BY ISAAC CHIPAMPE
In their 14th November, 2020 edition, The Economist magazine published an opinionated article that at best describes Zambia as a collapsed economy caused by its President’s authoritarian style of leadership and called for neighbouring countries, and the rest of the world to press for regime change.
Now, this is not a new call out because the international media, in tow with the main opposition in Zambia, have been calling for the rest of the world to declare Zambia a pariah state. But it is normal these days for a frustrated opposition to wish a country bad omen as long as that helps in discarding the ruling party from power, patriotism aside.
What is new, however, is the extent to which an internationally recognized and probably authoritative magazine went in demonising President Edgar Lungu. And I assume here that this malicious article was written by the publishers, themselves, and not a correspondent or even one of their reporters because at end, the Magazine does not proffer any disclaimer about the origin of the article but states cheekily that “This article appeared in the Readers Section of the print edition under the headline “Zambia’s descent”.
The online version, however, is a little more blunter with a multi-faceted headline: “The Mugabe model…How to stop Zambia from turning into Zimbabwe…Neighbours and creditors should resist its slide into autocracy and economic collapse.”
And it is in this headline or headlines that one clearly sees the push for regime change. It is obvious that firstly by likening President Lungu to the late Zimbabwean leader, The Economist tries to brand and frame the Zambian President as a dictator, and by doing that they hope Zambia’s bilateral partners would react in a similar way they punished Zimbabwe. But it is also a ploy to force those who hated President Mugabe to shift their focus to President Lungu, that the Zimbabwean leader is no more.
President Mugabe’s nemeses are obviously missing him and now that he is no more they have been looking at which African leader they could calibrate as a dictator. They want to create imaginary authoritarians in Africa because in truth dictators are now in short supply here. The pendulum is moving to them.
In their effort to scandalise and chastise President Lungu and his Government, the magazine tries to portray Zambia as headed for economic destruction and calls for Zambia’s neighbours (who ironically include Zimbabwe, by the way) to embark on a mission to remove President Lungu and his Government from power. Reason?
- President Lungu is more dangerous to Zambia’s economy than covid-19;
- he scares away investors by seizing mines;
- he detains mining bosses;
- he fired the Central Bank Governor for resisting to print money;
- he arrested opposition leaders before the 2016 elections;
- he shut down the main independent newspaper; and
- he has arrested Hakainde Hichilema, the main opposition leader, as well as journalists, musicians and other critics.
The Magazine then makes a clarion call:
“Many Zambians worry that their country is sliding into autocracy and economic ruin, like next door Zimbabwe. To stop that slide, the region and the wider world need to start paying attention now, rather than just sending election observers a few weeks before the poll.”
Obviously, The Magazine painstakingly tries to portray President Lungu as an authoritarian they would like him to be, but at the expense of truth. And “truth” is the heart and soul of good journalism which this respected Magazine has foregone. The Economist is being economical with the truth. For what gain? Only them and their Zambian allies would know. The truth is in all the bullets above, the magazine is either lying or spinning facts i.e slanting facts out of context. There is absolutely no need to explain bullet point by bullet point because every Zambian knows that The Economist Magazine is lying. The authors of this article were either deliberately lying, or were lied to by their sources but what is important is that, out of all these lies above, none would persuade a Zambian to frown upon President Lungu. Why? Because Zambians know these are fibs…outright lies! No amount of demagoguery will skew the thinking of Zambians about the President.
Brand him and frame him in whatever way you like, President Lungu is anything but a dictator. He has allowed the Zambian media to criticize him day in day out. More importantly, through the operationalisation of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), a plethora of vibrant radio and television stations have been born under President Lungu’s administration. This has allowed citizens to hold Government to account on a daily basis. This has also allowed a plurality of voices on air, unlike before when Zambians relied only on the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) for information. President Lungu has also allowed his opponents to criticize him, and sometimes intrusively defame him, on a daily basis. President Lungu has allowed civil society to thrive and they are in numbers here, some of them very critical of him and his Government. He has also not tampered with the independence of the Judiciary, legislature, and critical governance agencies like the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Drug Enforcement Commission, and the Electoral Commission of Zambia, to mention but a few.
It is, therefore, a shame that ignorant international media can pick on him to be a dictator when there are dictators not far from their newsrooms. The world must not worry about President Lungu, they must instead worry about the trajectory being taken by the Western media, especially the likes of The Economist and their ilk.
The author is Special Assistant to President Edgar Lungu for Press and Public Relations