Edgar Lungu treading on thin ice

By Field Ruwe

Just past the hour, the motorcade passed the gates to a tumultuous welcome. Edgar Lungu, dressed in a blue suit and a matador tie, stepped out of the Mercedes that had transported him to the Heroes Stadium, and with a twinkle in his eye, acknowledged a sea of fists, a symbol of his party. Bemusement overawed the feel of triumph. He had not anticipated the events that had culminated in him becoming Zambia’s sixth president. It had never been his aspiration to become one.

Coming on the heels of the closest contested presidential election in the country, and surviving plots hatched by members of his own party, he knew he was treading on thin ice. He could feel it in the soles of his shoes. Even as the crowd roared in ecstasy, the Patriotic Front party, salvaged by 27,757 souls was an insidious smoldering coal. Lungu was dying to go on the podium and extinguish the fire.

With calculated steps he got there. Before he sat on the pedestal he did another fist pump. The backbone of the nation roared again. It comprised largely of the laborious poor—the impoverished, embittered, and repulsed people; a people that, for years, have remained unskilled, living on meager wages and barely surviving. Many having eaten porridge for breakfast, left their ramshackle dwellings, bussed as they were by the PF.

A few souls away Lungu’s nemesis contained his animosity. Their fight over the instruments of power had been ferocious—often bare-knuckled and eye gouging to the extent the poor Acting President was now left in a pool of blood with a severed jugular vein. On the dais he remained inconspicuous. He was himself to blame. He has gone beyond his call of duty, taken sides, and overstepped acceptable presidential-moral boundaries. During the campaign, he stumped grudgingly and unenthusiastically, forcing Lungu to turn to Rupiah Banda for help, in a move unprecedented.

 

Lungu knew the fight was not over. A battered foe is always folly. He perceived the defeated AP-led Walusungu Guesthouse cabal as scorpions in the bottle—pretended-comrades with hatchets in their overcoats. They included Miles Sampa, the fledgling aspirant who wanted it so badly he sprinted to the Supreme Court like Pheidippides, the Greek dispatcher who ran from Athens to Marathon to alert his people of the approaching enemy and died upon his message. He, too was in the midst, hanging around in the fringes of power.

When time came for Lungu to deliver his maiden speech he wasted no time in extending an olive branch to the PF people he had trounced:

“There is no room, let alone time for rancor or settling scores of any kind,” he said, and later added. “The journey was sometimes acrimonious and fractious, as we tried to find middle ground as a family…”

No kidding! The PF had not only become fractious, it had become cataclysmic. In other words, it was catastrophic. Lungu himself had provoked a howl of outrage when he co-opted RB into his campaign with no regard for party values. By doing so, he had exposed the supposedly impregnable PF and rendered it vulnerable. Its most devoted members were infuriated beyond redemption. To suddenly see Lungu palling with Banda on the PF stage in a sort of modus vivendi was an insult to them and their departed leader. They regarded Lungu’s divisive maneuver as nothing less than treachery.

 

“How dare he!” Under all sorts of breaths they called him names—Judas, conspirator, Benedict Arnold, sellout. They said he was an un-charismatic political dilettante unworthy the presidency. Even as he spoke they said he was a president-by-chance who could not stand alone; a leader at the antipodes; a man with no vision therefore of small ability. And yet in hopeless discord they watched and listened to him speak:

 

“I’m stepping in the shoes of a giant man,” he said. “A man who was our torch bearer and symbol of our party’s vision of a robust transformative development agenda, which in the last three years had moved our country forward and created a momentum which we must accelerate…President Sata’s legacy will forever be our beacon of inspiration.”

 

The architects of the PF scoffed at the obdurate potency of mischief. Lungu, who had joined them in later times from UPND, had caught them sleeping at the wheel, snatched the “shoes” from their grasp and taken over the party reins. When they opened their eyes, they were at Heroes Stadium watching him put them on and tighten the laces. Seated in despondency some were already planning how to reclaim the party come next year while others were on their way out.

 

As for Scott, it was strongly rumored he had a foot in Wynter Kabimba’s Rainbow Party. If true, the ice under Lungu’s feet was razor thin. Like the Rainbow Nation of South Africa, a term coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Kabimba’s party was intended to “encapsulate the unity of multiculturalism and the coming together of people of different colors.” It was a party that if elected would do away with the so-called parental clause, a good fit for Scott whose defection would take a good chunk of the PF.

 

At the podium Lungu continued:

 

“We must remain true to the vision of our founding fathers…

 

Seated next to Kenneth Kaunda was Zimbabwe’s Robert Gabriel Mugabe. Since the passing of Michael Sata the Zimbabwean president, regarded by the West as a dictator, had become Zambia’s head honcho, calling shots from his Harare palace. Some said he had been keeping an eagle’s eye on Scott. It was clear in the eyes of many that Lungu had turned to him because he did not have a conceptualized vision of his own on which to set goals that would command his thoughts, liberate his mind, and inspire the hopes of every Zambian.

 

Actually, Lungu’s lack of a vision was evident in his speech in which he mentioned the term “vision” twice and in both cases alluded to a vision other than his. Each time he referred to himself, he talked about his “strategy.” Perhaps he does not understand what the term means. A vision is different from a strategy, purpose, and mission. Simply put a vision is a dream with a plan and a deadline. A vision is what enables a leader to change the course of a country and the thinking of its people. It comes with new ideas that are inspiring, executable, and achievable. In the end it leaves a legacy. The destiny of a country depends on the vision of its leader.

 

To seek Mugabe’s vision is to lamentably fail; it is to embrace unpopular, undemocratic, perilous, and archaic policies and possibilities that could turn Zambia into a Zimbabwe. It is to endorse Mugabe’s dictatorial rule and human rights violations. Like is often said, no one is less prepared for tomorrow than a leader who holds the vision of another. Being president is to possess own acumen and skill.

It was under these unfortunate circumstances that Lungu accepted the presidency. Give him credit; in his speech he was warm and comforting. Aping the wit of his predecessor, he spoke with oracular apostrophe. He talked metaphorically about a good meal, a roof on head and other issues that resonated with the needs and desires of the people in the terraces. And like so many times in the past, they fell for the carrot and stick. When he had finished, they exploded beyond decibel level. They didn’t care about the “vision thing.” Prone to demagoguery they would vote for him again based on his tribe and trinkets. After all, they have been doing it for years. With this in mind, Lungu jumped in the Mercedes Benz and drove off, on thin ice.

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