By Field Ruwe
It’s been three months since Edgar Lungu became Zambia’s sixth president. Back in January, fresh from the swearing ceremony, the impressionable president jumped into the presidential jet and flew south-east into the antithesis of democracy, the doom of every African nation. His trip was a codicil to what was Zambia’s opportunity to discard primitive politics and fully grasp the tenets of modern democracy for the purpose of advancement.
Very few Zambian visionaries saw his journey as forbidding—as his Waterloo. The majority couldn’t care less. For 80 days after the demise of President Michael Sata, it had been grueling. Power struggles in the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party had dragged the country to the precipice of anarchy. By election time the nation was desperate for a leader. When Lungu emerged worth the mantle, the nation relapsed into its usual vestigial state in which the ruler is indispensable and unconstrained.
It was Lungu’s second trip to a man who out of nowhere had become his mentor and exemplar.
When the plane touched down at the Harare International Airport it was clear his mission. At the antithesis, life-president Robert Gabriel Mugabe was waiting, his legacy still encased in dictatorship. It was moments such as this he cherished. For years he had lived like a hermit shunned by young progressive African leaders many who bought into Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s portrayal of him as a “caricature of an African dictator” who must be removed by force for “destroying a beautiful country.”
In actual fact, the campaign to dethrone him was triggered by one of Lungu’s predecessors, the late Levy Mwanawasa back in 2007. In a move unprecedented, the 59-year old “New Deal” Zambian president speaking as chairman of SADC described Mugabe as a regional embarrassment; a captain who had sunk Zimbabwe “into such economic difficulties that it may be likened to a sinking Titanic whose passengers are jumping out in a bid to save their lives.”
Mwanawasa’s sudden death was good riddance for Mugabe. His successor, Rupiah Banda, a once member of the UNIP despotic fraternity tossed out the so-called New Deal and took the country back to the Frederick Chiluba days of authoritarianism and corruption. He embraced and defended Mugabe and proclaimed: “We are proud to stand in front of the world and say this is our brother and that any problems here or in Zambia can be solved by ourselves within the context of our continent and our organization.”
But it was the late Sata who would play second fiddle to Mugabe and rejuvenate him. At the Africa Unity, Sata, known for his browbeating persona managed to fend off the young African leaders. In the absence of Mwanawasa, they tucked their tails between their legs and hid under the table. In appreciation Mugabe established a Castro-Chavez relationship with Sata. They worked in tandem, with Mugabe prescribing critical anti-West espousal and canny dictatorial anecdotes. Sata’s PF became everything ZANU-PF: communist, authoritarian, tribalistic, nepotistic, subjugating, and lawless.
Sata’s protégé, Lungu, desired to follow in the abysmal footsteps of his boss. Now in Mugabe’s presence, seated as he was in the conclave of the antithesis with no vision of his own, no tangible ideology, no definable agenda, and no strategic objectives, he was hoping to learn from the wise old man skilled in Machiavellianism—“the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft.”
The Zimbabwean guru was ready to teach the neophyte the only tactics he knew best; how to use repression as a survival tool; how to silence those who dare scheme to undermine his power; how to terrorize the opposition; and how to rig elections. Such were the dictatorial maneuvers that had kept him in power forever and given him a sense of greatness. He truly believed he was Africa’s greatest leader and not Nelson Mandela:
“I have been leader for 33 years,” he said back in 2013. “Mandela was president for five years. What kind of idiot gives up political power? Great leaders like me know how to stay in power.” He bragged: “I’m the greatest African leader who ever lived. The world should love me more than that idiot Nelson Mandela. As I waged war against colonialism, that coward sat on his ass in prison for 27 years. He’s a coward!”
There is an Ashanti proverb: “When you follow in the path of your father, you learn to walk like him.” Indeed, when Lungu left the palace, he was a morphed man. The psychoactive Mugabe dosage had entered his brain and was binding to his opioid receptors. There was a sudden surge of euphoria in a man known to be calm and acquiescent, and with a modest humble posture of hands in imaginary handcuffs. With a heavy feeling of urgency he flew back home and begun to sound like his mentor.
“There are people in our party who want to undermine my authority and blackmail me. I will meet them punch for punch,” he said in a pugilist manner reminiscent of Mugabe’s 2003 reaction to Tsvangarai’s mass protest instigations meant to undermine his power. “I am ready for a fight, I am getting younger…and I still can pack a punch.”
Lungu, afflicted with hubris uttered, for the first time in the history of Zambia, the following unfortunate words: “Those who don’t accept me as president should go away from Zambia. The reason is simple, because if you don’t accept me as president, you are likely to offend me by breaking the law of the land and I will tell the police to pounce on you.” The words were picked out of the Mugabe dictatorial playbook: “If you don’t cooperate, leave the country or face jail.”
Notice how Lungu abandoned the word “we” and adopted the Mugabe “I,” the egosyntonic language of narcissistic leaders. “I will tell the police to pounce on you,” showed that Lungu was capable of arbitrarily running a totalitarian police state and subject all democratic freedoms to police enforcement. And his “go away from Zambia,” is part of a dictator’s “forced exile” paraphernalia used by Mugabe on his people. It has seen countless black and white Zimbabweans flee the country, among them journalists, doctors, teachers, nurses, and engineers.
To embrace Mugabe was Lungu’s first fatal mistake. His inference to the importance of listening to the elders “to learn from them and get wisdom,” was a clear indication that he did not know the difference between cultural and political wisdom. Cultural wisdom is traditional judiciousness while political wisdom is societal astuteness. Political wisdom is a conduit to knowing how to use power to bring about change to a country threatened by poverty, hunger, and disease. In thriving democratic societies, it is the watercourse for justice and freedom; it boosts intellectual, institutional, economic development, and advancement.
Mugabe lacks political wisdom. If he had any, Zimbabweans would not be toiling under the yoke of tyranny. Zimbabwe would become an even greater breadbasket of Africa. What Mugabe has is despotic wisdom centered on unyielding power and intellectual repression. It is this that he imparted on Edgar Lungu. It is like a young mule sucking from the udder of a hyena. Picking China, the bastion of subjugation of the proletariat, is a clear indication that he is learning fast the wrong way. Lungu’s visit to China is a story for another day.
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner, historian, author, and a doctoral candidate. Learn more about him on his website www.aruwebooks.com. On it you shall access his autobiography, articles, and books. Contact him, blog, or join in the debate. ©Ruwe2012