Michael Sata and the Patriotic Front swept to power on the promise of change and pledged to deliver a transformed Zambia within 90 days. His deadline is next Friday. The question is: Has he delivered?
The 74-year-old who unsuccessfully contested three presidential elections and was never a shoe-in for victory this time around has certainly been busy firing, hiring and launching probes into one-time ministers and commissions to investigate fraud and corruption.
His November budget doubled mineral royalties, pledged pro-poor spending and reduced taxes for low earners. In the same fortnight he personally blocked the previously agreed sale of the Finance Bank of Zambia to South Africa’s First Rand and he has also fired Central Bank governor Caleb Fundanga.
Although some of these moves have unsettled international investors, especially in the mining sector, which generates most of Zambia’s income, domestically the changes seem to have been welcomed following two decades of rule by the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), which many felt had grown stagnant and greedy, failing to translate the country’s economic gains and political stability into better living conditions.
However, the promise to revise the Constitution, which was previously attempted at great cost by the MMD, only to be scrapped without resolution, had already been broken, said Justice Minister Sebastian Zulu, admitting that 90 days was not enough time to overhaul the national charter because of the “process” involved.
Making such an ambitious pledge without checking first with technocrats is Sata’s trademark and he is well known for his abrupt manner, something the international diplomatic community has been struggling to digest.
‘Allergy to corruption’
The jury is also still out on Sata’s so-called “allergy” to corruption.
Reuben Lifuka, president of anti-corruption group Transparency International Zambia, told the Mail & Guardian: “Like the previous government there has been plenty of political rhetoric about fighting corruption but so far not a lot of concrete action or detail.
“We welcome the investigations into former government ministers but it is important that these do not simply turn into witch-hunts against the MMD. It’s also one thing for the president to make pronouncements but these need to be taken on board throughout the public sector and I don’t think that is happening yet.”
Lifuka said it had not been a good sign when Sata attempted to appoint Xavier Chungu, spokesperson for the late president Frederick Chiluba, as Luapula Province permanent secretary.
Over the years Sata has been notorious for his anti-Chinese sentiment, although this was toned down during this last campaign and many Zambians were keen that he should stick to his word to improve labour conditions, especially in the mining sector.
It raised some eyebrows when the new president’s first formal engagement was a meeting with the Chinese ambassador in Lusaka and it seems, despite expectations of a rift, the bond between the two countries has grown stronger. This week a deal was inked for China to give Zambia a 43.3-billion kwacha (R51.5-million)grant and an interest-free loan of 32-billion kwacha to be used on anti-poverty projects.
And, as if to prove his new Sino appreciation, Sata replied to a question from the Paris-based Africa Report magazine about whether he had met his 90-day deadline to transform Zambia by saying: “The Chinese have a saying, a long journey begins with one step.”
Published Mail&Guardian of South Africa.
Check the Watchdog version on Sata’s 90 days tomorrow