By Field Ruwe
After the swearing ceremony of September 20, King Cobra jumped in the royal limo and was driven to State House. Along the way he beamed indiscriminately as he caught a glimpse of the country called Zambia in which a coterie of admirers was rejoicing his victory. He let out his most incandescent grin and muttered “this is it.” A new chapter had begun. It was time for grandiose schemes and dreams.
Marcel Proust once wrote: “If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but more, to dream all the time.” King Cobra was already dreaming of a second term, and perhaps a third and beyond, for no one lets a great dream go. But in the real world as in dreams, there are occasional incubuses (nightmares).
As the motorcade entered the royal gates, King Cobra thought he had seen not Rupiah Banda, Mwanawasa, Chiluba, or Kaunda, but Frederick M’membe hiding in the rose gardens. He shook his head to make sure his mind was not playing tricks on him.
He leaned over to his wife. “Did you see what I just saw?”
“Never mind,” he said.
As he ascended the stairs into his new home, he took another glance at the red roses.
M’membe had been the nightmare, the incubus, of his predecessors—the louse in their heads. The man is an accountant by day, a lawyer by proxy, and a “journalist” by night. He is the KPMG auditor who in July 1991 founded the Post Newspaper Limited and later launched The Post. Notice I have put journalist in inverted commas because it is a profession. A Journalist is one who has been trained specifically in Journalism at a college or university.
Fact that one can write an article or speak in the microphone does not make them a Journalist. Such people are referred to as “writers” “announcers” or “sources.” In the cyber world they are called bloggers, and M’membe is a damn good one. Moreover, a journalist gives equal attention to both sides of any particular issue while a writer like M’membe only presents his own viewpoint.
It is therefore not his journalistic adroitness that has put him where he is today because he has none. It is his dream. M’membe is a tenacious, recalcitrant, obstinate, mulish, and an intrepid dreamer—a 52-year-old journalist charlatan who has molded himself into the so-called country’s king maker and slayer. He has focused on his dream just as a magnifying glass focuses a beam of light to a burning point.
When M’membe left his job at KPMG he was motivated by goals that have deep meaning. He watched the church-owned National Mirror newspaper under Jumbe Ngoma and reporter Joseph Mkandawire struggle to stand up to KK.
KK lost his grip and M’membe seized the moment. He learned quickly that “the press rules the minds of men.” He recruited pen-pushing mercenaries like Jowie Mwiinga, Joe Chilaizya, Goliath Mungonge, Bright Mwape, Goodson Machona, Dickson Jere, Mukalya Nampito, Arthur Simuchoba, Joe Kaunda, writer and activist Masautso Phiri, and cartoonist Trevor Ford, developed a mordant wit and fearless bob vivant and went for the kill.
Sensing the referendum would be rejected M’membe rallied behind FTJ, got into KK’s head and shattered his dreams. The downfall of KK went to M’membe’s head. He arrogated himself the credit that belonged to his staff and turned himself into a self-made professional controversialist.
When FTJ snubbed him, he produced his long dejected dad Mr. Chabala Kafupi and paraded both on the front page of his paper. He then accused FTJ of being a Congolese and challenged him to produce his birth certificate. Like Sherlock Holmes, he probed the soft underbelly of FTJ’s government and discovered corruption and theft. When he called FTJ a thief he was arrested for defamation and confined to an infested cell.
Mwanawasa tried to make good with him by disposing of the defamation case, but he spat in his face and called him a man of “foolishness, stupidity, and lack of humility.” He actually called him a cabbage. Mwanawasa was infuriated. He had him arrested for defamation.
Rupiah was not spared either. When M’membe called him a corrupt president and a liar, he too filed a writ of summons and a statement of claim seeking damages for defamation.
By September 20, 2011, M’membe had defamed all the four presidents and earned himself the highest number of nolle prosequis (official entries by the prosecutor to discontinue the case). His critics called him a litigious, self-serving, opportunistic, cynical contrarian and creator of ephemeral relationships. Worse still, his victims called him an ill-bred despicable creep with no respect for elders and a hit man with presidential aspirations.
But it was late. Fred M’membe of nine lives had become the vanquisher of kings and had declared himself “Mr. Zambia.” Zambians had embraced him as the lone and disproportionately powerful opposition voice. Local and international journalists recognized him as the face of Zambia’s media freedom movement. Awards and accolades went beyond the brim.
In his newly acquired “oval office” King Cobra was still bothered by the incubus in the rose garden. He got up from his seat and walked over to the window and stood there. M’membe’s pertinacity and false intimacies were his main worry. He remembered M’membe warning Zambians “not to be cheated by the demagogy that Sata is engaging in. This man will say anything to be elected but Zambians will not be fooled.”
In 2006 at the height of their cordial relationship, M’membe made a sudden U-turn and threw King Cobra under the bus for suggesting that if he became president he would drop corruption charges. In his article entitled “Sata is not a Messiah” he noted: “Mr. Sata today has become the most ardent defender of people who plundered public resources. This is because they are his financiers.”
King Cobra sensed danger. He knew soon M’membe would be writing stuff like “Sata’s appointment of some of the plunderers to government positions proves everything we have been saying. This man has no principles. It is the same mouth that only yesterday was promising to prosecute Chiluba and his fellow plunderers. Zambians must start asking, what is this man’s true legacy? It is true he has done some good since he became president. But his destructive traits far outweigh any benefits.” (I have employed some words contained in one of M’membe’s old editorials).
But King Cobra isn’t Rupiah, Mwanawasa, Chiluba, or Kaunda. He is King Cobra, and they don‘t call him that for nothing. In actual fact some of his formidable adversaries call him Satan. In politics his instincts are as sharp as those of the actual cobra. He has trained himself well in the arts of politics and intrigue. He applies intrigue and schemes to anesthetize his opponents with ruthless efficiency.
Still at the window, he took another look at the roses and decided to uproot them so M’membe has nowhere to hide.
King Cobra knew that M’membe was masquerading as a journalist; that when he abandoned his accounts job at KPMG he had no clue what an editorial was. He knew that all these years M’membe had been hiding behind editorial editors and reporters like George Chella, Amos Malupenga, and Chansa Kabwela. Since 1991, the dauntless men and women of The Weekly Post and The Post had been victims of perpetual harassment, arrests, threats and raids, and yet got zero credit.
When FTJ arrested Dickson Jere, Mukalya Nampito, Liseli Kayumba, Reuben Phiri, Lubasi Mwangala Katundu, Joe Kaunda, Goodson Machona, Amos Malupenga, Brighton Phiri, and Kelvin Shimo, he charged them with espionage and threw them in TB cells. Not one of them was rewarded or recognized for valor—not Masautso Phiri, Arthur Simuchoba, Sam Mujuda, none.
At the window, King Cobra visualized Lucy Sichone and Bright Mwape scuttling like rodents from one embassy to another to avoid being captured and imprisoned for contempt of parliament at the orders of the then Speaker Robinson Nabulyato. His mind perused the numerous incidents in which The Post reporters staked their lives and some paid the price.
He was walking back to his seat when he remembered the young George Mwenya Chella. He recalled how Chella together with Nomusa Michelo and Stephen Bwalya were harassed by the police at the height of his (King Cobra’s) espionage and sedition charges.
The cobra’s mind was working fast. He picked up the phone without further ado.
“Is that the Post?” he asked in his husky whisky voice. “This is the president. Put Chella on the phone.”
When Chella came on the phone King Cobra summoned him to his office.
“Bring your notebook and your finished jacket,” King Cobra joked in Bemba.
Chella arrived in no time, sweating like a fowl.
“How are you young man,” King Cobra greeted him.”
Chella cleared his throat. “Fine, sir.”
“You are my special assistant.”
“You heard me. You will be writing my speeches and speaking on my behalf.”
“But sir, I have…”
King Cobra cut him short. “Go to your new office and start working.”
In a complete state of stupor Chella could not see the door on his way out.
“Careful, that’s a window,” King Cobra cautioned. “The door is on the other side.”
The purging of Fred M’membe’s contempt had begun. Hercules had just severed the incubus’s left hand and he was not finished.
He filed his sword and picked up the phone and again called The Post.
“Amos, you must stop whatever you are doing and drive over here,” he ordered him. “You are my Permanent Secretary for Information, Broadcasting and Tourism.”
Amos Malupenga picked up his jacket and scampered out of his office before M’membe could get to him. With that Fred M’membe’s right hand was gone. M’membe was in a panic. He tried to recall Joe Chilaizya, but King Cobra had already beaten him at it; his minister of Information was already working the phones.
King Cobra’s final call was to his vice president.
“Guy, keep writing your articles in M’membe’s paper,” he told him. “That way you can keep an eye on that sleazy traitor. If you sense danger, promise him the impossible.”
That was the last nail in the coffin. Fred M’membe and The Post were in King Cobra’s pocket and extinction was a possibility.
This is an alert message for Nevers Mumba, Felix Mutati, Kabinga Pande, opposition leaders Hakainde Hichilima, Charles Mulupi, Elias Chipimo, Edith Nawakwi, Tilyenji Kaunda, Fred Mutesa, and other budding politicians. You will have to face the great laureate of tactics with your own.
The credibility quotient for this article is this: If it deals with politics it’s a fact; if it is dramatized, it’s fiction; if it is outrageously unbelievable, it’s a fact.
Author of this article is a US-based Zambian media practitioner and author. He is a PhD candidate with a B.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism, and an M.A. in History.