By Field Ruwe
Hold your guns Kambwili! Let me first define the expression “lipstick on a pig” lest you misunderstand me. To put lipstick on a pig is a figure of speech used to suggest that “making superficial or cosmetic changes is a futile attempt to disguise the true nature of a situation.” It is an old adage resurrected by Barack Obama in 2008 at the height of his campaign. In his charged attack on the impertinent Sarah Palin he said “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”
I use it to show that your recent threats to seek help from the CIA to clampdown on online media, the Zambia Watchdog in particular, are as ineffectual as those of your predecessors. Of course in your usual belligerent manner you see yourself as Beowulf, the hero that slayed Grendel the monster. Your intimidation does nothing but to show that Edgar Lungu’s campaign promise to protect the media was merely putting lipstick on a pig. He wishes to maintain the same repressive media environment.
Many media practitioners and proponents of liberal democracy are already lashing at Lungu for placing you in such a key and delicate ministry. They think it is a prologue to a farce. They believe you, a person known for your shrewd and confrontational political instinct, do not have the temperament and verbal facility to be information minister and government spokesman. Furthermore, they are fully aware of your deep rooted contempt for your critics and those with dissenting views and fear that you are likely to propagate your latent propensity to muzzle the press. I hope that in your “I never fail” exertion you don’t resort to the elimination of your targets.
Now, let me address your CIA scare tactic. In doing so, I begin with a quote by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Following the attack on the French satirical newspaper early this year, he said: “The murderers dared proclaim, ‘Charlie Hebdo is dead.’ But make no mistake. They are wrong…no matter what your feelings were about it, the freedom of expression that it represented is not able to be killed by any kind of act of terror.” And Barrack Obama added: “the fact that this was an attack on journalists, an attack on our free press, also underscores that these terrorists fear freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”
I shudder to think Obama and Kerry, both ardent proponents of press freedom, would support your idea of unleashing the CIA on any Zambian online media outlet. Charlie Hebdo was perhaps the epitome of slander. The paper ridiculed religious leaders including the Pope and those in authority, all in the name of freedom of the press. If the CIA was in the business of censorship its agents would have long pounced on the editorial board. Moreover, don’t forget that Obama himself has been a victim of some of the worst slander and caricatures in some of the U.S. papers and the international media. They range from “birther” conspiracies to being portrayed as Hitler to “not being American enough” and to being depicted as an ape. The CIA would rather be squelching such papers than going after the Zambian Watchdog or other online outlets.
So, stop using the CIA as a scarecrow. You make it look like an establishment run by oppressive and dictatorial regimes. They understand the importance of democracy and defend it by all means necessary. It is this basic principle that has profoundly shaped the U.S. into a great nation. They fully appreciate the fact that democracy provides the freedom to be creative, innovative and inventive. It provides rights to freedom of speech, and freedom of the media to criticize government leaders and policies. They know it is this freedom that has led to the production of great men and women—journalists, political pundits, inventors and innovators.
Like the U.S., Zambia too is a democracy. Back in 1991, we chose to embrace democracy as an alternative for the dictatorial UNIP. It was our sincere hope that with the introduction of multiparty politics, the running of the country would be a mutual responsibility between government and us; that we would use democracy as a tool for our advancement. We were hoping to freely share ideas and thoughts, propose and oppose, imitate great minds, and create our own paradise.
Sadly, FTJ took us on a totally different path with his own “lipstick on a pig” scheme and rendered democracy artificial. He exerted dictatorial control and commandeered the state media. Since then, the “Government Spokesman” at the Ministry of Information has become a “Propaganda Chief,” used as a mouthpiece to purge media practitioners and dissenters. Last year we hit the lowest low when the so-called government spokesmen exploited our lowest instincts and without shame lied about the medical afflictions of the late president.
Your threats show that you are no different. You too cannot tell the difference between a government spokesman and a propaganda chief. The latter is what Joseph Goebbels was to Hitler and the Nazi Party. Goebbels mission was to censor the media as well as the opposition. He made the kind of threats you are making, warning and arresting journalists, authors, actors, musicians and other artists who were critical of the Nazi Party. Many he eliminated. His regimentation of the media turned Hitler into a demi-god and led to the destruction of Germany. Similarly, some of your predecessors adopted the Goebbels doctrine and wrecked our country.
What this country needs is a government spokesman per se; a person with formal training in communication and public relations; one who can manage the dissemination of information between the incumbent government and its people in a nonpartisan manner. Such a person “must have enormous patience and uncompromising attitude about the truth;” he must operate above threats, scares, intimidations, fabrications, lies, and exaggerations.
As for you, it is not only coolness that you need, but also some element of proficiency. Taper your temper and surround yourself with media professionals. Formulate strategies that will address negative opinions without retorting to threats and intimidation. Deal with online dissenting views, derogatory comments, libelous, slanderous, treacherous and treasonous stories and articles evenhandedly. Devise convincing counter ways that seek a peaceful resolution rather than confrontation. You could make a good government spokesman only if.
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.