By Field Ruwe
The PF has thrown itself into a whirl of self-destruction. President Michael Sata, the Pied Piper has taken a wrong turn and is leading his followers to their own doom with far reaching-consequences. Here is a man bestowed with authority, and yet even with all the power at his disposal, he is unable to lead like the hero he is. He has never looked so compromising, vulnerable, and beatable. He is a good example of “all that glitters is not gold.” We are learning that as much as tenacity [stubbornness, doggedness, boorishness] can be a gift, it can become a curse as well. In this case, it has triggered a contagion of mayhem in the PF and left its members in a collusive relationship.
Sata’s recent divisive remarks “I am not desperate for endorsement” tell it all. His utterances show a weak leader pushing his stewards, die-hards, and zealots over the cliff. No leader rejects and embarrasses his most faithful supporters like Sata has done. He has taken the wind out of Geoffrey Mwamba, Willie Nsanda, Chisimba Kambwili, Robert Chikwelete and their fellow “endorsers” and left them betrayed, shamed, dejected, and devastated. They have found it hard to understand why he has sided with Wynter Kabimba, a man they perceive to be his destruction, and rewarded him and his “successors” with a sense of victory and hope.
It is this act, and his fatal entanglement in the Bemba chiefdom that makes him a one-term president. But Sata is right: the opposition is fragmented and weak. The PF house is on fire and the fragmented Zambian opposition is helping put the fire out, a clear indication that it lacks skillful, and quick-witted political strategists who can handle Zambia’s shrewdest political tactician, here referred to as King Cobra, and deny him a second term.
Let me say this; siding or supporting the ruling party is damn. It is a mediocre way of doing politics. In fact, opposition leaders who agree with their rivals rarely win elections. For ten years, King Cobra applied the survival value of intransigent politics. He was totally intolerant of the MMD. Back in 2009 when nurses went on strike, Sata used pictures of a mother in self-delivery posture as a weapon of attack. When there was a shortage of fuel, he picked up a jelly can, queued at the pump, and blamed RB for the crisis. When RB made trips abroad, he accused him of misusing taxpayer’s money. Here are Sata’s own words of November 3, 2009:
“His presidency [Rupiah Banda’s] has just been full of crisis upon crisis and frequent presidential trips. Zambians must know that as he enters his second year, it will even be worse because the man doesn’t even care. He only cares so much about the presidential jet so that he keeps traveling all over.”
That was King Cobra in his time. He took advantage of the slightest mistake by the MMD, made capital out of it, and took it to the poor and the desperate because he knew they rally behind politicians who do not compromise. Similarly, no leader in the opposition should compromise with Sata, not even render an iota of sympathy or empathy. As Sata grapples with broken promises, his party’s restlessness and incongruity, and his authoritarian decisions, the opposition should be pouring gallons of paraffin on the fire and stripping him of his magnetism. That’s how the institution of democratic politics works. You take advantage of your opponent at his moment of weakness, beat him, and only compromise at legislative level.
This is the time for the opposition to unite and front a leader who can take center stage, rise to the level of national exaltation, and make Sata eat his own words. The opposition lacks such a base activist who can make speeches bemoaning the wrong done by Sata to the Bemba kingdom and call for the Bembas in the country to rally behind him in calling for Sata to gazette Paramount Chief Chitimukulu.
The president’s surprising endorsement of Kabimba and the “successors” has led to speculations that Sata is ensnared in the secret concords and illegal business deals with Kabimba thus his failure to expel him from the party. The opposition vanguard should take advantage of this and bring afore allegations that Sata and Kabimba are directors of Ilunda Chalo Investments Limited and expose the activities of the company.
Such a leader must also expose the “Fourth Republic”—the party within the PF, that’s if at all it exists, and convince the disgruntled “endorsers” to jump ship and join the opposition. The question is; is there such a leader in the opposition? Is it possible one could rise among them and excel in 2016? Yes. Who is it? Good question. Let’s look at the frontrunners in the opposition.
Leading the pack is Hakainde Hichilema. In all fairness he has made some credible inroads and stands a better chance than most. Born June 4, 1962; Education: BA. Economics and Business; MBA Finance & Business Strategy; Current Position: President of the United Party of National Development (UPND). He is Sata’s chief worrier and target. After his 2009 kumbaya moments with Sata at the height of the PF-UPND pact, Hichilema understands Sata better than other opposition leaders. He knows there is not much venom left in his fangs.
But Hichilema’s opponents describe him as an infantile politician driven by self-interest and spite. They say that when he refused to accept the vice-residency in the PF-UPND brief marriage of convenience, he came out as a power-hungry egocentric politician with an undemocratic “be it me or be it none” presidential ambition.
The major setback though is that the “tribal and ethnic leader” stigma still has its claws deep in his flesh. His pillars of support are still embedded in the predominantly Tonga ethnic ground. Up to this day, running as a UPND candidate is perceived by many as running on a Tonga ticket. The good thing is he has realized his party needs a diverse support base if it is to succeed and he is trying to do something about it. His recent successful Mandevu rally is making many people across the country to give him a second look.
Next is Nevers Mumba. Born May 18, 1960; Education: Associate Degree (Diploma) in Theology; Current Position: President of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). They say he loves power, prestige, and prerogative, and wears his “Dr. Nevers Mumba” blue band like King George. The problem is he is standing on a turbulent melting iceberg mired as he is in internecine squabbles. It is clear he has not been fully embraced by MMD keepers, some who are getting frustrated that he is not using enough of his “Evangelical charisma” to resurrect the party. Others have been suspicious of him right from the start. They have labeled him a sheep in wolf’s skin and quit.
But his clashes with president Sata and his frequent trips to the jailhouse are helping. Prison is the baptismal tabernacle for every future president in Zambia, unless handpicked like Mwanawasa and Banda. With this experience, Mumba has become courageous and dare challenge the incumbent. Having said this, Mumba must not be cuckolded by the recent few parliamentary victories in Eastern Province. The voters are not necessarily supporting him but are rallying behind their favorite candidates. What he urgently needs is a national formula, and a fresh leadership style now, or he risks becoming irrelevant.
Next, Elias Chipimo Jr. Born September 3, 1965. Education: B.A. Civil Law. Current Position: President of the National Restoration Party (NAREP). Though brilliant, liked by some young people, he has a long and arduous way to State House. He comes out as gullible, susceptible, and an appeaser. As earlier intimated, the strategy of appeasement does not work in chaotic Zambian politics. Sharing the suffering consequences of the PF and urging the president to address them is a trait synonymous with third-rate personality parties. Receiving and accepting praise from the ruling party is a bygone gesture common among conciliatory, consensus-seeking, and compromise-oriented leaders. If Chipimo wants to defeat King Cobra, he has to adopt a tough style of leadership and become combatant, forceful, and preemptory.
There is no enough space for the rest of the moribund parties. Let me put it crudely; they do not deserve mention because most of them, including General Godfrey Miyanda, operate splinter of personality parties. I must hasten to mention that I have a soft spot for Father Frank Bwalya. He has showed us that he a fearless politician who takes the stance of battle and is ready to fight. Although it is too soon to measure his success, he has the charisma and the ability to stir the hearts of others.
If finding a sole leader is impossible, at least find some sort of alliance. Imagine for a moment Hichilema, Mumba, Chipimo, and Father Bwalya in a joint force. Imagine them creating a coalition for change, and mapping a winning electoral strategy. Imagine them in one bus driving across the country holding joint rallies and at every stop, and in a unitary voice, stressing economic instability and insecurity, and the incompetence of the ruling party and its leader. They would be welcome in all the provinces. But sadly, this would only be possible if they put the country before their personal ambitions and sectarian interests, struck a common political agenda and swore a covenant to beat the incumbent and form a coalition government in 2016. Coalition politics is a common and very successful strategy around the world.
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