By Field Ruwe
We don’t create presidents; we create demi-gods. We instill in them indispensability. We surrender our wills, beings, and essences to them. We make them sacrosanct. Our women sing songs of praise and dance for them, our men become sycophantic and obsequious before them, and the state media hails them in seraphic tones.
We help erect an electric fence around them and inflate in them a virtuous sense, and a hunger for personal power and gain.
Inside the fence, they become controlling, self-absorbed, and unaware of others’ needs. Outside the fence, we become complacent, contented, and ignore how they are spending our money.
In order to protect their newly acquired wealth, they become off-limit, hermits and intolerant of the people who appointed them. They surround themselves with family members who become major beneficiaries and turn our country into a family business.
We, 14 million of us, hopelessly watch as their spouses, children, siblings, uncles, nieces, in-laws, close friends, serve as the cartel for ransacking our resources. They create fake profit and non-profit companies, and sign million-dollar contracts. They make trips to South Africa and overseas, drive luxury cars, and build mansions.
Because they are busy defrauding us, they are consumed by paranoia and govern by fear and intimidation. Those who question their authority are threatened by their viziers, surrogates, and cadres.
In the end our treasury is depleted, little advancement is made, and we are back to square one—to poor wages, hunger, street vending, a poor Kwacha, Chinese dominance, packed hospitals, blind loyalty and more false promises.
We never learn. In the 1990s we created a demi-god in FTJ. We watched him defraud us and make our fledgling democracy fray at the edges. During FTJ’s reign we witnessed denial of fundamental human rights, arbitrariness, absence of the basic freedoms, corruption of the worst kind, dissipation of the treasury, and misappropriation of millions of our dollars. Up to this day, over $48 million is lying somewhere in a foreign bank open to theft and the incumbent is taciturn.
How did we allow FTJ to acquire unlimited power as to have a sense of entitlement of our souls and hard-earned wealth? After the downfall of KK we credited not Aka, Chitala, Sichinga, and other gallant founders of the MMD, but FTJ who simply showed up at the eleventh hour and convinced us that he was the one who could kill the dragon. We turned KK’s praises and chants into Chiluba’s and elevated his sense of self-worth.
He saw our vulnerability. He saw us go over the edge and valued himself as Moses. Bob Sichinga often narrates how during the week following FTJ’s rise to power, MMD “honorable men” and party cadres desperate for cabinet posts and jobs slept, for days, on the floor of Government House, inhaling the stench from the clogged toilets. FTJ watched them crawl on their knees and he proclaimed in dictatorial sing-song manner; “power is sweet!”
Are we creating a demi-god in President Michael Sata? Yes, we are. Our women are singing the same praises and our men are as usual fawning as he takes us back to the “big man syndrome” of the autocratic rule.
Zambian road rules state that before crossing the road we must always look left, right, and left again or risk being run over by a vehicle. We keep looking one way and trucks keep running over us. In other words we are hardened of learning. To put it crudely, we are easily duped. We can’t tell a person who is “smoke and mirrors.”
And yet we can see the abrasiveness and rage that flashes across our president’s face. He is a no-nonsense man. He is the most tenacious, inflexible, bolshie and unpredictable politician in Zambian politics. No one can dispute this fact, not even his direct beneficiaries and fundamentalists, some who revile my articles, threaten me, tap my phone, and hack my computer.
Because we are gradually turning him into a demi-god, he is beginning to wield absolute power not limited by law or by acts of an official body. He alone is spending state resources on projects he deems important. There is no two-way channel of information between us, the people, and him, the president. He can dip the knife into our country and cut it into pieces like a piece of cake, regardless of future repercussions.
His reputation is such that no-one dare challenge him. He is hypersensitive to opposition. Sata still sublimates aggression and grudges. He cannot entertain the values of tolerance, cooperation and compromise. He cannot accept that the opposition is a government in waiting. Night and day he’s figuring out how to render HH, Mumba, Chipimo and others irrelevant.
What the president needs is an effective opposition. Leaders of political parties must be allowed to criticize him and offer policy alternatives. They must be allowed to participate in nation building.
As for corruption, President Michael Sata is the reason fighting the scourge in Zambia is futile. Because he feels like a demi-god, he can instill terror into the anti-corruption commission and tell them to keep away from his men.
Before Sata took the oath of office his central indictment against FTJ, Mwanawasa, and RB was that they were corrupt. When he won the election he rounded up senior members of the MMD and opened dockets against them. But now the champion against corruption is failing to apply on his own members of the cabinet what he accentuated in his indictment.
If it is believed or suspected that Wynter Kabimba and Godfrey Mwamba are using their power for illegitimate private gain, they must be subjected to a thorough probe by the commission.
Any effort by the president to intervene in the investigations enfeebles the people’s trust and tolerance of him. Corruption is what has stunted our country’s growth in the first place. It is the reason Little Kasama is thriving with castles and Kalingalinga is inundated by poverty.
The most effective way to curb corruption is to ensure exposed suspects and culprits are brought to book. In our society, journalists do a good job to uncover misconduct. Sadly, there are no corruption busters in the media because the Zambian media is nonfunctional.
A man with overwhelming scheming tactics, Sata has killed the media. He has denied it its freedoms. The state media is under his control and is monitored by his agents. Propaganda has taken over news reporting. Any medium with dissenting views risks being closed.
While on the subject of journalism, let me make an amber alert. There is an individual who is making scathing threats on me and my family for being a Sata “hater” as he puts it. He cautions that the consequences of my series and criticism of the president are heavy and with a price. He accuses me, among other things, of being a member of UPND and on the payroll of its president. In the light of such threats I have reported the matter to relevant authorities.
Let me categorically state that I do not subscribe to any political party. I do not know Hakainde, never met the gentleman, and we have never spoken. But I applaud him and other opposition leaders such as Nevers Mumba (MMD), and Elias Chipimo (NAREP) for trying to make the Sata government account for its commissions and omissions in our fast deteriorating democracy.
Individuals have the right to challenge or criticize me, but not to make false accusations and threaten me and/or my family. A threat is a criminal offense. We should not allow our country to become a nation of snoops. Party loyalists and cadres must not be employed with the purpose of keeping an eye on others, threatening them, and reporting falsehoods to the authorities.
I do not hate the president. I have on many occasions stated in my articles that I hold him in high esteem, but do not fear him. It is our fear that turns presidents into demi-gods. As a journalist, I will not sit back and watch our nation subject itself to the whims of one person. It is the unchecked power of our leaders that lead to our stagnation and destruction.
I am a strong advocate for democracy because it is the best substitute for dictatorship. Democracy is the best substitute for dictatorship because it is attained through freedom, and freedom is achieved through political compromise. No nation can call itself democratic if the opposition is fractured and its leaders are silenced.
As a media practitioner I am responsible for ensuring that freedom of political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are adequately exercised. This responsibility extends to each and every journalist at Times of Zambia, Zambia Daily Mail, and other media houses, including those on the Internet such as Lusaka Times, Zambian Watchdog, UKZambians, and Zambia Reports.
In 1991, we chose multi-party to one party; autocracy to democracy; KK to FTJ. We resolved that we shall forever remain “a unitary, indivisible, multi-party and democratic sovereign state,” and that we shall “uphold the values of democracy, transparency, accountability and good governance.”
Because Zambian democracy guarantees fundamental freedoms and rights, and serves as the basis of governance, it is our duty as journalists to protect those freedoms and promote democracy and the rule of law.
President Michael Sata should not use democracy as a mere surface phenomenon to appease us and give himself international leverage. He must use all resources at his disposal to defend it.
He must allow for the right to alternative sources of information. Mostly importantly, he must guarantee a free press that is unencumbered by manipulation and threats by him and the fanatical diehards who lionize him even when they clearly know that his democratic principles are flawed.
He should learn from KK. We created a demi-god in him. He ruled us by fear and intimidation and elicited from us a powerful emotional response that in the end exploded. Too much power is what led to people’s outrage and to KK’s downfall. KK failed to understand his mortality; that one day he would be stripped of power by the very people who had made him abiding.
Sata is also falling into the same trap. He too believes that he is entitled to unlimited praise and deference and that his will and desire is all that is important. He has reduced us to passive spectators because he can see we are wallowed in demi-godliness.
We must stop focusing on Sata’s personality, but on his policies. It is the latter that will largely determine whether the he is great or not. We must remind him of his powers and limitations and question authority that is constitutionally and morally wrong. We must give credit where it is due, but must confront him when he engages in disturbing abuses of power. Too much control may hurt him.
As we prepare to enter the new year let’s quit creating demi-gods. The world has changed. It continues to change, fast. Leaders who rule like demi-gods are on their way out. They are being taken out by their own creator—the people.
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner, historian, and author. He is a PhD candidate at George Fox University and serves as an adjunct professor (lecturer) in Boston. ©Ruwe2012