Guardian of UK: Has ‘King Cobra’ delivered on his 90-day promise?

By Georgina Smith in Lusaka

Michael Sata gave himself a 90-day honeymoon period to turn Zambia around. The deadline expires on Friday.

Known as King Cobra, he pledged to strike fast and turn the country around in 90 days.

Michael Sata, who swept to power as a champion of the working class in Zambia’s elections in September, set himself the deadline to tackle corruption and put more money in people’s pockets.

It was music to the ears of the largely young, uneducated and unemployed electorate. But Sata’s 90-day honeymoon expires on Friday. After the slogans and dancing that hailed his presidential victory, critics are asking: has he delivered?

Quick out of the starting blocks, the 74-year-old got to work firing the country’s police chief, top anti-corruption official and central bank governor, among scores of public servants.

He also replaced commanders and deputy commanders in the air force, army and drug enforcement commission. “I am allergic to corruption,” he declared, driving home his campaign pledge to stamp out vice.

Investigations have been launched thick and fast into the affairs of former ministers under the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, which ruled for two decades. Among those, the $1m (£639,000) Mpundu Trust Fund of the former president, Rupiah Banda, is facing scrutiny.

Deals struck under the old regime have been probed – including the $5.4m sale of Finance Bank Zambia to First Rand Bank of South Africa, which was promptly reversed.

So keen is Sata to prove his commitment to weeding out corruption in the ranks that he has even ordered an inspection into his son’s alleged post-victory purchase of two luxury vehicles.

But critics have accused Sata of conducting a witch hunt against political opponents. And eyebrows were raised when he appointed Xavier Chungu – who still faces corruption charges – as a provincial permanent secretary, even though the decision was reversed.

Andrew Ntewewe, board chairperson of The Young African Leaders Initiative, said young people, whose votes played a crucial role in Sata’s victory, wanted to see concrete measures against corruption, with proper handover procedures in place.

“Corruption cannot be removed by hiring and firing people,” Ntewewe said. “You are simply removing one group of people and replacing them with another. Fighting corruption means looking at systems which ensure responsibility to the people of Zambia.”

One thing is certain: if Zambians wanted – and voted for – a new constitution by Christmas, they will not get it. Instead, a technical committee has been formed, charged with drafting a constitution by June 2012.

According to the justice minister, Sebastian Zulu, this is owing to the “process” involved. But the backtrack on this promise and others – such as imposing a windfall tax on mines – are disappointing, say critics.

Meanwhile, Sata’s first budget pledged some major tax relief for the poor. He has welcomed foreigner investors, most notably the Chinese, which surprised many given his former hard talk while in opposition about Chinese abuses of human rights in the country.

Sata’s first official engagement after being sworn into office was to meet China’s ambassador to Lusaka. He even held a lunch for Chinese businessmen at State House, though, true to his straight-talking style of politics, he has made his priorities clear: “Your investment should benefit Zambians and not the Chinese,” he said.

One of Sata’s more eyecatching appointments was vice-president Guy
, thought to be the first white person to hold such high office
since the days of apartheid in South Africa.

Scott defended the administration’s performance as it neared the 90-day
mark. “First, there has been a lot of housekeeping to be done, weeding out
rats and mice,” he said. “I think we’ve removed a lot of rats.

“We promised we would get started within 90 days, and we have done that. We have appointed a technical committee to review the constitution.

“As I drive down the street, people cheer. Nobody has stopped believing.”

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