It is a hard-hitting reality to accept that earthly life moves us toward its destination, which is death.
The reality of death surrounds us all and we must have the bravado to openly talk about it. The history of State House along Independence Avenue in Lusaka has been subject to a running thread of sickness, incapacity and death. This is a fact that has made us see each other’s eyes of sorrow, not once but twice.
In 2014, before passing on, President Michael Chilufya Sata disappeared from public view and missed several events including an address to the United Nations and Zambia’s 50th independence celebrations. When he resurfaced, he joked in parliament that “I am not dead”. Narratives hint that Sata tried Euro-western and Asian medical regimens in pursuit of a cure but without success.
Even when it was physically evident that he was sick, his handlers continued to lie to the public that he was in good health but died soon after of an undisclosed sickness. Reports after his death reveal that Sata had been unwell and unable to fully perform his duties for some time before his death. This made him unknowingly fire one of his lieutenants Wynter Kabimba as minister and secretary general.
Sata’s predecessor, Levy Mwanawasa, had a stroke at an African Union summit in Ethiopia and was whisked away to France where he died. Mwanawasa’s handlers spent limitless energy during his term dismissing chit-chats of his ill health. When he was nursing a stroke, people were told that he was jogging in London. Not long after, he died in France.
Therefore, it is all too familiar story to have government swear that a president is fit as a British bulldog and later die in office under a cloud of mixed messages. I am therefore concerned about the conspiracy of silence and lies that surround presidential sickness.
First, as a democratic country, the principle of accountability holds that the president is responsible to the citizenry for decisions and actions. For the president to be held accountable, the principle of transparency requires that his decisions and actions are open to public scrutiny and the public has right to access information about his actions including health.
Therefore, health status disclosure, that can limit the president’s ability to be effective in office, is an important component of the democratic process. Second, as tax payers, we have the right to know because our money foots presidential medical bills. Third, we are a Christian nation that claims to adhere to the teachings and life of Jesus Christ professed as the epitome of the truth in John 14:6.
So, why does our blood boil when some people demand the truth about Lungu’s health if we are citizens and tax payers in a democratic country couched in Christian values?
Therefore, it is our right to know Lungu’s sickness, the seriousness of his condition, and how much tax’s payer’s money is spent on his medical bills every day. I am not wishing Lungu death because we will all die, anyway.
I am simply censuring government’s lack of transparency about his health condition because trust is important for the health of president and electorate relationship and indeed in every relationship under the sun.
A few weeks ago, after disappearing for weeks that he failed to provide leadership during the gassing fiasco, he emerged in poor health and addressed the nation on the corona virus scourge, and again vanished just to be told that he was taking his usual bed rest. One or two days ago, he reappeared inspecting developmental projects but still looking sick and tired, and again dematerialised into State House up to now.
In all conscience, is this not exactly what we were subjected to when Sata and Mwanawasa’s handlers refused to be honest with the public about their ill health until we lost them?
History should not repeat itself without learning from it. History must make us wiser and sure not to make the same blunders again. The secrecy and deception on all sides of Lungu’s sickness shows a disregard for the people who put him in power. Regrettably, it also erodes public trust in Lungu himself.
We live in an information age, and a country in which majority of the citizens are youths unlikely to accept lies from much older leaders for that matter.
Besides, the age of the mystery strongmen leaders is over.
Therefore, Lungu and his handlers must learn to talk and account to the public without adamantly concealing his sickness.
As a nation, the experience of losing two presidents in office must make us wiser in our thoughts and actions. Sadly, it will not be long after reading this piece, that it will be declared treasonous to discuss Lungu’s health as they did when Sata was sick. The stress and sorrow we go through as a country because of concealing the president’s health must make us demand more transparency regarding Lungu’s sickness.
There are no convincing safety and security reasons not to disclose Lungu’s sickness because we are a democratic country with a constitution that clearly outlines the transition processes needed to be followed when the president has passed on that are understood and familiar to citizens. If the incumbent was to be called by his maker, God forbid, the Vice President Inonge Wina would succeed him.
This is a constitutional safeguard in place, therefore the thought of administrative paralysis, political apprehension, internal battles and instability causing secrecy and lies about Lungu’s sickness are miscalculated because we have constitutional institutions able to guide us during transition.
Given these facts, Lungu’s health cannot be left out of the political discourse. Transparent information on his health condition must be made public.
We should not make it a culture where presidents die in office due to ill health when we have statutory measures to mitigate this phenomenon. To Lungu’s handlers, it is poor public relations and leadership, lack of accountability and transparency to hide his sickness.
Though the public is demanding more information about Lungu’s sickness, we are a people who are also more forgiving knowing that we all get sick and we have medicine for most of our illnesses.