By Chimwemwe Mwanza
A week can be a long time in politics precisely why writing a legacy of an active politician is a tough ask. It is akin to writing an obituary for a living person.
Shortly before the recent elections, Edgar Lungu boldly declared that he would remain in active politics till 2026 – off course assuming he won a second term. It was not to be. His opponent handed him a humiliating defeat and one that will resonate in Zambian history for years to come. His loss was shocking enough that it took him barely a week after elections to announce his looming retirement from active politics.
This climb down is remarkable for a politician of notable bravado. While kicking the crestfallen might be of little consequence, Lungu’s propensity to contradict himself does warrant an interrogation of both his reign and character. In essence, the underlying message in the sudden resignation from active politics exposed his sence of entitlement to the Presidency. This is troubling. At best, this entitlement explains his somewhat weird protestation of a rigged election – this happening amid vote counting.
This was a President that seemed too eager to sacrifice peace so that the Electoral Commission of Zambia could halt vote counting just to massage his bruised ego. In any case, how does one move from denouncing an electoral process to acknowledging its legitimacy only after persuasion – all this happening within 72 hours? His petulance was nothing more than a gambit to throw the country into chaos. Even more astonishing, why should he be praised for conceding defeat?
Accepting an electoral outcome whether in or against your favour is a gesture of common decency and therefore no amount of praise should be heaped on a politician for acknowledging the obvious. Granted he is of unpredictable character, is there a likelihood that he might rescind his decision to retire from active politics? The less written about his legacy at this stage the better suffice to add that there is a banal link to his chaotic rise to the Presidency and his subsequent fall from his perch.
It is well documented that Micheal Sata’s death prompted a bitter succession struggle for the PF Presidency. History cut short; it was a shambolic show of hands at the PF’s Mulungushi University conference that ushered in his Presidency. Lacking in legitimacy, he was beholden to his backers who were determined to exploit their proximity to his Presidency.
Thus in 2015, he ascended to the highest political office of the land. Since he assumed office, several charges of corruption levelled against his government went unchecked creating a perception that he may either have been complicit to or at least abated these crimes.
In fairness, there is hardly any evidence that directly fingers him in acts of criminality. However, deny as he will continue to, this perception will continue to linger in the psyche of many Zambians; and the trouble with perception is that it equates to reality in the court of public opinion. What is on record though is the unbridled collusion by state investigating agencies to perpetuate corruption during the PF’s tenure in office.
They dished nolles and acquittals after another even in cases in which the state seemed to have credible evidence against perpetrators of corruption and other crimes. The absence of political will in the fight against corruption became all too naked in the eyes of the electorate and this in part explains the PF’s defeat.
A flawed Presidency?
Against the temptation to further interrogate this Presidency, one is reminded of this screaming editorial, ‘A thief for a President’ published in the defunct Post Newspaper on 17th August 2001. This editorial not only defined Frederick Chiluba’s legacy but marked the beginning of the late second Republican President’s fall from grace.
For all his contributions to strengthening the labour movement as well as helping to dismantle the one-party regime, he was hung out to dry. With his immunity lifted at the behest of his anointed successor, President Levy Mwanawasa – Chiluba the man who fondly referred to himself as a ‘master dribbler’ cut a forlorn figure. Revelations after another including abuse of an intelligence slush fund – the Zamtrop account, the fraudulent acquisition of properties, among a litany of other charges began to fill newspaper pages. He spent the latter part of his life shuttling between Lusaka’s Magistrate and High Courts.
And it is important to note that despite the millions spent on investigating him, the state failed to secure a conviction. Sadly though, he took truth with him to his grave – by all accounts he may well have been innocent. It is this trial by the media that awaits Lungu. While he won’t be in in the dork, headlines such as ‘Findlay’s Accounts frozen and PF cadre Andrew Lubusha on the run’ – just to mention a few, are by extention an indictment on Lungu’s leadership. A fish rots from its head – so goes an axiom.
And this is just the beginning. There is still the small matter of the fraudulent but costly fire tender, the unresolved ownership of the 48 houses, the Mukula trees scandal, a fraudulent FISP procurement process and many others that are likely to come up. Watch this space, there will be enough news to distract us from our financial hardships. Unfortunately, none of these issues awaiting ventilation in our courts of law will uplift our economic and social status. This is just our reality.
All that the news cycle will do, will be to give us a glimpse into a wasted 10 years and the recklessness of the Lungu Presidency. That might just be the right time then for many a Journalist looking to write Lungu’s legacy to sharpen their pencils. Indeed, we live in interesting times. Buckle up, there is a bumpy ride ahead of us.
The author is an avid scholar of political history and philosophy. He has since stopped eating game meat and become a vegetarian. He remains a lifelong fan of Kabwe Warriors and Liverpool. For feedback, contact [email protected]