By Given Mutinta
Not long agoZambiahad one of the fiercest civil societies inAfrica. This is no longer the case because civil society has gone into a ‘political coma’ at the hands of President Michael Sata, the perfidious ‘King Cobra’.
As far back as 1970, civil society has been active in addressing problems affecting our country adding a new dimension to our politics. It was an active civil society and political parties that mobilised and buckled down Kenneth Kaunda’s regime for mismanaging the economy and malpractices. It was an active civil society that amplified the call for the reintroduction of multi-party systems. This is an incontrovertible evidence of the active intervention of civil society in our country.
From then civil society has been growing with both formal and informal networks entering the scene. By 2000, more than 9, 000 civil society organisations had registered. The media; television, radio and print also became a significant civil societal force.
It was this active civil society together with some political parties that fervently cast off Chiluba’s third term and continued to be a force to reckon with during Levy Mwanawasa and Rupiya Banda’s leaderships. There is no doubt that civil society played a crucial role in developing a much more open and vigilant society.
Conversely, with the ascension of Sata into power civil society has gone into oblivion. Surely, this should be a cause for worry to any self-effacing citizen. What has happened to the non-governmental organisations, faith-based organisations, foundations and many others that worked as consciences of our society and indomitable voices for the voiceless? Where are the ‘voices within’ are and the ‘inner lights above’ that acted as vanguards for our country? Where is the civil society full of zip that in the past restrained leaders from abusing power entrusted to them for private profit? What has happened to the indefatigable civil society that worked to diagnose, see more sharply, define more clearly problems facing our country and helped to devise remedies?
It is eccentric to think of having a health country with a civil society experiencing a ‘political blackout’. Civil society supposed to be the conscience of our society. Supposed to provide the aptitude, faculty and intuition to help leaders and their regimes to distinguish between what is right and wrong in their leadership.
Without a robust civil society how are we going to help Sata set and pursue goals that will revolutionize us all not only a selected few? Without a dynamic civil society how will Sata be helped the times he has no feelings of remorse to take actions that go against our values and aspirations as a nation and has no feelings of rectitude to obey laws aimed at promoting the common good?
The question that is racing in many people’s minds is; why is that after Sata’s ascension into power civil society has gone into a dungeon of ineptness and silence? Is there a connection between Sata’s ascension into power and the decision of civil society to go into a political mute mode? What did Sata do to civil society known for its ferocious exuberance to fight what is wrong, and for what is right?
If you think Sata is just an ‘uneducated federalist’ who cannot make ‘political sliding tackles’ to his opponents, you need to do more research. Sata is a wily political ‘staminist’ not ‘satanist’ who has calculatingly put civil society, the conscience of our society and voice for the voiceless into a ‘political coma’.
The silence of civil society is not because there are no issues Sata needs checks and balances on. Surely, if we had an energetic civil society Sata would have been regimented from making serious blunders including appointing a cabinet dominated by his tribesmen and women, Mutembo Nchinto as Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), George Mpombo as High Commissioner to Nigeria, and others who facing corruption charges that have not been cleared by the courts of law.
If we had an active civil society Sata would have been given checks and balances on his gibberish, flabbergasting, prattle statements and threats he is making everyday from his unsettled leadership making people wonder if he will ever provide a popular base for democratic governance.
Sata is a political ‘gimmickist’ who co-opted civil society even before he ascended into power through political appropriation. Sata campaigned to the civil society on his political patronage which enabled him buy off support of the leaders for many civil society organisations and their organisations. He gave and promised a lot of money to civil society organisations, most of them that were struggling with funding if they campaigned for him. To honour his political move he is now a ‘financier’ of various civil society organisations; including NGOs, faith-based organizations, media houses, and foundations. This was the gimmickiest political manoeuvre Sata made on civil society and enabled him to buy their conscience and voice for the voiceless.
Sata’s political appropriation has made many civil society organisations less branches and organisations of the Patriotic Front (PF) regime. By accepting to be co-opted they have compromised their autonomy in terms of their missions; actions and activities.
The significance of Sata’s political scheme has translated in him wooing over civil society to support him politically. Those who have ‘gulped down’ Sata’s bait and are immensely benefiting from his ‘bounteousness’ and have no choice but either to ‘shut up’ or openly sing songs of praise to the ‘King Cobra’ like Fred M’membe the ‘choirmaster’ for Sata’s ‘praise team’ even when he is making obtuse blunders in exercising power entrusted to him by the people of Zambia. They have sold their missions to Sata for ‘a second breath of life’ where ‘King Cobra’ will be their ‘sustainer’ and to some their ‘protector’ from their dirty and nefarious past activities.
It was strategic for Sata to co-opt civil society as the umbrella body representing different groups; civic and social organizations, unions, institutions and others that form the basis of our functioning society.
Sata’s political appropriation scheme has given him in addition to his overwhelming democratic mandate a sure control over the consciences, voices and activities of civil society organisations. They can no longer function as independent entities. There is no way they claim autonomy when their consciences and voices have been bought?
Sata’s co-optation manoeuvre has killed the consciences and voices for the voiceless in our society. No wonder he is at liberty to do anything knowing that there are a few and infinitesimal voices that can give him checks and balances.
Sata’s political appropriation tactic is perfectly working for him as he has managed to blackout consciences and asphyxiate voices for the voiceless in our society. As long as Sata is the one with the big hand on national resources, he will continue to ‘dangle a carrot’ in front of civil society organisations and holding a stick behind them.
Politicians, be reminded that Sata is a perspicacious political ‘appropriationist’. Not even Chiluba the most wastrel president can come close to Sata’s slyness in using his patron-client networks to send civil society into oblivion. Sata will continue to inject his sedative and soporific ‘venom’ into our civil society organisations to silence them as he reinforces his political base.
Those aspiring to the presidency should know that with the ‘King Cobra’ at the helm of the government they will run for their money or should I say leadership. ‘King Cobra’ has ‘hypnotised’ civil society not by threatening them with neither legislation nor administrative co-optation but through political appropriation that enabled him to control their consciences and voices. As a result, what we have today is a ‘napping’ rather than an alert and confrontational civil society.
But the question is, for how long will civil society remain silent, and how long will M’membe the lead singer take gargling warm salt water to keep him singing praise to the ‘King Cobra’? Remember how the biblical ‘serpent’ co-opted Adam and Eve with an ‘apple’ to silence their consciences of what is right and wrong and lost both their integrity and dignity.
Several civil society organisations including the Post Newspaper have been co-opted by the ‘serpent’ and their consciences and voices have been thrown to the wind. Their actions and voices are no longer ‘believable’. They represent nobody but their rapacious, marauding and avaricious appetites pushing their personal agendas. They have lost their ‘salt’ and moral authority. They have been corrupted and habour nothing but erroneous consciences and illusive voices. They are masters of fraud; ‘devils with angelic voices’, ‘wolves in sheep’s skins’ and ultimate spinelessness organisations.
We will wait to see how Sata’s political conspiracy with civil society and those singing ‘hosanna in the highest’ to him will turn out to be and at what cost. Sata has cast the die and the end is inescapable, ‘umodzi azalila’. We are watching!
To civil society organisations that have been co-opted, reflect on your noble missions to our country. ‘Wake up’ from your ‘political slumber’ and retain your strengths.
Sata and his regime need serious checks and balances if they are to formulate a vision for political, economic and social development for all Zambians. Your energy to facilitate and propagate information and instigate debates on several issues including tribalism is missing.
Come out of your political sedations to admonish the government where it is not reaching making our people to be left with unwanted effects. It is conventional wisdom that if Sata is not carefully ‘checked’ he will run this country into a precipice.
The ‘mysterious’ silence of civil society is making Sata think that he is ‘untouchable’ even when he has divided the country on tribal lines that will soon become overwhelming and destructive if they go unimpeded by practical ethical standards and legally enforceable rules.
We all know that Sata is orientationally and ‘naturally’ an autocrat who needs checks and balances for greater openness and dissuade his impulsive and conflict-ridden leadership.
Sata will destroy this country unless we have civil society full of beans to play its role of critic, catalyst and advocate of those interests unrepresented or underrepresented in the PF regime.
Countrymen and women, let us beZambia’s watchdogs, whistleblowers and the vanguard to warrant that Sata and his regime respect their borders.