By Ernest Chanda ( The Mast)

Former president Edgar Lungu has described Sishuwa Sishuwa, a fierce critic of his leadership when he was in power, as a principled person.

In a handwritten and signed note dated 6 April 2023 following his interaction with the prominent historian, Lungu revealed that he always read what Dr Sishuwa wrote when he was in office but had difficulties appreciating the writings.

“Dear Dr Sishuwa, It was a pleasure meeting you in person for the first time. I enjoyed our enlightening and thought-provoking conversation”, Lungu stated. “In retrospect, we should have met much earlier, maybe I could not have taken you as a hired gun”.

He stated that his interaction with Dr Sishuwa revealed that the academic is a principled critic, saying there were many lessons to draw from the experience.

“Otherwise, I read all your writings, although I had difficulties appreciating the motive for the reason I referred to. My interactions with you however, revealed you as a principled critic. There are many lessons, and we will continue to learn and perfect,” stated Lungu. “Best wishes my brother with your research. You are welcome any time. Let’s continue talking.”

Earlier, Dr Sishuwa gave context to the meeting after he tweeted that he met the former president as part of his research into the 2021 election and transfer of power.

“The search for historical truth sometimes takes us to the most unlikely of sources. I had an insightful discussion with former president Edgar Lungu as part of my research into the 2021 election and transfer of power. The note and pics are shared with his permission”, he wrote on his Twitter page.

And in a follow-up interview, Dr Sishuwa, a Senior Lecturer in History at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, commended Lungu for acknowledging his failings.

“The note from our former president shows the value of engagement, especially with people we disagree with. I take my hat off to Lungu for acknowledging his error. His belated realisation that I simply hold the mirror for each incumbent president is particularly relevant to those in office today who think, as he did when he was in power, that I am sponsored by the opposition whenever I provide legitimate criticism and positive reflections on their performance. The result is that those in power consistently miss the message and mistake the messenger for the message. It is remarkable to witness how power slowly slips away from those who wield it and who, quite astonishingly, do not realise that it is slipping away until it is too late”, Dr Sishuwa said.

He bemoaned the tendency by successive sitting presidents to mistake him for an opposition supporter when all he does is to share his opinions on matters of governance.

“When I pointed out critical failings of the state under president Rupiah Banda, I was accused of supporting the opposition PF led by Michael Sata. When I pointed out critical failings of the state under president Sata, I was accused of supporting the opposition UPND led by Hakainde Hichilema. When I pointed out critical failings of the state under president Lungu, I was again accused of supporting the opposition UPND led by Hichilema. Today, whenever I point out critical failings of the state under President Hichilema, I am accused of supporting the opposition Socialist Party led by Fred M’membe. In all these instances, detractors never present evidence of my supposed support for any of the presidential candidates I am usually given, notwithstanding the fact that my opinions are a matter of public record. People simply ascribe motive to my criticisms, that criticising the president means I must be supporting the opposition. This characterisation is entirely false”, he explained.

Dr Sishuwa said the concentration of power around the presidency weakens Zambia’s democracy.

“I would like to believe that I have been quite consistent in my criticism of the failings of our leaders, starting from Banda, to Sata and Lungu, and now HH. And I am never personal in my criticism of our leaders. I always focus on the issues that matter most and use respectful and civil language. I am not there to change regimes. I only share my opinions on governance issues. Our leaders and their supporters will do well to engage the substance of what I say as opposed to attacking my person. A more fruitful relationship is to exploit my independent criticism and opinions while protecting my independence. PF supporters who previously saw me as supporting UPND are now paying attention to what I say, not because I have changed in any way but because their party has lost power and now, they have the time to listen. They have swapped places with UPND supporters, to whom I was a darling when their party was in opposition, who are now alleging that I support the PF. Power evidently changes everything. What all this shows is a complete lack of principles from the PF and UPND supporters as one’s opinions are determined entirely by whether the person is a member of the current ruling party. What was condemned yesterday is now praised. The core issue is that we have the concentration of power around the presidency, with each new leader consolidating it, rather than distributing it to ensure checks and balances. This, in my view, impoverishes our democracy and must change”.

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