The alarm bells are chiming as one of the most disconcerting relationships brews right before our eyes. We are worried, concerned about the Sata-Mugabe connection and yet we remain as mute as lamb.
We are the opposition. Under the false wings of democracy we are afraid to talk. We can’t protest. We risk being battered by the police, arrested and confined to TB infested cells. That’s what it has come to. The intimidation and wily manipulation executed and orchestrated by King Cobra, is a wonder to behold.
We are cabinet ministers. We too do not understand the Sata-Mugabe esprit de corps.
It does not sit well with some of us. But we are afraid to persuade him. He is as obdurate as capricious and as volatile as condescending. He’s still the pugilistic King Cobra. No one messes with him. You do so at your own peril. Therefore we offer a quiet approach. He alone knows why he palls with Mugabe.
And we are the intelligentsia. Some of us know why, but choose to turn a blind eye. We don’t care whether our country becomes as ruined as Zimbabwe. We operate above the political fray. You see what I mean. We can live with it. After all that’s what black Africa is all about—ruins; ruined by individuals drunk with power—Mobutu, Abacha, Amin, Taylor, Bokassa, and Robert Gabriel Mugabe.
Over the years we have watched Mugabe plunge the country that in 1980 seemed posed for great success, into the Dark Ages. The Zimbabwe dollar once rated among the highest-valued currency units in the world has been degraded to a shameful $100 trillion banknote—totally worthless.
Plagued with suspensions and a wide range of sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union, Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation has led to acute shortages of fuel and commodities. Whatever reasons are forwarded for the collapse of Africa’s breadbasket, Mugabe’s totalitarian grip to power has a lot to do with it.
Today, the West and some of his own countrymen label Mugabe as a ruthless autocratic ruler—a tyrant. He stands charged with numerous human rights abuses and running the economy of his country into the ground. Would Sata find himself in a similar situation? Would Zambia become another sinking titanic? Yes, if Sata walks in the footsteps of his idol.
Sata has shown open admiration for a man many say ranks among the worst dictators; a man once described by Mwanawasa as a “regional embarrassment.” Why is Sata cozying up to Mugabe in a Chavez-Castro style?
Reason: The ongoing “Sekuru-Muzukuru” relationship seems to be deepening by the day because Sata sees Mugabe, in a certain respect, a role model for his long standing hegemonic dreams. The two are working in tandem on a number of obverses, providing each other with critical political support.
Sata admires Mugabe’s feat for staying power, and for weathering Western opprobrium. It is possible that Sata himself has the intention of ruling Zambia for a long time. On the other hand, Mugabe, isolated from the world stage, seems to be enjoying the stagecraft of showing the world he is not as sequestered as is perceived.
He has found in Sata a protégé he can use to throw sling shots at his opponents like George W. Bush, and Morgan Tsvangirai whom Sata called a Western puppet “financed to cause trouble in Zimbabwe,” or as a ZANU-PF megaphone, chanting slogans like “Pamberi ne Jongwe” (Forward with the cock) as witnessed during his last visit to Zimbabwe.
Here is perhaps the most important reason for the fatal patriotic camaraderie; Sata is drawn to Mugabe because of the policies of the dominant Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). As many have recently learned from PF Secretary General Wynter Kabimba, the Patriotic Front (PF) party was modeled on the policies similar to those of ZANU-PF.
We all know that ZANU-PF was founded in 1963 to cater mainly to the Shona ethnic group. Since 1980, when Mugabe became Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister, the Shona, who comprise 70 percent of the population, have taken up key leadership positions and appear geared to forever rule the country. Sata has been vicariously learning from them even before he created his own political party.
Back in the 1970s, Sata was a very active member of the United Progressive Party (UPP). Launched in August 1971 by Simon Kapwepwe, the party had a strong Bemba base similar to that of the Shona-ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe. Although Sata held no official position in the UPP, he was all the same an important player.
In his book “Rethinking African Politics: A History of Opposition in Zambia,” Miles Larmer of Sheffield University, UK, narrates how as a member of UPP, Sata in 1971, visited the South African Embassy in London. The story reads in part:
“Mr. Sata is a Zambian of the Bemba tribe and apparently Mr. Kapwepwe’s “representative” in London. He evidently came to London a year ago to prepare for the anti-Kaunda campaign now being launched. He stated that the purpose of his visit was to obtain from us the name of a reliable printer who could be trusted to print their material without there being any danger of it leaking out to pro-Kaunda elements…we could of course not assist him in any manner bearing in mind the nature of his activities in London…”
It is therefore clear that in the 1970s Sata participated in the creation and consolidation of a Bemba dominated party. He and others were hoping to use the largest tribe in Zambia, comprising three-fifths of the four million people by 1971, to remove the “Nyasaland” Kaunda.
But UPP lasted for less than a year. On February 4, 1972, Kaunda banned it and began to work on turning Zambia into a one-party state. Sata would later rejoin UNIP, become governor of Lusaka, and serve as Minister of State for Decentralization in KK’s cabinet.
Eight years later in Zimbabwe, the ZANU Shonas voted for Mugabe in the independence elections. They were sending a message to the war-mongering Ndebeles who in the 1830s had destroyed their kingdoms. The 1980 elections put ZANU-PF in a strong position of turning Zimbabwe into a de facto one-party state.
When Mugabe was sworn in first as Prime Minister of independent Zimbabwe, he knew he would rule for as long as the Shona people let him. He surrounded himself with a coterie of Shona confidants, cabinet ministers and military men.
To further consolidate his power, he attempted to create a united Zimbabwe with ZAPU. A few apologists from the Ndebele and other smaller tribes were co-opted in government to give the impression of national unity. But the union splintered and claimed thousands of lives.
In 1987, Mugabe became president and began to crack down on the opposition and those in ZANU-PF who were a danger to his reign.
Around this time, Sata’s former UPP party was simmering with the hope of someday bouncing back. Accounts of UPP’s covet activities are given in Giacomo Macola’s “One Zambia, Many Histories: Towards a History of Post-colonial Zambia.”
According to Macola, during this period, Chiluba was secretly meeting with Musonda Chambeshi, “the most senior former UPP leader then still alive and at liberty.” Chiluba was attempting to position himself as Kapwepwe’s successor.
In 1991, Chiluba became leader of the MMD and skillfully utilized some of the ethno-regional UPP supporters. Chambeshi’s son Abel, Boniface Kawimbe, Stanley Sinkamba, Josiah Chisala, Daniel Kapapa, and the incumbent Michael Sata took up positions of leadership. Sata would become National Secretary of the MMD and ultra Chiluba loyalist.
It did not take long for Chiluba to start behaving like Mugabe and for the MMD to emulate ZANU-PF. It was the hope of Sata that at the end of Chiluba’s two terms he would become president. His proposal at the 2001 MMD Convention to remove restrictions on the party president’s term of office was a tactical move for him to be appointed successor. When it did not work, he formed the Patriotic Front with Chitalu Sampa as National Chairman.
Larmer writes: “In the run-up to 2006 elections, former UPP leaders are again aiming to reclaim the contested legacy of Kapwepwe, in the hopes that this will gain them political power. Some are members of the new National Democratic Front. Whilst others will mobilize support for Michael Sata’s Patriotic Front…”
In the spirit of ZANU-PF, Sata built his party into a tour de force on the Copperbelt, Luapula and Northern provinces. His electoral strength was drawn from the Bemba-speaking groups.
With this milieu it is difficult to doubt those who say that Sata is buttressed by tribalism. He must be reminded that when he took the oath of office he was pledging to head a nation of a kaleidoscope of ethnic groups.
Using tribalism as a legitimate game of politics and power consolidation has been the failure of many African leaders. It has been the reason for genocide, poverty and the destruction of property. We must learn from Katanga, Biafra, Uganda, Angola, Rwanda and Burundi. As for Zimbabwe, thousands have died and thousands more have been displaced as a result of tribalism and the dictatorial rule of Mugabe.
Fortunately, Bemba, Zambia’s largest ethnic group has some of the most enlightened men and women who understand that tribalism is an impediment to democracy. It is characterized by nepotism, cronyism, and corruption. In fact, at the convention some Bemba elites opposed Chiluba’s bid for a third term. They accused Sata of being master of the stratagem and vowed to persuade rural delegates to cast a “no” vote.
Sata must take a leaf from KK who made it a point that his administration achieved an ethno-linguistic balance in the appointment of party and government leaders. KK’s “One Zambia, One Nation,” showed that nation-building was the work of 73 tribes.
As there is nothing to learn from Mugabe apart from dictatorship, and from ZANU-PF policies apart from tribal dominance, we should condemn the Sata-Mugabe relationship in the strongest terms. We do not want Sata to become a dictator and take us on the road to ruin, but to serve our country honorably for one or two terms in accordance with the constitution 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