Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely: President Hichilema’s Press Conference

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President Hakainde Hichilema addressing a Press Conference at State House on Thursday, 30th September, 2021.
President Hakainde Hichilema addressing a Press Conference at State House on Thursday, 30th September, 2021.

By Field Ruwe EdD

I could not believe what I was hearing. I tried to reassure myself that I was only dreaming. For the third time, I played the video and listened gravely. Again, the words fell like stones into the room filled with reporters, selected cabinet ministers, and State House staff. The voice of President Hichilema Hakainde was startling in its own carrying power.

“If the police fail to discharge their duties, I will use the military to restore law and order,he said. “That’s my job. That’s the constitutional rights [of] the head of state who is the commander in chief.”

I was crestfallen. A shudder passed through me. I could vicariously hear gasps of surprise and murmurs of disbelief and disappointment from viewers around the country.In the conference room, some in the audience applauded as, arguably Zambia’s most innovative president, struggled to disguise his frustration at the police’s failure to contain former president Edgar Lungu who has become a thorn in his flesh.

I never heard a Zambian president invoke the word “military” and use it to threaten his own unarmed people. We are a people bonused with an idyllic earthly paradise called Zambia.God has spared us from the cruelty of tribal wars, civil wars, military coups, and apocalyptic disasters such as tsunamis, hurricanes, and earthquakes. We just survived COVID and a five-month drought.

For a moment I envisioned the Zambia Army under HH’s presidency relegated to civil law enforcement duties. I could not fathom such gallant men and women who on three occasions have thwarted attempted military coups by their own officers for the love of country, patrolling the streets of Lusaka, apprehending opposition leaders, civil rights activists, and media practitioners and throwing them in jail.

I recollected the feeling of relief that engulfed the entire country on October 27, 1980,when Kaunda made a startling announcement at State House during a press conference, revealing that the Zambia military had successfully foiled an attempted coup d’état conducted by Lieutenant General Godfrey Miyanda, Zambian professionals and Congolese dissidents.

And who can forget, July 1 st , 1990 when we woke up to the voice of Lieutenant Mwamba Luchembe announcing on ZNBC Radio 4 that the army had taken over Kaunda’s government and ordered the announcer to play military music. Again, the Zambian Army stood by us and thwarted the coup attempt within six hours.

How about the coup attempt of October 28, 1997? We heard Captain Solo (Steven Lungu) announce that a coup had taken place and that the then President Frederick Chiluba should step down. It was foiled by the Zambia Army within a span of three hours.
In all the three attempts the Zambian army fulfilled its purpose of fending off a war between coup plotters and the military. Since independence, HH’s predecessors have made it clear that the military’s primary objective is to defend the nation, while the Zambia Police’s objective is to enforce the country’s laws. Neither institution is specifically trained to cater to the
requirements of the other.

Before I proceed, I must inform readers that I remain HH’s an unwavering endorser outside my profession and Zambian politics. Since he assumed power, I have refrained from expressing any negative opinions about him. I publicly endorsed him in my personal capacity because I yearned for the dynamism of his politics.

As an endorser, I will not sit back and watch him resort to “strongman” rule. When I launched my “Hunt for Successor” series during the Sata era, my aspiration was for a youthful president with exceptional abilities to emerge and wage the battle against the economy, foster national unity, curb corruption, eradicate poverty, and pave a new path to Zambia’s prosperity.
In all fairness, HH has consistently opposed the widespread pessimism that portrays Zambians as a doomed people beyond redemption. After years of effort to unlock Zambia’s potential, HH has effectively utilized his persuasive abilities to rally support from various quarters and convinced a skeptical world to come to Zambia’s aid.

Upon taking oath as president, he wasted no time in initiating fundraising trips to the US,Europe and Asia, successfully raising millions of dollars. His negotiation with private creditors to restructure $3 billion in international bonds marked a significant step towards the country’s prolonged debt. The enthusiastic reception he received from numerous Lusaka residents at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport serves as a clear indication of his impact. With this in mind, I can assert that the difference between Edgar Lungu and Hakainde Hichilema is night and day.

However, HH has faced significant domestic obstacles lately. He can be likened to an overzealous automotive mechanic who claims he can restore a mangled car that plummeted off the cliff and burst into flames. In spite of his campaign pledges to solve the nation’s energy crisis, he is still encountering obstacles to widespread outages that are detrimentally impacting his presidency.

Furthermore, the spike in fuel, food, and fertilizer prices, have exacerbated the high cost of living. Moreover, the economic strategies introduced in 2021 to aid the Hichilema administration in taking over the mines have not yielded the desired results. Consequently, the country has returned to the Lungu headlines of corruption, hooliganism, unwarranted arrests
manipulation of state institutions, and promises filled with “false and braggart words.”

The initial vitality, dynamism, and youthful spirit that defined HH’s first two years in power have somewhat waned. Studies in political science note that by the third year, many presidents start exhibiting signs of wear and tear, and begin to resort to tyrannical stratagems.

Leaders who struggle with criticism due to their massive egoistical trait often lash out, seeking ways to protect themselves. Some become vindictive, going to extreme lengths to blame and punish their opponents, while others slide towards authoritarian rule.

Upon listening to the Press Conference of June 5, 2024, I was worried that HH, an exemplary president who was trying to champion democracy and foster innovative well-regulated markets, was going beyond fair discourse and veering into authoritative domain. I was not the only one. My sentiment was echoed by a multitude of individuals with social media accounts some who described HH as a liar, tyrant, dictator, authoritarian, autocrat, and despot.

There was widespread apprehension that HH was authoritatively infringing upon civil liberties, freedom of assembly, free speech, press freedoms, and other fundamental tenets of democracy. Many in the social media were concerned that the press conference was all about his political nemesis Edgar Lungu. Some accused HH of using Lungu as a scapegoat to evade blame
for the hooliganism committed by members of his own party during the funeral procession of their provincial Vice Treasurer.
The cardinal question is, has power gone to HH’s head? Yes it has. Power tends to corrupt the minds of those in authoritative positions, such as the head of state. According to psychoanalysts, when a democratic country elevates one person as its ultimate leader and defender, the people naturally start to idolize and inflate his ego, resulting in neurological
alternations that make him feel the entire nation is under his command. When a leader reaches such a stage he, by decree of fate, assumes the “strongman” idiomatic mantra “me, myself, and I”

Has HH acquired the strongman status? Yes, he has. However, he does not exhibit the characteristics of a dictator, at least not at this point in time. But he surely sounded like one during the press conference. He showed that if pushed he is capable of entering the echo chamber in which most of the African dictators live. He carefully chose his words to subtly inject
his ideology in hidden fold. When he began to talk it was clear he was discontent with the state of affairs.

“Don’t misunderstand my patience to mean I am not aware,” he cautioned the nation in general, and UNPD hooligans and former president Edgar Lungu in particular. It was clear Lungu’s strategy of courting churches to undermine HH’s presidency was getting under his skin.

“I’ve some patience and quite some tolerance,” he continued in a voice lacking the usual tenderness. He skillfully presented his soul of authoritarianism within the whole body of his speech by means of selected words. He did so with a threatening voice like a despot, all in an effort to caution Lungu and all those who may wish to cross his line.

“Levels of patience and tolerance are quite high,” he told them. “Especially a guy like me who went through a lot to stand here as a head of state. I probably went through the worst discrimination any citizen can receive from his own citizens…”

I was worried HH was entrapped in his own self-pity, anger, and persecutory thoughts.Neurophysiologists, psychoanalysts, and therapists have found that self-pity is the defining characteristic of brutal regimes. It is a bio-psycho-social construct, which, if left unattended,assembles into tyranny. When HH urged the police to intervene into the rising hooliganism, and
quell Lungu and his cohorts’ “unlawful assembly,” authoritarianism hid in plain sight.

“The police do not need my reminder”; he said emphatically. “The police must not negotiate. No negotiation. Just enforce the law. If you fail to enforce the law, it will be an admittance of failure to perform your duties.

When a head of state issues directives such as the one above consequences can be dire.The enforcers are inclined to side with him and his party. Acting as loyalists they may target opposition members, resort to violence, use force, and imprison “for a long time” a significant number of individuals in “jails furnished with beds and mattresses,” as cautioned by HH. If such
actions were to occur, it is probable that they would escalate into an insurgency.

What is disheartening is prior to assuming the presidency, HH vowed to be a defender of democracy. In March 2023, he penned an article titled “You Cannot Eat Democracy,” in which he stated thus; “my government has returned our democracy to health, shoring up the civil liberties the people demanded; the right of assembly and end to defamation laws that challenged
free speech.”

Given HH’s tendency to easily break promises, the potential for a compromised democracy is not far-fetched. Numerous countries have experienced the breakdown of democracy because they did not see it coming. It would be naive to assume that Zambia is
entirely immune to such a threat. Safeguarding against the encroachment of authoritarianism by HH is crucial for upholding the principles of democracy. We must swiftly intervene if and when any signs of such shift emerge.

I have brazenly penned down this article out of my deep affection for my country. My utmost objective is to see HH succeed. I shall continue applauding him when he is right and reprimanding him when he is wrong. In a democracy no one is allowed to monopolize political power.

The rights to this article belong to ZDI (Zambia Development Institute), a proposed US-based Zambian think tank. On May 19, 2022, a comprehensive proposal was delivered to President Hichilema through Principal Private Secretary Bradford Machila.

Author Dr. Field Ruwe holds a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership. He is affiliated with Northeastern University,
Boston, MA., US.

35 COMMENTS

  1. I dont know if its true. It might just be that Ruwe is right in his observing that HH “has opposed the widespread pessimism that portrays Zambians as a doomed people beyond redemption”. Unfortunately he doesnt know how to instill his optimism in the rest of us, Doesnt know how drive Zambia progressively. One can see he is presently out of his depth.
    Thus the unfortunate statement that he would call upon the army to do police work. By the way the current army chief cheered the statement gleefully looking forward to the day his men would do battle drills against civillians on the streets of Kitwe, Lusaka Chipata, Solwezi, Mufulira. What an unprofessional army!

  2. Well thought out article.

    I wish HH’s advisors could share this article with him. The desire or the intention to use the army to ‘police’ civilians is a rogue act which should not be tolerated at all.

    HH could do better than that. Sometimes I feel HH should read from a prepared script than talk off the cuff.

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    • The danger does not come from the honey but from the bees that live on it. There’s no way Thabo Kawana would dare tell HH the bitter truth….lest he loses the wealth that he’s found himself in.

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  3. HH is just overrated. He’s a very weak President and weak leaders often resort to threats whenever faced with a challenge. He suffers from a serious personal ego. It’s likely he won’t even attend the inauguration of his successor because he doesn’t have that courage. I don’t know how he’ll manage the shock of the loss of the election that he’ll preside over. He’ll blame others instead of taking up responsibility. Those around him should prepare for such a difficult time

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  4. The church especially the Catholic Church does not need Edgar Lungu for it to speak against social injustice and lawlessness. As far back as the 1950s(Social Teachings of the Catholic Bishops and other Christian leaders in Zambia compiled by Father Joe Komakoma) the Catholic Church has been in the forefront to speak for the vulnerable in our country.
    In fact Archbishop Dr Benjamin Phiri has banned all political leaders from using the Catholic Churches as a platform..be it Upnd or otherwise. Therefore Mr Hakainde Hichilema should leave the church out of his fights with Edgar Lungu.

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    • but we see churches inviting ECL and giving him podium to talk politics right in church. my conviction is that any church has members from diverse political parties, so it doesn’t make sense to expose its members to a particular political party. who benefits from such acts apart from church leaders aspiring for board membership once such leaders get to power. the fact that Zambia is a Christian national doesn’t mean that church leaders ought to bring politics to church.

  5. The danger does not come from the honey but from the bees that live on it. There’s no way Thabo Kawana would dare tell HH the bitter truth….lest he loses the wealth that he’s found himself in.

  6. ……….

    Mwandi my president show them who is boss…..

    If HH does not show some toughness……..

    These tribal supremacists will destroy zambia in their quest to assume power………

    It is a 5 year mndate that will reach 2031…….

    Forwadee 2031…….

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    • Why are you so obsessed with tribe. The author hasn’t said anything to do with tribes. Stick to the subject.

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    • Dont pretend………

      Everything you do, you think of tribal politics………

      Everything GRZ does, you look at from the tribal angle…….

      You are one of those who thinks zambia belongs to one tribe…..

      The opposition to HH is based on tribe……

      We know you

      Forwadee 2031………

      We are here

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    • Take it as you want but as a person born and brought up on the copperbelt, I have friends, colleagues, associates and enemies from all tribes. Amen.

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    • Spaka you are definitely talking about yourself. Then extrapolating your character to your perceived rivals. When have you ever posted something without mentioning tribe? Just go look at LT archives and all tribal sightings are done by you.

  7. Too much power in one’s hand is DANGEROUS, the constitution MUST be amended… Zambian so called democracy is too backward. Imagine HH having absolute power, nifyofine

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  8. There is NO freedom of speech, you CANNOT criticise the president directly, you must watch what to say or post on socials… If Malema was Zambian he would have died or assaulted like that Jay Jay guy

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    • You can criticise , but……..

      Watch your languge, we have youth who watch…….

      Dont teach the youth your dirty insults to think thats how adults are spoken to……..

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  9. I am not a Zambian, but I side with HH. Zambian policians have tendencies of shifting from one part to another after having ruined the other and the Govt. His speech is of a regreting man who belongs to a corrupt DYNASTY. He fought to bring Zambia to a renowned nation and yet some folks are there ruining him. This shows that he wants to abide with his words and not with the greed and self creatures. Dear Zambians, kindly do not misunderstand him, he is right.
    HH, be strong, save the nation and not individual interests. REMEMBER AND KNOW THAT YOU CANNOT CONQUER CATASTROPHY WITHOUT THE PROCESS OF ELIMINATION! NOW IS THE TIME AND EARNESTY IS YOUR TIME! MAKE SURE YOU SAVE THE NATION FROM THE YOKE OF GLUTTONS. GET RIDE OF THE HALOTS AND ROTTEN GRAINS IN YOUR MIDST. GOD BLESS YOU.

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  10. Many article contributors just write utter nonsense.
    My question is this: Is what the President said about calling in the army unconstitutional?
    The answer is, it is not unconstitutional.
    The president said nothing wrong.
    So what does the statement “absolute power corrupts” have to do with what he said.
    Field Ruwe may hold a doctorate in Education in Organizational Leadership but he lacks basic understand of the constitution and the power and authority its gives to the president of Zambia.
    He is one of those who is an educated ignorant.

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    • BlackMan that befits your non-de-plume. You are a bean head quote here where is states that the president has the right to order the military to go around arresting opposition leaders. You bootlicking clown!

    • The good thing about social media is that even inkoko, imbushi, sub-As, sub-Bs, Grade 7s, and Grade 12 div 3-9s can make their foolish comments. Ba Blackman ne nkoko Tikki have never grasped the Constitution to its fullest.

  11. We just need serious investigators like Scotland Yard to investigate ECL why he refused President Sata to be on drip before operation in Israel, instead he wanted President Sata as week as he was to undergo operation immediately upon arrival; and chose to fly to London and while Kasebaa was sent to India; Mid air sad news; The Great Nephew by marriage unseats his uncle!

  12. At least this time Field Ruwe is not bashing UNZA and has engaged himself in a worthy topic to discuss. I fail to see the conclusion or message in this article. Perhaps the author is trying too hard not to offend the ruling party and HH. The thing is that Zambians are suffering and some are having one meal a day. Someone needs to take responsibility and lukewarm articles like this do not help. Like Elijah in the Holy Bible told the Israelites chose are you with God or with Baal? Are you with the UPND train or with the promotion of democracy and welfare of Zambians?

  13. ““That’s my job. That’s the constitutional rights [of] the head of state who is the commander in chief.”
    Thats not his job!!! He was trying to threaten any opposition because he is at a loss for what to do.
    Unfortunately, LT have censored my post in which I pointed out that even the Army commander gleefully accepted HH’s threat. He was gleefully looking forward to the time when his battallions would dive and take cover on the city streets as they take aim at civillians with missiles. What an unprofessional and unethical army that will be.

  14. Unfortunately the HH hope has vanished in thin air. Man came in with so much goodwill and an opportunity to steer this country to prosperity and vring about real, genuine reforms that promote genuine democracy that is rooted in strong institutions. But he has wasted that opportunity and resorted to a demi God just like those who came before him. Man is a huge disappointment… all that potential, gone!

    • He needed to invest in genuine separation of the 3x arms of government; get rid of archaic laws like the POA; get rid of some of his powers; promote the independence of the media; promote genuine dialogue; promote real economical policies that empower our people in the long term.
      I see nothing but a man obsessed with himself, a man believing only he is the smarttest in the room; a man drunk with power and a confused man scared of his own shadows. I see no meaningful change, same old! Disappointing!

    • You forgot the white gloves he wears these days because he is too clean to touch impoverished and hungry Zambians

  15. If there was an iota of evidence that Hakainde is not a “leader” but just an opportunistic businessman this is one of them. It is difficult to imagine how many souls in Zambia still hold this guy in high esteem. He has no regard WHATSOEVER for his employers (the electorate). When people say at less than three years in power he is the worst president Zambia has ever had that is an understatement. Hakainde had no Idea of what he would expect to Govern people. The experience of Governing cattle ranches was not the same as that of Governing people. Today he has sent his lieutenants to go and buy back the maize he sold. And the hungry people must just forget this colossal mistake? God help us!!

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