Michael Sata: Asset or Liability to Zambia’s Democracy?

Published on 8th April 2013

President M.Sata                         P.Courtesy
“O ill-dispersing wind of misery!
O my accursed womb, the bed of death!
A cockatrice hast thou hatch'd to the world,
Whose unavoided eye is murderous.”

(From Richard III)

Zambia is not a monarchy, and President Sata is not anything closer to royalty; he is an elected president in a presidential democratic state. There are three indicators of the growth of democracy anywhere: conducting of free and fair elections; vibrant opposition and civil society; and  the extent to which the ruling guardians safeguard are willing to protect the fundamental liberties of the people, especially the freedoms of speech, association and conscience. These three must be augmented and sustained by a thriving economic growth. The absence of these three portend a political quagmire, and of the fourth, an economic quandary, respectively.

Is President Michael Sata delivering on these three and the fourth in Zambia thus far? Is Zambia validating a serpentine regime? Credit should be given to the Zambian people for conducting free and fair elections over the passage of time. And this is even when Kaunda wiled them into choosing between him and a frog. On September 20th, 2011, again the people of Zambia entrusted President Sata with Zambia`s democratic egalitarianism. After barely a year and half in office, it is evident that Sata is failing the Zambians on the second, third and the fourth enumerated fronts.

Malicious Arrests: Sign of an Emerging Dictatorship in Zambia

The presidency of Michael Sata is increasingly becoming autocratic. The major weapon that Sata’s regime is using, and by no means a new method, is the arrest of key political figures. The arrest of three prominent opposition leaders in a space of three months should send warning signals even to the most naïve of the Zambian political die-hards.

On December 26th, 2012, the police in Kitwe arrested and charged MMD president Nevers Mumba for what was deemed as “conduct likely to cause breach of peace.” Mumba was only released on police bond and with a scheduled court appearance for January 4th, 2013.

The melodrama was in the charge. Mumba was arrested because he allegedly issued an alarming statement that the Patriotic Front (PF) government had paid some people K1.4 billion to destabilize the MMD. Should they arrest him for that? What was legally injurious was the police`s injunction that Mumba should proffer evidence concerning the utterances he had made. Moreover, Mumba and four of the MMD MPs were arrested for alleged unlawful assembly. This was after they had visited Chief Nkana.  He was also charged for allegedly publishing information with intent to cause alarm.

In January 2013, President Sata arrested UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema. Hichilema was arrested and charged with defamation of the president. Hichilema appeared in the Lusaka magistrate’s court where he was granted a K5 million bail. From all appearances, this sounded like a man bent on taking away the rights of his opponents. In democratic parlance, this may be construed as autocratic. The ignominy of it all was that the PF could not establish a prima farcie case as the court`s records were incomplete. A steeped caveat emanates from the arrest of Hichilema. It clearly shows that President Sata may be intolerant to adverse political opinions. Hichilima`s only sin was that he accused Sata of having instructed the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to stop its investigations against the alleged corrupt activities by the PF national secretary. Other key Zambians arrested for trivial aspects such as pre-election commentaries include Amos Malupenga, Chanda Chimba III, Lt Gen Ronnie Shikapwasha, Ngande Mwanajiti and Davis Mataka.

On March 25th, 2013, president Sata arrested the immediate former president Rupiah Banda. The arrest of Banda is especially malicious and ill-willed because it is an abuse of national resources camouflaged into public agenda. The so-called Government Joint Investigative Team (GJIT), like its predecessor the Taskforce on Economic Plunder, is an attempt at rationalizing a purely political mendacity. It is yet to be seen if the resources pumped into the GJIT prosecuting one individual will be justified. The previously constituted Taskforce on Economic Plunder under president Mwanawasa racked up an astronomical US$10 million plus at the expense of a staggering 60 percent of the population living below the poverty datum line. Unless there is any evidence to the contrary, the entire immunity lifting of former president Banda seems to be politically-motivated, and therefore, a wasteful exercise at the expense of a hard-earned Kwacha of the Zambian tax-payers.

A Trajectory towards a One-Party State

Prior to 1972, Kaunda`s progressive diminishing of political opposition culminated into justifications that a One-Party State was warranted. He excluded all political opponents including his once childhood friend, Simon Kapwepwe. The signs were always there. In 1967, Kaunda threatened to resign as UNIP president, and everyone including Kapwepwe missed an opportunity to cut off Kaunda`s vicious machinations. The result was a 27 years long rule under a dictatorial One-Party State. That was then, in 20th Century Zambia.

In 21st Century Zambia, the same tactics Kaunda used are emerging under the reign of Michael Sata. They are at their infancy, and unless they are stopped, Sata may set up a dictatorship in Zambia. Zambian politicians have historically ingratiated themselves with a sense of entitlement. They induce political prostitution by buying weak politicians and moving them from the opposition rank into the ruling elitist club. This form of neo-patrimonialism creates a culture of sycophantic relationships among the ruling patronage and the political minions bent on carrying out every intentions of the president. The end result is a weak opposition, and an unchallengeable ruling establishment – leading to a more constricted form of plural democracy.

Within a space of less than two years, President Sata’s governance record is lacking in terms of strengthening pluralism; it is creating a tempting environment for opportunists. The tendency to use heavy police assault on everyone who differs with the president`s style of governance, is detrimental to Zambia`s young and growing democracy.

Between 1972 and 1990, Kaunda successfully used a repressive colonial legal apparatus that disenfranchised people`s rights and liberties.  Under President Sata`s instructions, the same colonial law through the Public Order Act, is now breathing a new life under the PF government. Under Kaunda, people were denied the right to hold public meetings, and those who were found guilty were detained without trial. Still Kaunda and his sycophants called the system a One-Party Participatory Democracy!

All the marks of a dictatorship are present in Sata`s style of administration – signs of an emerging dictatorial regime. If Sata continues on this trajectory, the sanity of Zambia`s young democracy is in peril. There were many who predicted that President Sata would lead Zambia into autocratism, including former president Kaunda himself. Chiluba did not hide the fact that he would not hand over the presidency to Michael Sata because he feared for the same. He named Mwanawasa as his successor instead. What has changed?

It’s Not Too Late to Help the President

President Sata is personally a good man – I had the pleasure of meeting him at State House in his office on April 4th, 2012 when I handed him a copy of King Cobra Has Struck: My Letter to President Michael C. Sata, a book I wrote about his 2011 presidential triumph. However, his style of leadership does not offer room for differing opinions or dissenting views. Those close to him cannot question his authority, and by using the national laws and democratic institutions; he is clandestinely slithering his way into absolute power. I challenge Zambians to put the president in check, to stand up against intimidation and to insist that Zambians have the constitutional right to offer counter opinions against those of the ruling party. Zambia is greater than President Sata – and Zambians must exert their mastership over the presidency.

By Charles Mwewa

President: Zambian-Canadian Foundation and author of  Zambia – Struggles of My People; and King Cobra Has Struck: My Letter to President Michael C. Sata.

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