By Ambassador Anthony Mukwita
Friday the eighth 2019 will probably go down as the best diplomacy day on the annual calendar of President Edgar Lungu.
It is the day he came out and reconnected with the country through the fourth estate and managed to win many hearts and souls, even from his harshest critics.
It is the day that the Edgar Lungu Zambians voted for in 2014 and repeated the feat by more than 50 percent in 2016 came alive saying “I am still your man and live in the same country as you.”
In diplomatic parlance we would call it a ‘Diplomatic Coup’ due to the warm fuzzy feeling it left on the minds of many long after he had walked off the stage, leaving journalists eating from his hands and thirsting for more positively.
The President of Zambia has his own style of communicating, unlike his predecessors such as Dr Kenneth Kaunda who depended heavily on press conferences, and that must be respected.
The mingle, however, proved communication and diplomacy professors right: an eloquent and likable politician like him sometimes needs to be left to roam in the wild in order to spread his wings effectively. He did that on Friday like a duck turns to water.
President Lungu explained the crippling power shortages in a more succinct and humanly manner than it has probably been ever explained before, by reducing it down to Jack the Barber, BOB the welder and Sarah the hair dress who have shut down business due to the shortages of power.
He made the problem a human problem, not a climate change or technical problem ordinary Zambians affected by the scourge daily do not want to fathom.
President Lungu did not just present the problem but threw a proverbial bone to journalists when he touted the solution of a $100 million German Zambia GETFIT renewable energy project for 120MW which must be ready next year. A watt at a time.
While talking visionary long-term solutions apart from GETFIT and new regulation that must make the sector profitable, President Lungu told journalists about the short-term measures of getting the industrial power machinery running through the importation of $44 million worth of energy, expensive but necessary.
After doing all the heavy pushing and removing the elephant in the room-energy-that is directly adversely affecting everyone in Zambia in one way or another, he humbly explained that for Zambia’s GDP to grow, industrialisation, agriculture and skills would be vital. Ramp up exports.
Another diplomatic score he bagged but many could not see directly was his subtle exuding of confidence which he showed by owning a problem, touting a solution and saying: “I am in charge”.
President Lungu did not pass the back and if anyone inside and outside his party were in any doubt about his willingness to give and take a punch in the next 2021 poll, he cleared the air by telling them: “I am coming back…am ready for a fight.”
Analysing Friday as a diplomat and a student of international relations and an author, I can draw a conclusion that the Friday State House mingle was a win for the Commander in chief.
The journalists that broke bread and water with him shall fondly retell the story over and over because it’s not every day you get to mingle with the President of Zambia.
Perhaps his astute Secretary to the Cabinet Dr Simon Miti would encourage more of these mingles with the media perhaps once a month, a quarter or whenever it is felt that Zambians want the calming voice of the President.
This is diplomatically the reason the Captain on the plane steps in and says: “This is your Captain speaking…we are going through a turbulent patch, but everything will be normal in a while. Please keep your seat belts on until the seat belt sign is switched off. Thank you.”
President Lungu known mostly for being a man of the people showed once again that the trappings of State House have had little or no effect to his natural-born traits of humility and patience. He remains a man of the soil.
President Lungu mingled, shook lots of hands, shared a joke here and humoured the press like the ordinary husband, father and lawyer they voted for.
Needless to say, the energy deficit did not immediately go away but the narrative has now changed to that of Hope instead of Despair.
Reconciliation and love and not combative and settling of personal scores.
The political adage “everybody needs just five minutes with the President” came to life: a classic case study in diplomacy, cultural studies, and public speaking or engagement.
The author is the Ambassador of Zambia Germany. He is also the author of the insightful book “Against all Odds, President Edgar Chagwa Lungu’s Rough Journey to State House.”