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25 Jan 2015 22:45
Zambia's newly elected President Edgar Lungu (centre) reviews a guard of honour after being sworn in on Sunday at the Heroes National Stadium in Lusaka. (Salim Dawood, AFP)
Zambia’s sixth president Edgar Lungu rose from obscurity to Justice
and Home Affairs Minister then to President in the space of just over three
months, winning by one of the narrowest margin ever in Zambian politics.
At his inauguration, Lungu the candidate
of the incumbent Patriotic Front (PF) party, he pledged
to continue the legacy and vision of his late mentor, President
But Lungu has a minority mandate.
Less than half of the 5 million
registered voters turned out on the day of the polls.
Lungu, like third president Levy Mwanawasa is a lawyer. Mwanawasa is
famous for having clamped down on corruption including arraigning his
predecessor late Frederick Chiluba before a London court for alleged corrupt
practices. Mwanawasa is also fondly remembered as a defender of the judiciary.
Lungu has not promised to follow Mwanawasa’s path. Instead, he glossed over corruption at his
many rallies. All he said was that he was a servant of the people and that
politicians were driven by personal motives.
“We are there as personal beings who want to advance themselves as
we provide a service,” he said at one of his final rallies.
Another issue that Lungu will have to deal with is the rising
crescendo among civil society groups for a new and more democratic national
constitution. During the campaign though, Lungu said he would not make that a priority
of his presidency in the midst of high poverty levels, poor communication and
road infrastructure, and low educational standards.
He was one of only two candidates, out of the eleven (11), who
refused to commit in writing to the Grand Coalition for a People Driven Constitution
by the end of 2016.
At his inauguration he only promised to work towards the new
constitution “in line with the road map that we released a few weeks ago.”
He however acknowledged the high cost of frequent presidential by
elections; the disturbing outcomes of narrow margins between losers and winners;
and the need to have an arrangement that these should never happen.
To spur on the constitutional road map, he uncharacteristically
appointed a confidant and fellow lawyer Ngosa Syambakula, during his
inauguration speech. A few hours later, Lungu announced that cabinet had been
dissolved. This faux paux means that even ‘newly appointed’ Siyambakula was no
longer a cabinet minister.
PromisesDuring the campaigns, the 58- year Lungu made a pot purie of
promises. Apart from assurances to continue with Sata’s “vision” and
development programmes, he said he would reduce fuel and staple food
prices. The Zambian staple is mealie
meal, which is always a political hot potato.
Lungu also promised increased access to education; expansion of
social welfare cash transfer schemes to all rural districts; act on allegations
that non-Zambians get richer much more quickly than locals; and ease land
acquisitions by Zambians.
He also promised to protect media freedom and to continue outlawing homosexuality.
Lungu has no conceivable competencies in economics or business management.
This has raised concerns about his abilities to ably turn the Zambians economy
around. Zambia is listed among the 48 poorest countries in the world in spite
of its rich mineral and other natural resources. Its foreign debt burden is
reputed to have reached $7 billion from about $3.5 billion three years ago.
However, Lungu’s lack of economics’ knowledge or expertise has not
stopped him from promising tough action on mining taxes. A few months ago,
Zambia reformed the mining tax regime, forcing the mining companies to
calculate tax based on production rather than sales. One large mining firm has
declared a dispute against the government.
In an apparent response to the mining company which has reportedly
threatened to close its operations in Zambia, Lungu at his inauguration warned
that companies operating in Zambia should pay adequate taxes to enable the
government provide services to the people
“In case some people do not understand this, they should know so,”
he said as he departing from the prepared speech.
Lungu also wore the hat of populism made famous by his mentor, Sata.
He claimed he would not drop criminal charges against former republican
president Rupiah Banda. But then, he also profusely lauded Banda as having
“delivered’ him the presidency when Banda campaigned for him instead of Banda’s
party the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) candidate Nevers Mumba.
Critics however suggest that Lungu entered into a secret deal with
Banda. In exchange for Banda’s support, Lungu is expected to drop criminal
charges against Banda, restore Banda’s immunity from prosecution and reinstate
Banda’s pension and other benefits which were blocked when Banda challenged
Lungu in the early days of the campaign.
Zambia’s former presidents are paid 80 percent of the reigning
president’s salary for the rest of their lives. They are also provided with
security, office space and equipment, cars, air tickets for holidays anywhere
in the world and mansions built in variety of places, anywhere in Zambia. All these are at the state’s
Lungu like his competitors promised to end tribalism and nepotism in
government. He is expected to fire Sata’s relatives who have bloated Zambia’s
diplomatic missions abroad.
He has also claimed that he will act against tax dodgers and those
who have failed to pay debts owed to government-aligned banks. This is in
direct reference to the privately owned Post Newspapers which has allegedly failed
to pay an USD13m debt owed to the Development Bank of Zambia (DBZ). The South
African development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) owns shares in the DBZ.
Most importantly, Lungu has promised to honour all his campaign
But that might be difficult. Delivering where his predecessors have
failed would need creating new and difference competencies. There is not much
room for manoeuvre. He has inherited members of parliament, ministers, senior
civil servants and party officials chosen by his predecessor and whose
loyalties lie elsewhere.
He announced a cabinet reshuffle on his first day in office.
However, critics say moving around the same faces will not get the job done.
Health and competenceHaving had two sick presidents die in office within a space of eight
years, Zambians pay special attention to Lungu’s health. During the campaigns
there were loud calls for medical examinations for all candidates. This is to
stem the high public costs for presidential health care and resultant state
In 2012, Lungu collapsed at State House during a swearing in ceremony.
Speculation has remained since that he is diabetic and has kidney problems. He has
publicly denied this.
What he has failed to ‘kill’ are suggestions that he may have a drinking
problem. Photographs have been published on the internet showing him in stupor
or various states of inebriation. In a published secret recording of Sata’s
uncle Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda, the minister is heard complaining
that Lungu “made decisions when drunk.”
A Zambian journalist rejoined: “I hope we have not put a Boris
Yeltsin into State House.” This was in reference to the Russian leader who was
at the helm of the superpower from 1991 and 1999. Yeltsin was known to have a
Lungu does not have any conceivable oratory or people skills. He is
accused of having no vision of his own for Zambia. These accusations were
compounded when Lungu boycotted two consecutive television presidential
candidates’ debates. His handlers claimed he was “too busy campaigning” on both
occasions. Critics argue that that he cannot articulate issues unaided.
However at his inauguration, Lungu promised to improve his
engagement with the public. As president, he would be the “man of the people’’,
regularly holding “ Katwambas,” or weekly
meetings, with the media and government
The media in particular are quite expectant of these regular
meetings as Sata never held any press conference or meeting in three years, up
to his death.
Feminist and political activist Sara Longwe doubts whether Lungu could
minimally deliver on his promises. She says however, that he would be forgiven
somewhat if he can deliver on just the constitution.
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