President Edgar Lungu’s Special Assistant for Press and Public Relations Amos Chanda has blocked University of Zambia lecturer Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa on Twitter after he advised him to stop conflating his role with that of the spokesperson of the ruling Patriotic Front. Chanda is the latest government official to block the outspoken academic on the social media platform after Minister of Transport and Communications Dr Brian Mushimba took a similar move in February this year when Dr Sishuwa demanded justification for the minister’s decision to get his broken arm treated in South Africa, where he stayed for over a month.
Dr Mushimba, who blocked several other critics, subsequently apologised and unblocked them following a public backlash against his move. The minister then claimed that he, rather than taxpayers, had paid for his medical expenses at Arwyp Medical Centre, an expensive private hospital in Kempton Park, Gauteng Province. He promised to publicly present supporting evidence in form of receipts once his arm, which he said was still in excruciating pain at the time, was better. Dr Mushimba is however yet to do so, over two months later.
In the latest Twitter war between a senior public official and an active citizen, trouble started when Chanda, using his official account, @AmosNChanda, where he describes himself as “Special Assistant to the President (Press and Public Relations), Republic of Zambia”, wrote a congratulatory message to all candidates who emerged victorious in the recent by-elections.
“Pres.Lungu congratulates Joseph Chishala for winning Roan seat for NDC & PF’s Charles Chalwe for winning Bharti; and all candidates who won local polls. He has called for introspection to understand why the Roan loss. Not a result he desired, but one that democracy delivered”, Chanda wrote on Saturday, 12 April 2019. This tweet attracted a response from Dr Sishuwa who both commended and slightly criticised it.
“One part of your message”, wrote Dr Sishuwa, “focussing on the President’s decision to congratulate all the winners, is highly commendable, though l wish he had also congratulated the losers for enriching our democracy. The introspection part is beyond your role as his aide, since it’s a PF matter.”
Unconvinced, Chanda moved to question Dr Sishuwa’s understanding of the role of a presidential aide, noting that speaking on behalf of the PF president was part of his Terms of Reference. “The construction is mine, but the brief was to call the party to an introspection. What then have I exceeded as press aide? You seem confused about role of presidential spokesperson, I think. U may also wish to see my contract and TORs. Yes, losers did their part too!”, Chanda tweeted.
“Amos, you are a press aide to the President of Zambia”, replied Dr Sishuwa. “You are not a press aide to the President of Patriotic Front. Do you understand the difference? Don’t you think matters to do with the PF such as introspection should be left to the PF President, Davies Mwila, Sunday Chanda?”, Dr Sishuwa asked.
At this point, other Twitter users advised Dr Sishuwa not to waste his time on Chanda, saying he is unreceptive to professional advise. Chisanga, who uses the twitter handle @uwachikata, wrote, “Thanks Dr Sishuwa for this even though it appears Mr Chanda is not one who listens to reason as shown here”, a message that was echoed by another user, Mr Right (@FredKamanya), who tweeted “You can’t advise any PF member, they’re are above anything. While I appreciate your efforts, I can tell you that you’re wasting your time.”
Another academic Dr Cleopas Sambo who describes himself as someone who “teaches at UNZA whenever it is open” tweeted “@ssishuwa [you are] flogging a dead horse! One wonders if this is just plain ineptitude or willful ignorance. A press aide to the President of Zambia is not a party functionary and SHOULD not be towing a party line. ToRs stipulating such are only possible in a wishy-washy state but then”.
Not long afterwards, the President’s spokesperson returned to reply to Dr Sishuwa’s previous tweet.
“He [Edgar Lungu] is PF President; he assigns me as such. Opposition leaders call me to engage him what do I do? Who must carry political instructions to SG and Sunday? Theresa May’s press secretary & political advisor resigned when campaign manifesto they wrote lost her last general election!”, stated the State House spokesperson, moments before the critical academic responded.
“You are conflating the role of a presidential aide with that of a party functionary. The role of the President’s press aide ends at State engagements; party matters are for the party aides or spokespersons. Are we together, Amos?”, asked Dr Sishuwa.
“Mr Chanda knows how to silence people”, wrote Munir in a supportive follow-up tweet that appeared to be a veiled threat to Dr Sishuwa who remained unmoved and wondered how exactly the President’s aide silences critics:
“How? Certainly not by the quality and content of his [Amos Chanda’s] speech. A Presidential spokesperson must be impeccable in their command of the language of communication. They should take care to speak or write cogently, eliminating all spelling and grammatical errors to the extent possible.’
Unable to tolerate any further criticism and sustain the discussion, the President’s Special Assistant for Press and Public Relations moved to block his chief critic. Moments later, Dr Sishuwa tweeted “Today, l suggested to Amos Chanda, spokesperson of the President of #Zambia, Edgar Lungu, that he should stop conflating his role with that of the spokesperson of the ruling Patriotic Front party. Chanda, instead of engaging in constructive debate, has responded by BLOCKING me!”
Another twitter user, SkippyinZambia, also complained that Chanda has blocked him, posting an image in support. “That little coward Amos is doing it to every critic. He will regret one day when Edgar falls and there is no protection for him.”, Skippy tweeted. Other netizens who subsequently revealed that Chanda had blocked them include Wilfred Zulu, Webster Mulenga, Florence Chanda, and Norman Chipakupaku.
Many Zambians on Twitter quickly moved to condemn Chanda’s move. Prominent economist Trevor Simumba wrote “There is no point advising these guys. He will probably still stalk you through other accounts to keep up with your views”. Kalaluka Kapungu tweeted “Larry Moonze was complaining about similar behaviour (Amos blocking journos from covering State House) to @Dora_Siliya yesterday. Not surprised that the President never holds pressers. What with a press team averse to engagement.”. Another University of Zambia lecturer, Dr Peter Mubanga Cheuka, implored Chanda to be receptive to public criticism, tweeting “@AmosNChanda, there is a very worrying perception in the PF government – that every criticism on the government is sponsored by the opposition. This unfounded perception will cost this government. Listen to people and answer their questions please.” Douty Chibamba wrote “Interesting. The democratic leaders cannot converse with the led at the slightest difference in opinions.” Dr Sambo tweeted “Word on the street is that @ssishuwa is now blocked. Truth really has few friends”.
Earlier in the discussion, other Twitter users questioned Chanda’s understanding of his official role. “You are press aid to the president of the republic not of the party … leave that role to Sunday Chanda and them”, wrote Mukwae Njinji who uses the twitter handled Namunji. The President’s spokesperson remained defiant, responding “What’s so painful to you about the President’s call to a deep introspection in PF?” Mukwae Njinji explained that she was concerned because, like Dr Sishuwa, she was a taxpayer. “I care less about the President calling for introspect for PF, my issue is you delivering party massage on the Zambian tax payers pen . You need to tell us what plan the government has with the worrying drought expected that’s what pays you”. In response, Chanda tweeted “Are you suggesting the party messages I deliver to UPND, NAREP and others must be paid for by those parties?” This question prompted Dr Sishuwa to tweet: “Let me simplify the point with an elementary illustration. If Chishimba Kambwili was the President of PF today while Edgar Lungu was President of Zambia, would you, as Special Assistant to the President of Zambia, consider it as part of your role to speak on behalf of Kambwili?” Moments later, the presidential aide effected his blockade on Dr Sishuwa.