Whether one accepts it or not, the democratic space in Zambia has considerably shrunk under Edgar Lungu’s rule. And with or without the state of emergency, all the fundamental freedoms and rights have suffered some curtailment under Edgar’s rule.
Why? Edgar came into power from a very weak political and social background. And to assert himself, he had to show that he was strong, tough, unyielding and in charge. Looking at where he was coming from, it would seem, Edgar could not believe his luck that he was actually President of the Republic of Zambia. And he still seems to be struggling with this reality. His only discernible preoccupation is to assert himself, show everyone, especially those who are openly opposed to him, that he is in charge, he is the President, the boss, the alpha and the omega.
This is certainly not a recipe for governing well – it’s one for tyranny. In pursuance of this, Edgar has assembled around himself not the best people in the ethical, moral, political or professional sense but the most ruthless, shrewd, daring, unquestioning to assist him.
Edgar doesn’t seem to have a background of seeking knowledge by reading a lot, engaging in extensive discussions or debates, listening a lot. The years he spent not practicing law after the Law Association of Zambia suspended his license seem to have done a lot of damage to him as a human being intellectually, ethically and otherwise. Listening to Edgar talk, the intellectual bankruptcy on many issues comes out very quickly and clearly. His political philosophy comes out as one of repression, dictatorship, ruthlessness, of crushing, of a man with a big stick, a punisher, a dispenser of favours and not a leader, a teacher, a torch-bearer or a redeemer.
Edgar has shown everyone the way he wants to go and that is attracting a certain type of people – opportunists, unscrupulous characters of all hues ready to do the dirty and evil work required to keep him in power.
Edgar has surrounded himself with people without restraint; people who can’t tell him, ‘This can’t be done boss; it’s not right, it will destroy the country and put us in trouble.’ Instead, they are competing with each other to do the dirtiest of jobs. Look at the roles those around him played in manipulating the electoral process! Some of them were extremely daring. Look at the things they were ready to do to close The Post! They completely took command of the Zambia Revenue Authority, the police and the courts to ensure that The Post was dead and buried.
Look at the arrest and detention of Hakainde Hichilema! Who are calling the shots? It’s the same people! Even in the police, it is not everyone they are dealing with or are using – they have specially selected officers doing their dirty jobs. And if you go to the courts, you will find that it is these same officers who are involved in every case where Edgar has an interest. Even with judges, it is almost the same ones handling all the cases that matter to Edgar and his minions.
Edgar has made enormous mistakes and has unleashed a process that is self-destructive for the democracy and good governance of this country. If you start a process in which all of a country’s values begin to be destroyed, that process is negative. Edgar has unleashed a process that has destroyed or is destroying the credibility, integrity and authority of state institutions. And if you destroy the credibility, integrity and authority of state institutions, the consequences are terrible. We don’t think Edgar really intended to totally destroy these institutions and the values on which they are founded, but that is the final result of the process that began with his insecurity, which sought to protect him from his own deficiencies and consolidate his hold on power. This is a matter not of analysis or criticism of problems, but of the destruction and negation of all the values, merits and history of our country. This is not the way Zambia has been governed. And the whole world is telling us that this is not the Zambia they know – something fundamental has gone wrong, amiss.
We can’t believe that Edgar and his political sponsors, the men and women who initiated this process and cheered him on, had this intention. They made enormous mistakes by failing to foresee the consequences of what they were doing and by not doing the right thing to reach the goals and purposes they were seeking. Now they seem to be in a catch 22. If they change their evil ways and do the right thing, they may be found wanting and get kicked out of office. And if they continue doing things the wrong way, the crisis deepens.
Many strategic and tactical mistakes that were made were viewed as the best way of holding on to power. But trying to hold on to power at any cost, by restricting the democratic space, the annihilation of political opponents, competitors and dissenting voices, manipulation of state institutions like the judiciary, the police, the electoral commission and the general abuse of state power leads to disaster. When all those negative tendencies are unleashed, opportunistic elements, as we have witnessed, are also introduced to destroy democracy, good governance and the rule of law.
Staying in power long in a multiparty political dispensation is certainly not easy. And nobody should think they can have it easy. Those who want to hold on to power must do it the right way, even if that means them losing power and calls for their greatest efforts, self-limitation and modesty. The path of intolerance, repression, tyranny, manipulation that Edgar has taken to keep himself in power is a very dangerous one and is not sustainable. And it will lead to nothing but a very, very disastrous ending!