By Anthony Mukwita
From High Street to Wall Street and Cape to Cairo, the influence Lawyers directly have on our lives remains significant.
They have continued to affect socio-economic and political direction of many people since the days of Jesus Christ and it appears their influence is not slowing down.
In the United States, the Head of the last bastion of democracy on earth—not the largest democracy because that will be India—is a Lawyer; Barak Obama while his ‘corridor of power’ is equally littered with Lawyers, his class-mates, intimate friends and just lawyers.
Back home in Zambia the third President, revered for his spirited fight against graft, Levy Mwanawasa was a lawyer of high reputation who rose to the lofty level of State Counsel.
This profile, however, is not about Levy Mwanawasa, Bill Clinton or Barak Obama or just Lawyers—It is about Edgar Lungu, the Minister of Defence of the southern African state called Zambia, which up to present day remains known as the haven of peace in the region charactirised with conflict. Zambia has never experienced serious internal conflict that has led to senseless loss of lives, unlike others, almost 50 years since independence to the day.
The name Edgar Lungu when it is spoken—and it is often spoken nowadays—evokes all sorts of mixed emotions depending on where it is uttered, in a business office, church, diplomatic circles, opposition just a chat over a cuppa.
Lungu or simply “Ba Edgar” as he is known fondly by enemies and friends alike is an unassuming man, a silent type kind of man but one who is nevertheless not shy to give an opinion on various issues, controversial or not as long as he feels competent enough to do so.
Some will recall him for telling the West not to impose homosexual beliefs on Zambians while others will recall him for standing up on sensitive issues in the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) especially around mid-October 2013 when an apparent rift appeared to have emerged and called for unity of purpose while others no him as a Galvanizer—a lone campaigner capable of bringing fellow members together at a crucial time.
Others ask. Who is Edgar? were did he come from? Is he not just a political up-start? A lawyer looking for a quick fix?
Those that have followed Zambian politics, however, will vividly recall him as an accomplished lawyer that practiced law at the down-town Andre Masiye and Company firm in Lusaka, before he decided the court room was not big enough for him to change people’s lives.
That was during the Mwanawasa administration that evidently appeared to be full of cracks and was attracting all sorts of negative energy from ordinary Zambians and an increasingly impatient civil society.
He joined the then popular Anderson Mazoka led United Party for National Development (UPND) and stuck in there for a while until after soul searching and deep thinking, he left the party to join the little known about PF under veteran fire-brand leader and party founder Michael Chilufya Sata.
Somehow, Lungu’s sixth sense—after he had taken a first lost shot at Chawama as an MP contender—told him that Sata, a known and house-hold grass-roots organizer who had the ability to attract masses had the right formula to change administration for what could be the best.
If his parting shot was anything to go by, he probably had it all figured out with his perceptive Lawyer and military instinct when he said, “In politics, you need a proper mix of politicians and managers, which is what I find in Patriotic Front and President Sata…”
And just like that a new era started for the Lawyer, whom before going to Andre Masiye and company had charted an interesting life or career path having worked for the Ministry of Justice, Barclays Bank Zambia Ltd., and the humongous Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM) at its peak as a law man of course.
This was after he graduated among the best from the University of Zambia on that bright summer day of October 17, 1981 and going forward to bag at first attempt his legal practicing credentials in 1993, which many lawyers often don’t earn at first attempt and examples abound.
Those that knew him as a tall lanky, (at six foot six) easy going bloke said he was always out for action and innovation including thinking outside the proverbial box which probably explains why this lawyer took a short at a Military Officer Training stint at what was then called Miltez in Kabwe.
At Miltez he underwent grueling physical and mental training with other notables such as Joe Chilaizya, Zambia’s Deputy High Commissioner to China and immediate past (kick-ass) Director General of the state broadcaster ZNBC.
Perhaps it’s his rare mix of law and military discipline that quickly set him strongly on a political path with President Sata then just an opposition leader whom many opportunists did in fact not want to be associated with.
In fact in some taped “Let the People Talk” interviews, President Sata is often quoted saying, “thank you to one of my lawyers Edgar Lungu and all well-wishers…”
But then maybe it’s the star or galaxies that often link lawyers to politics that gelled him to the current career path as studies in the past show in other parts of the world.
One study shows that in democracies such as the one we leave in, Lawyers dominate and this is not quite surprising because the law deals with the same sort of questions as politics.
Lawyers like Lungu often deal with what makes a just society; the balance between liberty and security, while Lawyerly skills—marshaling evidence, appealing to juries (in the case of the United States), command of procedure—transfer well to the political stage.
Another Economist study adds its weight to this thought adding that, “so evidently does an obsession with process and a tendency to see things in partisan terms—‘us or them,’ and ‘guilty or not guilty’—albeit in a spirit of loyalty to a system to which all defer’ that attract Lawyers to politics.
But it’s not only in the United States were lawyers rule or in Zambia as another study shows that in France, nine of Nicolas Sarkozy’s (before Hollande) first cabinet of 16 were lawyers or law graduates, including the president, the prime minister and the finance minister, an ex-chairman of Baker & McKenzie, an American law firm.
Perhaps its Lungu’s quest for justice that saw him step in and stop a sizzling soccer political mine-field when FAZ set their proverbial dogs on the TP Mazembe trio of Rainford Kalaba, Stophilla Sunzu and Nathan Sinkala, when their passports were with-held by the Immigration Department for allegedly leaving the country without Immigration clearance.
In bringing the fiasco which was quickly turning politically ugly to an end, Lungu put on his political hat, gave the boys back their passports saying, “just a couple of months ago these boys united the country and put Zambia on the world map as a great foot-balling nation and yet today someone wants to treat them like criminals…I don’t think it’s right…give them back their passports.”
Just like that the matter was closed on the simple word of the then Minister of Home Affairs under whom the Immigration department fell.
But just remember that Edgar Lungu was not always a Minister of an influential portfolio. He started off in September 2011 after Michael Sata made history by un-seating a serving government that has been at the helm of power for more than two decades as a junior Minister in the Vice President’s office, very under stated.
Within a year under what some pundits have called the fastest rise and rise in office, President Sata tapped him for the Home Affairs Ministry, perhaps at a time seen by many as crucial because of some intra party differences that eventually withered off.
In just under another year, Christmas came early for Edgar Lungu last year when President Sata made him the first lawyer Minister of Defence of Zambia, in charge of all armed forces and protecting the sovereignty of Zambia on behalf of the President—such trust.
All these tags did not appear to make him grow big headed as he continued his daily routine of going home from the office and later retreating to his real home—Chawama constituency where he is almost a high-priest of sorts, a deity there sorting anything out starting from a marital wrangle to just personal differences amongst constituents when he is not building a health post or making a road.
What is interesting and not known to many is that just days before Christmas, a journalist called Lungu and asked him to sum up in his own words, the political year of 2013 but Lungu in his famed but perspective humility declined to put anything on record.
The classic Lungu response was, “a day in a politician’s life is too long…I cannot competently sum up 2013 before the year ends because we just don’t know as politicians what happens the next day…”
Lungu had no idea when he made this statement that the next day he would be the Minister of Defence in addition to other responsibilities as Chair for the PF Central Committee on Discipline.
In accepting the Sata appointment, Lungu said, “It is a remarkable honour for me, I feel humbled by the magnitude of the responsibility bestowed upon me to serve the people of Zambia.”
But Sata was not through with testing Lungu’s leadership qualities yet because when he was leaving Zambia for a long China tour of duty in April in order to meet the new leader of China Xi Jinping, President Sata again asked Edgar Lungu to stand in for him and protect the instruments of power, a feat repeated twice in a clear show of confidence.
Lungu again sucked it in and said, “The appointment is humbling and I’m grateful to his Excellency for allowing me to make my humble contribution to service of nation at this (Presidential) capacity.
But then of course in politics you cannot attract such as attention and not get scathed so sections of the media have also tried more than once to project Lungu as care-free and easy going fellow who must not be taken seriously but the more mud they throw at him, the higher he appears to rise. More like the biblical stone that the builder had refused becoming the bead corner stone.
His official trappings have not been without controversy starting with his strong rejection of homosexualism when he told the West that, “as a nation and government, we will not accept foreign misdemeanors because we have never known same sex marriages of man to man, or woman to woman and the bible does not allow…we would rather remain poor as a nation than accept some of these norms perpetuated by people with money who want to destroy our society.”
As a quotamic at ease with the use of language, he also attracted attention when during the height of some intra-party differences as he called for unity he said, “You cannot play with Hare and hunt with Fox” including a time he denied Rupiah Banda passage abroad fearing that he might “be a flight risk.”
As a military officer, Lungu can probably be liked to others such Ariel Sharon of Israel who served with the Israeli military from 1948, rising through the ranks until retiring as a Major-General in 1973, became defense minister in 1981 and elected prime minister in 1999.
But Lungu has stated for the record that he is interested in only serving the people of Chawama and in any position President Sata gives him because, “My (Edgar Lungu) loyalty is to the President…I am too grateful to hold the position I have because for the life of me I never knew I would have it until the President so decided.”
As this missive was being posted, Mr. Lungu was serving Zambia as probably the most powerful man in the land only next to President Sata—Minister of Defence and Minister of Finance, standing in for seasoned economist Alexander Chikwanda who is out on a tour of duty in the United States.
There is a lesson to be learnt from Edgar Lungu born on 11th November 1956—humility can take you everywhere.
“As President Sata in his wisdom of wisdom continues to test this good foot soldier, lawyer and politician, father, husband and grand-parent,” a close family friend said, “may the blood of the lamb of the good Lord guide him to always do the right thing and put people first in all he does while respecting those that appointed him to leadership.”
Approaching 58 years in November, Edgar Lungu, the husband, father, grand-father, lawyer and politician is bound to keep tongues wagging for a while with his humble blend of politics.
Anthony Mukwita, the author is the former Managing Director of the Zambia Daily Mail who has written vastly for local and international media organisations. He holds a Master’s Degree with distinctions in communication studies and has won media awards. Below, the many faces of Edgar Lungu.