The following article was published in the Times of Zambia and posted on State house website. What is your opinion?
IT has always been put across that making slanderous remarks about the Republican presidency constitutes a criminal offence and convicted offenders deserve nothing less than a jail term. The reason is that a president plays a defining role at home and around the world, having a telling impact on every aspect of citizens’ lives by way of that office holder’s words and deeds. That office represents the greatest good and the most honourable aspirations in the nation.
It does not matter how diversely voters may perceive the office-holder as an individual, but as soon as one is sworn in as the head of State, that person qualifies the occupant to 100 per cent of the possible respect in the land. It is an institution.
Every head of State does become the point of gossip, and even the butt of jokes in schools, homes, on the streets, in taxis and elsewhere.
Should the office holder fail to impress in one or two areas of national service, which is possible, given natural human limitations, criticism will be expected.
There will be public debate on those areas of failure or poor performance, but universal esteem of such offices excludes personal ridicule.
There is difference between the person and the office.
One key assumption that should guide debate, especially among opposition leaders, is that the person holding office has generally qualified for that office even in terms of personal expectations among the public. The person’s character has gone through a level of scrutiny.
The performance in office by that person is what matters when a head of State is evaluated. Yes, the performance can be criticised, and even then there are limits to the kind of language that may be used.
Criticism of the presidency is not expected to dishonour the office or the person as a top priority. The top priority should be to provide help and add value to that office and its performance.
Political leaders must not criticise like followers; they know what it is to handle government leadership and should consider looking at the other side of the coin as they endeavour to put their points across.
Second Republican President Frederick Chiluba knows quite well how criticisms of the presidency have been carved by seasoned critics, who have nothing to hit at but the presidency.
Dr Chiluba and late president Levy Mwanawasa received harsh criticisms during their respective reigns and most of it was not about tackling their policies but something that can be described as personal.
President Banda has been having a share of the harsh criticism, and again, what is coming out clearly is that, those that are hurling insults at him do not seem to tackle issues attached to development and the economic policies that he has adopted.
It is a shame that, instead of uniting the nation through the good things that the president has done and is doing, others are taking a different route which would be perfect ingredients for dividing the nation.
The country is at crossroads and it appears the problem that is leading to the negative debates is certainly not what is being done, but the people that are doing it. So, it really borders on personalities. Who would pin-point the grounds for such free flow of insults against the presidency?
So far, Zambian politics has seen a situation where the top priority has appeared to be the dishonour of the individual who holds that office. The words used to criticise his performance have been so sharp and personal that even if he searched for help from that criticism he would not find any.
But is wielding insults at the presidency part of the manifestos for some of the political parties? Really, the opposition parties must now be obsessed with matters that the people shall be comfortable with in their bid to take this country to the next level.
It is clearly evident that the use of insults conceals their own manifestos which presently are not clear because the important thing, to their cadres, is the firepower of bad language.
Instead of exerting their energies on what these political parties would deliver to the Zambian people, they have occupied their domain with all sorts of vulgar language, making the citizens doubt their reasons of existence.
A mention of some names in the political arena quickly brings in a feeling of crude language. Is that the kind of menu the Zambian people would love to experience?
Zambians are tired of meaningless ways of politicians advancing their self-worth with their mouths full of abuse. Zambians are now alert and would want to put their money on anything that would bring development.
This begs a question as to how some politicians have structured their manifestos. Do their manifestos contain nothing but insults?
In most cases since the last presidential poll, the presidency has suffered a great deal of reputational damage because more and more opposition reactions are not backed by truth.
At the rate things are going on among Zambian political leaders, it is evident that eccentric politicians are marking a sharp divide in perceptions of the presidency because the clean ideological lines are melting away, and the presidency seems to be losing its sense of inviolability.
In some countries, when presidents depart, they are bidden farewell not only as figures of admiration but as landmarks of a historical era.
Former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney lauded late American president Ronald Reagan as a unique leader.
“I always thought that President Reagan’s understanding of the nobility of the presidency coincided with the American dream,” Mulroney said.
“One day [French] President Mitterrand in referring to President Reagan said: “Il a vraiment la notion de l’Etat.” Rough translation: ‘He really has a sense of the State about him.’”
“What President Mitterrand meant was that there is a vast difference between the job of president and the role of president,” Mulroney continued.
Here, however, whenever people are reminded that they should give the president maximum respect and the consequences that would arise for the failure to do so, when they bring the name of the president into disrepute, they just brush such advice aside as proof of bias for the incumbent.
The moral impropriety that goes with the mob psychology when uttering unpalatable words against the presidency fizzles out when these people are faced with the reality of having to serve jail terms by virtue of being found guilty of insulting the president.
So, for 35-year-old Darius Mukuka of Ndola who was convicted on Wednesday last week by Ndola Chief Magistrate Kelvin Limbani for 18 months in prison with hard labour for defaming President Rupiah Banda, he must be wishing he never raised disparaging issues against the Head of State.
The action by Mr Limbani to send Mukuka to jail with hard labour merely demonstrates the fact that being foul-mouthed about the presidency does not pay and this should serve as a deterrent to would-be offenders.
And if consumption of intoxicants should have been an excuse to warrant the exercise he embarked on, to bring the name of the president into disrepute, then hell would break loose.
Zambia is a free country with absolute free expression, but not in the manner that could ignite confusion that may ruin the peace that has been enjoyed over the years.
But some senior citizens, who wear extremely important gowns in the Zambian political system, being leaders of opposition parties with presumable national character, have been in the limelight in bringing down the presidency.
It is not a rumour that they, themselves, have more serious ambitions of leading the Zambian people and would need the electorate’s respect for the very presidency they are frowning upon.
They would do well to fire their salvos with some sympathy because one day they may be in the same boots he is in today.
The level of insults being churned out by politicians on the other side of the fence is not good for the playing field.
They are only conditioning voters to disrespectful treatment of presidents.
What they are doing will merely be a disadvantage that they may fail to overcome when they are there because they are setting the tone of insults.
What is the solution?
This is where the inter-party dialogue unit has failed and is really moribund and there is need for resuscitation. The civil society holds possibility of a solution but they too lave lost their way. The Church is the last hut standing and they too should stop behaving outside what Jesus would require of them.
[Times of Zambia]