By Field Ruwe
Douglas Siakalima did not mince his words: “As a trained psychologist, I can tell you that President Sata has been showing signs that warrant a mental check up by an independent medical board as enshrined in our republican constitution.”
“Good grief,” I said. “What if he’s right?
For a moment I was bothered. To be honest, the thought has crossed my mind many times. It may have crossed yours too. Often there have been whispers and tittle-tattles in homes, on the street, in bars, and in workplaces, about the president’s impetuous behavior. Even his predecessors, KK, Chiluba, Mwanawasa, and Banda, have at some time or another, questioned his ability to run the top-most executive office.
I wanted to make sure I understood what Siakalima meant. I pulled out the existing Zambian Constitution and reviewed Article 36: Removal of President on Grounds of Incapacity. Clause (1) states in part that a board of medical practitioners can “inquire into the matter and report to the Chief Justice on whether or not the President is, by reason of any infirmity of body or mind, incapable of discharging the functions of his office.”
In this age of democratic vigilance there is nothing wrong with questioning the psychological state of the president, more so when he at times appears erratic, volatile, unpredictable, and undiplomatic.
We know that where ever president Sata goes he is almost certain to do or say something outrageous, or embarrass someone publicly. He enjoys it, but it could indeed be an aberration worth checking.
For instance, last year in July, he humiliated his own deputy, Guy Scott, in full view of appointees at State House.
“You cannot even be a chief or leader in your own country England because the people there don’t know you,” he told a dumbfounded Scott. “You must consider yourself lucky to be vice president here.”
Earlier that year, at the same venue, he shamed the then Justice Minister Sebastian Zulu when the minister presented the report on radar contracts.
“This report is useless, very complicated. We wasted our money…I don’t know whether he is trying to protect Ms. Dora Siliya…”
He even took a jab at George W. Bush during his visit to Zambia.
“As far as you are concerned Africa doesn’t exist. And when we have a former colonialist like you coming back to pay back what you took out of this country we are grateful.”
I was thinking about the numerous people Sata has demeaned and disgraced, and the despicable things he has said and done when cabbages popped up.
I could hear them, hoards of people holding cabbages impaled on sticks chanting “no more cabbages!”
Standing in the midst with a cabbage in hand was PF leader Sata.
“This is your president,” he said. “This is president Mwanawasa!”
“No more cabbages!” The crowd chanted.
Sata spoke: “Levy Mwanawasa is a cabbage. I demand that Chief Justice Ernest Sakala appoints a team of three doctors to investigate his mental health.”
Some people began to kick cabbages like footballs.
“No more cabbages!” They continued to chant.
The cabbages splintered.
The year was 2006. Opposition leader Michael Sata had just evoked Article 36 of the Constitution on Levy Mwanawasa.
Seven years later, in 2013, Douglas Siakalima would demand the same of Sata and urge acting Chief Justice Lombe Chibesakunda to appoint an independent medical board to investigate the mental health of the president.
“We believe President Sata’s recent behavior and statements raise questions about his current state of mind.”
Psychologist Siakalima is convinced our president is losing it; he’s going bananas, therefore he must be removed. PF cadres are mad with Siakalima. They are calling for his blood. “How dare he?” “How can this chap insult the president?” And like they often do, they have vowed to “deal with him!”
PF intelligentsia and spin doctors are treating the demand as “garbage.” Soon they will question Siakalima’s qualifications and throw them in the toilet. They will label him a quack psychologist, squeeze him out of his profession like a lemon, and leave him for the dead. Not, so fast.
In June 2005, responding to Sata calling him a cabbage, president Mwanawasa said the following: “I have already stated that insults are like Vaseline. I have developed a thick skin to insults. I will just listen to the people of Zambia.” The president blamed PF opposition leader Sata for condoning a culture of insults that had “crept into the nation.”
Today, Sata is president. How much of thick skin does he have? In the wake of some people in the opposition thinking he is losing his mind, how would he react if he were nicknamed, say “Kadansa” or something worse and people at opposition rallies chanted “no more Kadansa!” and ripped his effigies like the PF cadres did to cabbages. No disrespect to the president and no offense meant to those who bear the same name. Please treat this as a mere analogy.
For those who do not know Kadansa. He was a street preacher who engaged the public in various social and political debates. His favorite spot was the front of the Post Office on Cairo Road.
Does the president have enough skin to fend off such stigmatization? I doubt it very much. He has a fragile self-esteem, susceptible to the slightest provocation. He can’t stand mockery and criticism. Many who have dealt with him say he is contemptuous to those who choose to disagree with him and he often applies aggressive and intimidating reciprocal tactics.
Let’s for a moment look at why Siakalima is calling for a medical examination. When the president heard that Nevers Mumba, Hakainde Hichilema, and Sakwiba Sikota had travelled to South Africa, he felt mortally threatened. We all know the president. He reacts to threats with defiance, rage and contempt, and resorts to attacking others so they appear at fault.
In this case, when he heard that the trio had used the occasion to accuse him of committing rights abuses and called for the temporary suspension of Zambia from the Commonwealth, his “I will expose you,” defense mechanism kicked in.
Instead of addressing the issues at hand by challenging the three opposition leaders to produce proof, and open the State House doors to the Commonwealth team for them to conduct the investigation, he went into a defensive stance and cultivated a rebuttal based on belittling and disparaging his critics. First, he portrayed HH as a thief.
“Let him explain to the Commonwealth the source of his wealth,” he told State House attendants.
Then he accused two of the three opposition leaders of attempting to seek “criminal” asylum in South Africa to escape charges at home.
“The president of South Africa is not even ready to grant asylum to [Mr. Banda], or Mr. Hichilema, or Dr. Mumba. So the only person who is clean out of those who went to South Africa is Sakwiba Sikota.”
Cheap shots such as these make one doubt the president’s ability to think rationally. They show him in a panic and expose how fragile his sense of security is. The president must know that his tactics to deflate, devalue and derogate accusations against him have been long known. They may have worked when he was campaigning as candidate Sata. They will not work now that he is head of state. The world is watching. We are watching him.
It is time to act more like a president than a PF leader. For ten years we watched a combatant King Cobra, expose, confront, accuse, path-cross, mudsling, eye-poke, back-stab, shamelessly-cajole, hood-wink, and life-stake. Often times he was insensitive, heartless, uncaring, cold-blooded, merciless, manipulative, and pitiless. That King Cobra should have been left outside the State House gates.
A president Michael Chilufya Sata should be honorable, honest, truthful, scrupulous, conscientious, industrious, accepting, comprehensible, accommodating, accessible, democratic, and respectful of others. He should uphold the constitution. He must allow power to flow from the people to him. People must criticize him when he is wrong. He should be respectful of human rights and allow opposition leaders to campaign freely. Most of all, he should be the pedestal of our advancement. Anything other than this is of no benefit to the people of Zambia.
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