- By Kennedy Gondwe
- BBC News, Lusaka
To the cheers of his supporters, former Zambian President Edgar Lungu announced his return to politics.
He retired from politics in 2021 after suffering a crushing defeat in the presidential election.
After six years in office, he left the country heavily in debt and with a precarious economy.
But Mr Lungu is now seeking to capitalize on growing discontent with his successor, Hakainde Hichilema.
His return had been long awaited but this was the first official announcement.
“I am ready to fight from the front, not from behind, to defend democracy. Those who are ready for this fight, please come with me, I am ready for anything,” Mr. Lungu said on Saturday to his supporters. He was speaking at a memorial ceremony for former president and leader of his Patriotic Front (PF) party, Michael Sata, who died in office in 2014.
Since Mr Lungu lost power two years ago, there has been a row within the PF over who should lead the party, which ended up in court.
Mr Lungu’s entry may well increase tensions and prolong the legal battle, as there is currently another person, Miles Sampa, who claims to have been elected PF president at a recent meeting.
Some, including the former president, have accused the government of stoking divisions, which he denies.
Mr Lungu “enjoys the constitutional and democratic right to be able to participate in the political sphere of our country and if he wishes, he is welcome back into the political arena”, said Information Minister Cornelius Mweetwa on the Zambian public channel ZNBC.
Mr. Hichilema won the 2021 election, his sixth presidential campaign, with 59% of the vote on hopes of tackling the country’s economic problems.
But these high expectations take a long time to be met and patience wears thin.
The president successfully negotiated a bailout deal for the copper-rich country with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He was also able to restructure loan agreements with Chinese and other creditors.
Mr. Hichilema says he inherited a country in deep economic difficulties and in which the very important mining sector was in difficulty.
But the ordinary consumer faces sky-high prices for basic foods and fuel, making life difficult for many and frustrating political leaders.
The government was also criticized this week for its “increasing intolerance of dissent” from 13 leading civil society organisations. In a joint statement, they said there was a “shrinking space for freedom of expression and assembly in the country”.
The presidency has said in the past that it respects human rights and does not interfere in police operations.
His Saturday runs with ordinary members of the public and PF supporters had attracted much attention. The former president was asked to seek police approval for future jogging activities.