Tuesday, 14 January 2014

‘Wondering If President Sata is a Strong-sense Thinker’

President Sata doesn’t matter even when his decisions or position on national issues shows bad luck in thinking or lacks relevance. Much of the costly decisions he has taken show gut impulse and leaves one wondering whether he questions his actions with the same vigour he used to criticise government during his ten years spent in opposition politics
 By Nyalubinge Ngwende
It is only when people start feeling the effects of putting into public office leaders who do silly things that they come to their senses, and start seeing how bad their choices in voting can really be. 

It is even much painful when people start accepting that the previous leadership they disdained and voted out of office was more intelligent, more open and fair in handling national issues than a tyrannical leadership of demagogues they elected. 

That is exactly an absurd situation the Zambian citizens, especially the learned elite, have found themselves in, barely two years after ushering into office President Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front (PF).

Even the poor who only make sense about how bad their voting was by economic policies failing to distribute agriculture inputs on time, staple meal shortages or price hikes and increased school fees, are regretting their September 2011 election choice of the PF.

One does not need to go farther than the Zambia People’s Pact (ZPP), a FaceBook social media.  Born after the collapse of a political pact between opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) and PF, ZPP was a forum of Zambians within and abroad who weighed themselves as progressive citizens who needed to push out what they considered as a bad government of Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and President Rupiah Banda. 

The social media had Panji Kaunda, eldest son of first Republican President Kenneth Kaunda as patron. Its agenda was to see the PF, led by Sata who had for 10 years mobilised his party into a strong opposition, takeover power. Opinions against PF were almost 2 to 8 on the run to the September 20, 2011 elections, and if you dared to attack Sata’s ineligibility to run the country efficiently you wished you did not try—the amount of rapacious attacks and insults that flied off the social media just made one feel small. The social media was also an opinion room for who was the most popular presidential candidate, and definitely Sata led the poll. 

When elections came PF won with resounding victory and the social media continued with its praises, turning its vengeance onto a freelance journalist Chanda Chimba III engaged by the MMD government during the run to elections to produce a ‘Stand Up Zambia’ television program and its weekly print version to ferret out Sata’s past misdeeds and warn the people against voting him into office. They all wanted Chanda Chimba jailed for defaming Sata, sadly the case that went to court was abuse of public funds. 

Posts on ZPP were full of hope that the man of action Sata was going to deliver. I remember personally differing with Proud Aushi Musamba and Tina Banda, who were prominent on ZPP and part of the admin on the page for telling them that President Sata had too much baggage of weaknesses and lacked the intellectual judgment to efficiently run the country. I laboured so much to convince Peter Sinkamba, the secretary of ZPP, that President Sata was not the right Presidential material Zambia needed to sustain the economic strides that country had managed so far.

Panji Kaunda is now deputy minister of transport in Sata’s government and hardly appears on ZPP. Tina Banda is no longer active on ZPP—concentrating on her online help room ‘Ask Aunt Tina’, the secretary of the group PeterSinkamba left to form his Green Party while Proud Aushi Musamba is now a prominent member of the Zambia Eye, an Online publication that is critical of President Sata and the PF. 

Lately Musamba has joined ‘Team GBM’, ostensibly an imaginative coalition sympathising with Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba, the defence minister who resigned from government to stand on the side of his uncle Henry Sosala. Sosala is being tormented by President Sata who does not want him to be enthroned as Paramount Chief Chitimukulu of the Bemba speaking people of Northern Zambia. GBM is seen by his supporters and some Bemba loyalists as a symbol of courage that has ever challenged President Sata to his face. 

The fall out between GBM and Sata came after the former defence minister visited his uncle-chief in Kasama, the provincial headquarters of Northern Zambia dominantly inhabited by the Bemba speaking people. When intelligence on the ground informed Sata that his minister was visiting Sosala, a person the Head of State has a tiff with, Sata is reported to have made a call asking GBM to choose between him and the Chitimukulu-elect. GBM chose the Chitimukulu-elect and resigned his ministerial position saying ‘he would not abandon family over a political position that is only given’.

Apparently, leading to this, President Sata had withdrew the recognition of Henry Sosala as senior chief Mwamba of the Bemba people on flimsy grounds that the he did not follow certain rituals to ascend to the throne. 

The Bashi Lubemba, a composition of custodians of the culture, seems to have not agreed with the President. As when the time came to fill the vacant throne of the Paramount Chief Chitimukulu, they chose dethroned Sosala to take the most revered of traditional positions among the Bembas of Northern Zambia. President Sata immediately sent a battalion of police officers to surround the house of Henry Sosala, seemingly in a militant way of stopping the chief-elect from conducting the traditional procession to his palace in Mungwi, a town not far from Kasama. 

Intellectual Humility
President Michael Sata
The GBM/Sosala saga and many other decisions that President Sata has made, shows Zambia today is in the hands of reckless leadership, lacking most ingredients of good sense in handling national affairs. The confidence of being in the saddle of leadership lacks in President Michael Sata, who took over power from Rupiah Banda after winning the September 2011 elections. 

This lack of confidence makes the President to disrespect opposition leaders, who are asking him to uphold fairness through rule of law on matters of national interest. He treats advice from other opposition leaders with kindergarten contempt, the kind that ignores the relevant alternative viewpoints being raised. Sometimes one sits to wonder if our President is a strong-sense thinker or the direct opposite. 

I am told strong-sense thinkers question the purposes and implications of their actions with the same vigour that they question those of others. But this is not the case, as seen with the recent altercation President Sata had with opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema. 
HH, as the UPND leader is known by his initials, wrote President Sata to carefully handle the matters of traditional rulers like the one of the Chitimukulu. Sata responded in a language that does not befit a statesman,   describing the opposition leader as ‘useless and unconstructive’. 
“We acknowledge receipt of your useless, unconstructive letter dated 27th December 2013; and we don’t owe anybody an apology for your useless actions. For your own information, chiefs fall under the Republican President and not HH or UPND.  Therefore we are not going to be reckless on the appointment of Paramount Chief Chitimukulu of the Bemba speaking people. You are free to appoint him as your paramount chief”. 

It beats any strong-thinker why President Sata failed to see the advice of HH in a positive light and use it to reflect whether his anger towards the Chitimukulu-elect is rational.  

It is not just HH who has been hit with President Sata’s anger and misreading of issues, but it is surprising that his public anger and open calling of his own appointees ‘Ichipuwa’—fool has just been a matter of laughter in the media and public discourse instead of critical analysis of the President’s personality. Some ministers have just laughed it off that their boss is difficult, but never want to fully understand what makes him to be so. Is it that GMB could not stand the President’s tongue-lashing that made him to resign? If it is, then GBM is a much courageous man among others who claim to be educated but lack character to stand against being bullied in public.

Intellectual Courage
The rest of the letter dated December 30, 2013 to HH signed by President Sata lacked intellectual humility—failing to shift from his narrow understanding about what constitutes leaders. He lectures HH about leadership in a way that is not educated.
“I sympathise and feel sorry for you have never been elected or nominated as councillor nor have you ever been nominated or elected as Member of Parliament, therefore your Leadership is more of Guess Work than anything else.”

Sata embrace with opposition UPND leader HH
Talking the irrelevance about what he thinks should be permanent trajectory to leadership positions shows Sata’s serious problems of lacking courage to challenge his narrow perceptions or ideas of what leadership is. How, surely, can leadership be only about becoming a councillor and being nominated or elected as MP? 

When the large number of the country, including the traditional custodians of the Bemba culture, has differed with President Sata over the issue of Chitimukulu, he still fails to see the implications of the problem he is creating. It takes an intellectual mind, with courage, to realise their faults in any discourse and take the courage to accept they are wrong. Sata is yet to show that courage and start looking to give fair hearing to his opponents and the electorate which has been largely lacking thus far.

Well it does not just end at political silliness. The country’s economic decisions are being formulated not from careful analysis and appeal to good reason. More of what we are seeing today is economic pronouncements bordering on gut impulses, lacking space to do things within the simple principles of economics—scarce resources, which require prioritising choices. 

Unguided development agenda with unplanned projects being launched every other day has led to fiscal deficit and dwindling international reserves, as Alexander Chikwanda becomes a Finance Minister with the most signatures on borrowed money in Africa in just within two years of serving government. 

As a result the country is slowly sliding back into unsustainable debt, causing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to warn the country about the consequences of the gut impulse economics, charging that Zambia’s current fiscal stance is clearly unsustainable and risks pushing the debt to over 50 percent by 2018 from the current net present value of about 30 percent of GDP in 2013.

The USA based lending institution says, Zambia’s projected growth of between 7 and 8 percent GDP and an expected reduction in inflation could be unlikely if fiscal misconduct and unfriendly business policies remain unattended into in the medium term.

With the government showing less respect for borrowing, IMF advises that there will be need for the country to mobilize additional domestic revenue, realigning spending priorities, and creating fiscal space for infrastructure investment, while also maintaining a business environment that encourages job creation if teh country’s growth is to remain around 7 percent. 

The bank seriously doubts the credibility of the fundamental administrative and institutional reforms and policy implementation.

There is fear that Zambia has completely veered off its budgeted funds, overspent the 2013 allocations and was now depleting the Central Bank finances that are intended for cash management. 

It warned that this could lead to a substantial accumulation of arrears or reliance on central bank financing.
“In this regard, the IMF staff expressed concern about the recourse to central bank bridge loans, which are intended to assist with cash management but could if not quickly paid back constitute central bank financing of the budget.”

Intellectual Perseverance
While money is always scarce in an economy and one has to make choices where to put it and get the best value—that has not been the case of the Zambian President today. Creating bureaucratic structures, new administrative centres and paying salaries for civil service with intangible value to the improvement of service delivery have been his priorities. With a group of cadres who think winning an election is an end to push aside all rigorous reasoning and finding easy way out, the President is ready to spend huge sums on his ministers to go round the country and parrot his views. Surprising even the once respected Post Newspaper has joined the parroting in its long editorials in favour of these decisions despite the relevance of such arguments lacking clear purpose, a sign of failure for rigorous economic thinking to come up with policies.

Zambia is also a country where citizens have never worried about anything when it comes to handover of power from one leader to another after elections, but it is a country that has suffered considerably from the misuse of that power by its Presidents. 

And this time around the country is not just suffering from abuse of power, but they are even denied any opportunity to engage their President in an intelligent discourse to seek reasonable answers from him on national issues. 

For a President leading a political party that came into office on the promise that it would reconcile the nation and deliver a good constitution that has eluded the Southern African nation of13 million people since the 1990s, failing to do that must take think tanks and media owners to sit down and analyse where the real problems lie. 

A number of President Sata’s supporters who use the online social media are saying this is not the kind of Sata they voted for.

Sata knows that Zambians do not take kindly to tyrants, and since he cannot risk taking his government to that end, surely there must be personal problems he has with issues of delivering the governance that he made everyone believe he was capable of. These are personal problems that those who supported him were so blinded to see, but made him to do things in the past that people like

Chanda Chimba the III remind us that our President today was not supposed to be given a mandate to become one. What is wrong with Sata, as seen now, are not about the things he is doing because of the position of leadership he holds or has held before in UNIP and MMD, but something that about him that cannot be changed. And that what cannot be changed about Sata will not go away by people trusting him.

Intellectual Integrity
This simply means resonating with the standards one expects others to meet. It measures how disciplined one is about what they say and following it with exact actions. Simply put, it is about ‘walking the walk’ by practicing what one advocates for.

When he saw an opportunity for the things that Zambians were demanding from the MMD like the constitution and respect for human rights, Sata jumped on those opportunities and parroted the voices that genuine civil activists raised against the MMD regime. 

The Oasis Forum, which is a consortium of church mother bodies and civil society, are one such body that today must be regretting having allowed the stranger in the manger. What is even sad is that President Sata today describes the same civil society groups as hijackers with reckless actions for demanding that he respects the terms of reference he gave the Technical Committee (TC) formulating the constitution. He has forgotten how the civil society and church leadership under the Oasis forum helped him to get the glare of national acceptance, pretending to be with them on their cause. 

A former Catholic Priest who is now turned politician, Fr Frank Bwalya, stood with President Sata and was widely quoted in the Post Newspaper disparaging President Rupiah Banda during the run to 2011 election campaigns. Just after winning, Sata gave him a position as chairman for Zambia’s state electricity enterprise, ZESCO. 

Shortly, Bwalya resigned over what he described as frustrations in the manner things were being done at ZESCO. Immediately he formed his own political party Alliance for a Better Zambia (ABZ). He has been critical of President Sata, recently describing him as ‘Cumbu Mushololwa’, a Bemba language jibe meaning a person who cannot take advice like a crooked sweet potato that can’t be straightened unless it breaks. Bwalya was in no time lifted from the Radio Mano in Kasama were he used the silly jibe by state police and now faces charges of defaming the president.

The large support that the PF government had garnered from the church and within the civil society has diminished.  Opinion polls on leadership style have hit the lowest ebb for President Sata, with the Catholic Church priests who had used every Sunday sermon to plead to Zambians to vote for him in 2011 now left with no option but to start praying that 2016 general elections come quickly to have him removed. Bishop Teresphor Mpundu who was vocal against the Rupiah Banda government has embarrassingly disappeared from newspapers as newsmaker. 

In short Sata so far has proved a problem with intellectual integrity, humility courage and perseverance.  He has failed to hold himself to the same standards he held MMD leadership to, wants to win every argument at the expense of proved reason, refusing to see things outside his perception and ignoring the complexities of economic dictates.  

Most Zambians feel he has failed to be accountable to the people who voted for him into office by refusing to call for a press conference three years into government so that he can be put to a test.

Next time, every Zambian voter must have a check list of intellectual qualities for each presidential candidate so that they are ready for the consequences of the result their vote will produce. We will not need a Chanda Chimba III, but we will need legal requirement to compel presidential and parliamentary candidates to appear on National Television Debate and answer researched questions on why in life they took certain positions and actions and if that will not complicate their decisions in public office.

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