Zambia: An Orphaned Nation

Orphanage hurts. You really never stop grieving. If an uncle that takes over your household is kind, this can help ease the pain. But some stories of impyani (inheritor) can be harrowing. We are in the midst of that story. In this article, I want to use the inheritance analogy to mourn presidents Levy Mwanawasa and Michael Sata who seemed on the verge of delivering us from the evil of poverty in which we are now wallowing with no respite in sight from within the ruling Patriotic Front. Mourning can be cathartic. When I miss my late father or mother, I just let the tears run freely and I feel so much better afterwards.

Fate has visited Zambians at critical moments through deaths of sitting presidents. Mwanawasa was a no-nonsense president. Mwanawasa was disliked by many partly because he was handpicked by Frederick Chiluba to go on and win a highly questionable election against the charismatic Anderson Mazoka. Of course, there are those ethnic bigots who will dislike anyone ruling who is not either from the Bemba-speaking tribes or the Eastern tribes.

Hate him or like him, Mwanawasa produced some admirable numbers in all-round governance. He did this against all odds. An alleged attempt on his life by the corrupt or those who wanted the vice-presidency left his life hanging on a thread, disfigured, and he never fully recovered. He had resigned as second most powerful person in Zambia due to Chiluba’s cabinet’s unquenchable thirst for corruption. Mwanawasa was no saint, to be sure. But he behaved mostly like a decent lawyer and a good statesman. His posthumous address to the nation speaks volumes about a person who had a heart for the people he governed over. Our eyes will never dry from mourning your loss, LPM.

Michael Sata’s bitterness at being dribbled by Chiluba after his strategic support for Chiluba’s Third Term, made him leave the MMD and form his own party. The King Cobra was one of the most loathed persons at the time. In Mpika, Sata was a prodigal son. His first parliamentary seat as PF leader wasn’t in Mpika. An anecdote of how he earned the hatred of the brave people of Mpika was that he went on radio and de-campaigned Mpika from being given relief food saying everyday they just drink locally brewed wine. But like the snake in the Bible myth, the King Cobra was a charmer. In no time, Mpika was under his spell that progressively spread throughout the country.

The Mwanawasa-Sata rivalry is one of the most spectacular in the history of Zambian politics. There’s that cruel video clip in Mtendere of Sata mocking Mwanawasa’s ill health that his brain and that his mouth did not coordinate. At some interparty meeting, Mwanawasa spoke in Lamba to which Sata condescendingly quipped, ‘Moneni batampa ukulanda ifitundu’. Typical Bemba condescension. The hatred between the two was palpable.

But there could not be a sweeter twist to their story. The two reconciled at St Ignatius Catholic Church. Sata could be seen clowning around with Mwanawasa’s ministers following a life-saving evacuation to South Africa. In case you did not know, the political elite in Zambia with the exception of the clearly patriotic former president Kenneth Kaunda, all rush to South Africa or India for the most trivial medical problems whether diarrhea or a bruised arm. The so-called University Teaching Hospital is a filthy death-trap for the poorest who can bear the pungency of chemicals poured in hallways to mask the stench of death.

At the reconciliatory mass, Mwanawasa poured out his heart in unscripted eloquence so uncharacteristic of him: “I was so gripped with sadness at this news [of Sata being critically ill]. If you asked me before, I would have told you that inshimufwaya ulya umuntu, inshifwaya nokumumfwa ishiwi lyakwe iyoo. That’s how I detested this man. Because he was maliciously making my job difficult to govern this country. But you see, the news of his illness gripped me with sadness. I realised just how much I needed him. To be president, I don’t want to be hero-worshipped all the time. I want people who can correct me; show me that the best it should be done is this way. Of course, if I don’t agree with them, I will tell them that I don’t agree for this and this reason. But this was not happening. And, as I said, I realised just how much I need him around. He’s a good fellow to have around.” The authenticity of this confession is beyond doubt, the wisdom would make Solomon envious.
Sata himself was our next parent. To be honest, his stint was chaotic and short-lived. He complained openly of foolish ministers or MPs at his disposal. His health failed him and the vultures, old and young, circled sabotaging his good intentions and positioning themselves as kingmakers. Sata’s health deteriorated so fast until he breathed his last in a London hospital. His period as Republican president was too short to make much sense out of it considering he was ill half the time of his three years presidency.

But Sata gave us some glimpses. Some of his recruitments such as of Professor Clive Chirwa showed the direction he wanted the country to go. Revised University of Zambia remunerations were beginning to show some intended dividends with eminent scholars in the diaspora reportedly considering returning home as many would love. Diaspora is not everyone’s shot of Jameson. But some people would rather endure the bitterness than live under a ‘sangwapo’ and hopeless regime.

But alas, death had a different story for our country. Death quickly harvested Sata away from us before we could see the corrupt crawl into tiny holes. And we were dumped under the supposed care of impyani (estate administrator), Edgar Lungu who by the most unlikely and unfortunate happenstance was hoisted to be head of our state. His closest rival for succession was Miles Sampa, current mayor of Lusaka, and that speaks volumes of the leadership bankruptcy in the ruling party. President Lungu’s most pronounced leadership trait was his supposed humility and pretty much nothing else.

Before his ascendency to the presidency, Lungu was a humble person. I mean not humility of character but of humble means. Unfortunately, some people think looking frail or clasping hands is humility. Edgar Lungu was as broke as a common Pentecostal bishop or prophet under COVID-19. As broke as a government retiree or a council employee. If as a lawyer he was nicking some widow’s meagre funds and failing to repay it promptly in smaller instalments as ordered by the courts, what more after the Law Association of Zambia declared him unfit to be a member of the respectable body of advocates of the High Court? Where would he be had it not been for the abundant favouritism of the late King Cobra? But few months as president, abracadabra, he’s a millionaire. It would be the world’s best seller, a book on how Lungu made his US dollar millions, allegedly owning properties across the country and abroad. I would not be surprised if the book got the subtitle, “From Rugs to Riches through Grand Corruption”.

Lungu shall be recorded in our national archives not so much as a former Head of State but rather as a King of Corruption. No hyperbole intended. He is a ‘changwa mulamu’. Every project, every procurement leaves a corruption aftertaste. It’s hard to imagine a more corruption-friendly president. The numbers don’t lie. A single useless ‘wheelbarrow’ fire engine cost Zambians about K13 million kwacha (only). And they were 42 of them! The Auditor General and Financial Intelligence Centre reports paint a rather macabre picture of billions of kwachas going in the hands of PF PEPs or cronies. President Lungu’s response is classic: “Mfwiti, mfwiti, mfwiti”. To him the reports are all products of witch-hunting not of patriotic professional women and men safeguarding our nearly empty coffers. For Lungu, they are trying to make him, his boys and girls look bad to voters and to lenders. As a lawyer with spiritual eyes, showered in Ms Godfridah Sumaili’s prayers and anointing oil, he can see there’s absolutely no evidence.

And since he knows no evidence will be found even as his ministers are being investigated by the image-laundering Anti-corruption Commission, Lungu lets them continue operating fully as cabinet ministers as was with the Luapula boys Ronald Chitotela and Chitalu Chilufya, who, as I write, is the COVID-19 man of the moment. Emily Kabanshi did not fit the bill for presidential protection. Citizens have zero confidence any results will be found because anyone that would dare show any evidence risks retirement in ‘national’ interest.

When you are kingpin of so much corruption, you need to come down on critics like a tonne of bricks at the speed of light. Zambia’s democracy is on a ventilator. An insecure leader of corruption needs a thuggish team, bulldogs. You need Kaiser Zulus, Bowman Lusambos and government institutions to physically, verbally or economically harass critics and opponents. Prime TV airs divergent views on Bill 10. In the morning: knock, knock, knock. “Who’s there?” “Open up, it’s Zambia Revenue Authority!” or “It’s Josphine Mapoma from IBA! For fear of being transferred or retired in ‘national’ (read, ‘tribal’ or ‘party’) interest, Zambia Police Service professionals must pay a blind eye to known PF cadres disrupting and threatening radio station for hosting Hakainde Hichilema, an opposition party president.
Such is the insecurity and repressiveness of Lungu’s government and his bulldogs that mourning Mwanawasa’s and Sata’s death and bemoaning the corruption, economic and political misrule of impyani Edgar Lungu can be seen by some as a foolhardy death wish. But freedom of expression is worth it. Some seeds must die to produce more seeds. Such is the bloodthirst of freedom; it loves sacrifices when it’s threatened.

Not even the dastardly tenacity to retain power in 2021 at any price can eclipse media freedom, freedom of thought, freedom of expression. The Lungu rollercoaster is the roughest since colonial apartheid days. But as Zambians, we are a tenacious people, most times our kindness is taken for granted. Yesterday, it was the British, now it is the Chinese and their PF chola boys. But if we can make it through this night, there’s a brighter day. Rest in Peace MCS. Your boat is now a pirate’s paradise. Teary missed by your orphans.
The author is a philosopher and social commentator

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