking. The question we ask ourselves is; where do we draw the line? How do we know when our President is serious and when he is enjoying a light moment? We have observed that whenever the President makes a statement that people find contemptuous, those who surround him quickly claim that the President was just joking. This is confusing.

Not long ago, we quoted the President saying that with immediate effect, he would like to be addressed as President General on grounds that he needed to be distinguished from the rest of the presidents who lead associations. In his own words he said: “From now on, I will be referred to as ‘President General’ so that the rest of you can be presidents. I know it is an unconstitutional for now but hopefully next time we have another bill 10 we will stick it in. I am sure the future bill 10 will pass.”

Many of his supporters claimed that the President was enjoying a light. If indeed President Lungu was joking, it means he either has a bad sense of humour or he has horrible leadership qualities. We say this because that is a very bad way of joking. Presidents all over the world make jokes, but they are always cautious about how they express their sense of humour. As Head of State, you cannot joke about things that give the presidency a bad image. In the same vein, you cannot make fun of issues that affect people’s livelihoods – and this brings us to the next ‘joke’ that President Lungu made recently.

Speaking when he was conferred with the status of Honorary Freeman of the City of Lusaka, Saturday, President Lungu said he laughs when people say things are bad in Zambia, because as far as he is concerned, Zambia is doing very well. President Lungu may laugh, but there was nothing funny about what he said.

“I laugh and chuckle when I hear people say that things are bad in Zambia like they are better anywhere else. This global pandemic of COVID 19 has hit the globe, all of us. Economies have been affected negatively. We just have to work together to see how we can get out of this and I think Zambia is doing very well. Let us give ourselves a pat on the back,” said President Lungu.

What are the people of Zambia supposed to make from this statement? Was he merely joking or he was serious? If he was enjoying a light moment, is he aware of what the people that he is leading are going through? Does he understand what conditions are prevailing? Is this how detached the President is from reality that he would react with laughter to the suffering of the people?

We understand that Mr Lungu was trying to make a point that Zambia is not the only country that has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, but is he saying he could not find any better ways of delivering the same message while showing empathy? A normal president would simply say “I understand when people say things are bad, but we are trying our best to mitigate the COVID-19 impact that has affected many other countries.” That is what is expected from a leader who is concerned about the harsh living conditions that he subjects his people to. You cannot say I laugh when people complain, what kind of leader are you?

We find Mr Lungu to be a very sarcastic President, and this is very unfortunate. Sarcasm is not humour, it’s hostility. Sarcasm makes people feel bad, and leaders, especially at the level of President, must never use it when addressing citizens. Sarcasm is mockery disguised as humour, it’s not good for a leader. A President who mocks his people does not deserve respect. It means he is fooling the people who put him in power.

If that’s what his sense of humour has to offer, then we don’t like President Lungu’s jokes. It must also be stated categorically that Zambians elected a President in him, not a comedian. If Mr Lungu wants to make jokes, Lusaka Play House is always open and ready to showcase new talent. He should not take jokes to State House and make fun of people’s misery.