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President’s nationality debate ill-conceived

LAST weekend, President Edgar Lungu broke his silence on the divisive issue of his nationality.
The President did not hide his ire, saying he is fully aware of where he was born and which schools he attended but would not legitimise his detractors’ malicious demands by responding to them.
“Don’t give legitimacy to hallucinating people who are dreaming. Are you sure you want us to be talking about this? Come on, let’s be real,” he told a throng of cheering supporters in Ndola.
President Lungu’s ire is easy to understand amid a sustained crusade orchestrated by People’s Party president Mike Mulongoti.
Mr Mulongoti and his backers want the head of State to explain where he was born and who his parents are despite affirmation by four Nsenga chiefs from Eastern Province that President Lungu is a bonafide Zambian, who hails from Petauke district.
Senior Chief Kalindawalo, chiefs Mumbi, Nyamphande and chieftainess Nyanje emphatically stated that he is their son and expressed shock that some former government leaders were disputing that fact.
Senior Chief Kalindawalo said last month that those alleging that President Lungu is Malawian were spreading a malicious lie and invited them to visit his chiefdom to get the truth.
“The head of State comes from within Kalindawalo, both parents from the father’s side come from headman Mukwama’s village and on the mother’s side, he’s coming from Simambumbu [village].
“The other family is at Chiputula Village. He is well-settled in Kalindawalo,” the traditional leader said.
He said in fact, the President comes from headman Mukwama’s lineage.
A ZANIS crew drove to both villages, where they found some of President Lungu’s close relations, including his sister, father’s brother (uncle) and aunts, who affirmed that he is their blood relative.
Some of his former neighbours at house number 4001 in Kitwe’s Chimwemwe township, where he grew up, are still there and have spoken.
His former teacher and some school and university mates have also testified in his defence.
However, what has baffled many citizens is that despite all this, Mr Mulongoti has escalated his offensive by enlisting the support of Fresher Siwale, a leader of an unknown political party, and some aggrieved chiefs from Southern Province.
While President Lungu was on the Copperbelt to commission a multi-million dollar food-processing plant and speak to residents, Senior Chief Mukuni of the Toka-Leya people of Livingstone and Kazungula, and Chief Hamusonde of the Tonga people of Monze district, Southern Province, staged an over-dramatised press briefing in Lusaka.
They demanded that President Lungu redeem the country from his parentage “nightmare” by breaking his “deafening silence”, and did little to mask their rancour.
Dodging genuine concerns from journalists that the two chiefs’ partisan position had the potential to sow division in the nation, Chief Mukuni said all they wanted was the President to tell his side of the story and shame his accusers.
“Equally, if on the other hand the allegations turn out to be true that our President is indeed Jonathan Mutawale, he must dissolve his government and presidency forthwith so that Zambians can forge ahead,” Chief Mukuni said.
Those words exposed the true goal of the whole charade, which is to depose the President and change the government for the benefit of their preferred politician.
Had their demand been made by chiefs from a neutral region like Central Province, there would have been less speculation about the true purpose of their press briefing.
But chiefs Mukuni and Hamusonde have openly aligned themselves with a particular opposition political party and its leader.
They have consistently been issuing demeaning and provocative statements against President Lungu and the government since the Patriotic Front (PF) defeated the United Party for National Development (UPND) in 2016.
Some citizens believe the divisive and potentially destructive press briefing was not about seeking the truth but yet another arrow from the same quiver as the monotonous corruption mantra, which seems to have collapsed on its back.
How will the Nsenga chiefs and others react to the attack on their integrity by the two Southern chiefs?
Already, Chief Chikwanda of the Bemba people of Mpika has warned that the behaviour of Chief Mukuni and his allies could push Zambia into civil conflict.
Will citizens be faulted if they believe that this is part of a well-planned conspiracy to constantly persecute the President for merely winning the presidential election in 2016?
This crusade may backfire. It has the potential to galvanise the people to rally behind President Lungu, whom they are now perceiving to be a target of persecution.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail production editor.