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A balanced perspective on Lungu presidency

SINCE attaining independence in 1964, Zambia has stood out as a haven of peace and political stability in a region.
It is our collective responsibility as citizens of this beautiful land to strive to maintain this tranquility which is the envy of many of our neighbours.
Listening to some of our fellow citizens in influential positions, however, a first-time visitor to Zambia would have to be forgiven for thinking this nation is tottering on the verge of collapse. Like every country on the continent, and in the world at large, Zambia has her fair share of economic and social challenges, with poverty probably topping the list. That is undeniable.
What is wrong is to suggest that there is one man responsible for the challenges confronting our society today. Any enlightened and sober-minded person understands that those in government operate under the principle of collective responsibility. Thus, President Edgar Lungu cannot dissociate himself from the failures of the PF government since assuming office almost four years ago. He understandably shares responsibility for both the successes and failures of the PF administration.
It would be naive, however, to ignore that the reins of government have changed hands mid-way through one presidential term of office. President Sata spearheaded the PF electoral victory in 2011. In no small measure, the path that the government took since that time bears his imprint. To that degree, President Lungu, who came into office only seven months ago, found himself with very restricted room to stamp his own authority on the trajectory of the national development. This is not unique to Zambia – it happens all over the world where unplanned transitions occur.
Nevertheless, any sincere observer of Zambian politics, must admit that even with the restricted space for manoeuvre which President Lungu inherited, the man has deftly done fairly well to upgrade what he found. A few examples will suffice. The composition of government now bears the hallmarks of national character which was not the case in 2011. The president has also made some laudable appointments in his government. Surely, can anyone in their right mind fault the president for his choice of vice-president? Or bank of Zambia governor and chief justice, to mention only a few?
It is undeniable that a genuine effort is being made to repair the foundations of Zambia society, to make it more inclusive in line with our national motto of one Zambia one nation. The paramount chief Chitimukulu saga is now behind us. The president is also making spirited efforts to reach out to regions that did not vote for him, with North-Western Province being a case in point. Isn’t this what the people of Zambia have been demanding from successive governments? Our image in the region and on the continent as a whole has received a make-over under President Lungu. Other leaders and governments on the continent and beyond are keen to do business with Zambia again, as evidenced by the number of visiting international dignitaries.
It is also wrong to pretend that President Lungu has not pushed the constitution-making process forward. The publication of the constitution bill and the constitution (amendment) bill, represent a big shift from the stance championed by some former PF senior leaders who were opposed to several progressive clauses during their time in office. Let’s be honest in our pronouncements.
Yes, there are real challenges still facing Zambia: load-shedding, the free-falling kwacha, youth unemployment, maize marketing and the impasse over finalising the constitution-making process, to mention only a few. What I find obnoxious is the deliberate distortion of facts by those who should know better.
Trying to make President Lungu the scapegoat for the hardships Zambia is going through is intellectual hypocrisy and can easily back-fire. I do not deny that President Lungu’s leadership will be defined by how successfully or otherwise. He creates an enabling environment for effectively addressing these challenges. It is, however, political dishonesty to suggest that President Lungu has created these problems or even failed to address them.
A number of the challenges we face today were already festering long before President Lungu put his name on the ballot. Some of the people who have turned out to be his staunchest critics today were either part of the PF government or busy singing praises to President Sata when some of the policies which today have turned out to be an unmitigated disaster were being implemented. Today they are desperate to distance themselves from what only yesterday they were vehemently defending.
Any reasonable person understands that President Lungu cannot shirk responsibility for the mistakes of his predecessor. He stood on the shoulders of President Sata to be elected the sixth president of Zambia. Political decency dictates that he covers the “nakedness” of the man who paved the way for him to ascend to the presidency, and that I think he has not done too badly. Late President Sata showed more confidence in Edgar Lungu than in many of his other lieutenants, judging by the number of responsibilities he entrusted to him just before his death. His task now is to, among other things, correct the wrongs of President Sata, whilst building on the latter’s achievements.
Some of the challenges Zambia faces today are structural in nature and no honest intelligent person can pretend that they have the magic bullet to make them disappear overnight. Any student of agricultural economics, for instance, understands that setting the maize floor price has historically been a contentious issue. Successive governments have had to balance the interests of farmers and those of the politically vocal urban consumers. It is a delicate balancing act. That is why it is impossible to completely do away with agricultural subsidies because of the differences in the levels of productivity between the urban and rural sectors which translate into unfavourable terms of trade for the farmers.
Similarly, the Zesco monopoly and uneconomic electricity tariffs is a clear recipe for lack of investments in the generation of electricity. Government has in this case, too, to balance the need for affordable electricity as one of the main drivers of the economy and the desire to keep supply abreast with increasing demand. Again successive governments have grappled with this challenge to no avail.
In the final analysis, it is not right to make political capital out of a situation that demands workable answers, without offering clear solutions. President Lungu is not perfect, like every one of us, but the man is clearly trying his best in an intelligent manner to steer this nation away from the troubled waters in which he found it marooned. This does not mean he can’t be criticised for obvious mistakes and such mistakes are there, but most of the criticism flying around is in bad-faith, coming from those who have either lost their privileged positions in the post-Sata era or those who see the success of the Lungu presidency as diminishing their chances of ruling this country. Therefore, it is my prayer that Zambians will open their eyes to see who means well for the nation and who is pursuing a narrow selfish agenda.
As a leader of a political party, I aspire to one day have an opportunity to lead this nation, but I refuse to do so through cheap political rhetoric, particularly the kind which borders on character-assassination. Contrary to some mistaken beliefs Zambian voters have always been the ultimate judges of who they think should lead them. We must wait for their verdict next year.
The author is president of Zambians for Empowerment and Development.