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Life, death and burial of the Patriotic Front

[By Remmy Mwamba]

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die… (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 NIV).

Setting the scene

This article looks at the birth, growth, coming of age, sickness and eventual death of the once powerful Patriotic Front party. It further seeks to highlight the journey of the PF from its cradle to the grave. I use this analogy to put the message in capsules that are easily digestible for the reader.

The overarching aim is to pick some enduring lessons for us and posterity from this once-beloved and mighty party of the people. It’s entry on the political scene was announced with a big bang and ironically its life and spirit has been exorcised with an even louder banishment.

Birth of the Patriotic Front

The political midwives of the Patriotic Front were the late Michael Chilufya Sata popularly known as King Cobra, Edward Mumbi and Guy Scott, among others. At birth, the party was born with physical defects or disabilities that made it walk wobbly in the first few years. Its birth was a cross pollination of anger, contempt and bitterness that had chocked Michael Sata after the ‘Master-Dribbler’ Fredrick Titus Jacob Chiluba (FTJ) ditched Sata at the eleventh hour to pick Levy Patrick Mwanawasa who had left MMD in frustration to go back to his law practice.

This irked Sata so much as he had purged almost all potential contenders by striking them venomously like a ‘Cobra’. At the time, Sata was National Secretary of MMD and had positioned himself to succeed FTJ, only to be snubbed when the land of Canaan was in sight!

It was this sense of betrayal and indignation that fertilised the Patriotic Front embryo to its premature birth. The party was hastily organised before the 2001 elections which Sata lost. He fervently believed that Mwanawasa was no match to him and thus called him ‘cabbage’. he vigorously campaigned against Mwanawasa alleging gross incompetence and ineptitude. He often publicly declared that “Mwanawasa baile mutolafye ninshi alefoloma (Mwanawasa was just picked while he was snoring)!”

As fate would have it, in 2008, Mwanawasa died suddenly after being taken ill in Egypt. This time around, Sata had consolidated his party and believed that he would definitely clinch the deal. At the declaration of Rupiah Banda as the winner by the Electoral Commission of Zambia, Sata stormed out claiming that then director Danny Kalale and the ECZ had conspired against him to rig the results.

Growth of the PF

Before Rupiah Banda could settle down, Sata made significant strides towards the finish line. He was a master tactician with unmatched abilities to sway the crowds. He portrayed himself as a man of the people and that he had come to liberate them from the yoke of oppression.

Sata was a political genius who thrived by keeping a keen eye on the flaws of his opponents. He made the most of every mistake that his opponents made, making sure that he exaggerated everything to his benefit. In addition, he espoused populist and clientelistic strategies to endear the masses to himself.

Sata coined catchy slogans such as Don’t Kubeba that really unsettled the MMD which seemed to flaunt gifts and money to the voters. He crafted one of the most potent slogans Zambia ever had, “Lower taxes, more jobs, and more money in your pocket.” This slogan reverberated across the entire length and breadth of the country encompassing the key segments of voters. This slogan resonated with the masses that were reeling from the pangs of poverty, the businesses and entrepreneurs yoked to high taxes of sometimes 35 per cent and many unemployed youths languishing in abject poverty.

With this slogan, Sata had decimated much of the MMD strongholds to consolidate his grip on power for himself and his party. The MMD was largely oblivious to his gaining ground because they thought he was just one of those disgruntled characters. They called him all sorts of names and derided him as simply mad. It was this derision that emboldened him to the final stretch. As he wrapped his campaign in 2011, he promised among other things, a people-driven Constitution within 90 days. He would later turn 180 degrees to say, “90 days was figurative and not literal.”

Coming of age

September 2011 was a major milestone in the history of Zambia. When Sata was pronounced winner of the elections, the whole country broke into a frenzy similar to 1964 and 2021. You had to be there to experience the emotions, tears of joy and sighs of relief on the numerous faces of Zambians who genuinely believed that a messiah had arrived!

There was hope in the air, that finally an experienced and man-of-action would steer the country to the much longed-for Promised Land that had eluded the people for the last 47 years since Zambia’s independence.

Sata promised to rule the country by the Biblical 10 commandments, much to the joy of the citizens. He further said he would not tolerate the Chinese as they were endemically corrupt! Surprisingly, the first people he invited to State House were the Chinese, claiming these were different from Rupiah Banda’s Chinese!

Sata was deemed as the most experienced politician at the time. Thus, it came as a shock to most people when he appointed more than the statutory required number of nominated MPs. Some people began to question whether he knew every trick in the book.

Sata also promised a professional civil service to bring efficiency and professionalism. He appointed career civil servants to senior government positions such as District Commissioners and Permanent Secretaries. The euphoria that followed was truly captivating.

Unfortunately, the excitement was short lived; as Sata would back peddle on this promise of a fresh start. Most of the professional civil servants were removed and instead he rewarded those positions to the people that had ushered the party into power (PA MAKA).

Party cadres captured the main stream government operations and permeated every sector of society akin to the old days of ‘vigilantes’ in the UNIP era. In my view, it is this decision that had sown the seeds of destruction for the Patriotic Front. Patronage and cronyism became the order of the day.

Being the founder president of the PF, Sata was the alpha and omega. The party did not transform into a ruling party with proper structures and governance systems. This lack of systems festered chaos and adhoc planning that led to very costly projects. The case in point is the Mongu-Kalabo road that gobbled more than $239 million if I am not mistaken. The road was not economically or commercially viable. At the time of this road construction, the same amount of money could build 10 Levy Mwanawasa hospitals. If you subject most projects to a Cost-Benefit-Analysis, you will realise that most projects would not have passed even the least stringent capital project appraisals.

Sata began pronouncing empty spaces and villages into districts; and clinics into hospitals, foot paths into roads similar to the time of creation when God would say, “Let there be trees, and there were trees, rivers and so forth.” The ramifications of those decisions are now manifesting into a plethora of incomplete projects that have been abandoned and would cost five times the original cost to complete them.

Sadly, Sata died after wrestling with cancer for close to two years. Sata’s death in 2014 was another major blow to the country that had lost another sitting president within a relatively short period. While Sata was sick, the jostling for power had already started with what was called the cartel led by Wynter Kabimba and “ewo bashilile” faction of Edgar Lungu and Inonge Wina. The Patriotic Front managed to pull through with a very small margin of roundabout 27,000 votes despite the incumbency and sympathy vote.

In 2016, the Patriotic Front garnered 100,000 votes ahead of Hakainde Hichilema who was the main opposition leader. To the discerning mind, it was clear that the party was struggling to keep afloat.

The PF in ICU

By 2016, the cracks in the party were becoming visible. The cabinet was composed of MPs from the opposition MMD and UPND as a ploy to weaken the opposition. This action was seen as a betrayal to the founder members who felt sidelined in preference for those who had been chased by the people.

The second term of the PF in power was characterised by arrogance of gigantic proportions. The levels of cadrerism reached epidemic proportions, much to the chagrin of the people who were helplessly reduced to mere spectators in the economic and social life of the country. They assumed power and authority even beyond the level of kings and prophets. They had the power to decree and citizens were required to oblige without question or recourse. They became the law unto themselves!

The regalia commanded more authority than the uniform of police officers or any government official. They controlled all government contracts and everything could only be achieved through connections with the ‘right sources’.

Meanwhile, the economy was in comatose and citizens could hardly bear the brunt of an economy that was in the intensive care unit. Technically speaking, the economy was in a depression from 2015, compounded by the soaring debt burden. The country had already approached IMF for a bailout.

Death of the Patriotic Front

The autopsy shows that the party died of unnatural causes such as corruption, bad governance, shrinking political space and freedoms as well as flaunting of wealth when the majority of citizens could hardly afford a single meal per day. Individuals had suddenly become as rich as to bailout the country through handouts and all sorts of relief programmes as a show of philanthropy.

Arrogance had reached its zenith as some ministers such as Davis Chama would boast that PF would rule for another 100 years, and that Zambia was ready for a one-party state. It was becoming ever clearer that the leaders were detached from the realities of the people and were walking on a slippery slope to self-destruction.

At the eleventh hour, it began to dawn in the minds of the leaders that dissent was brewing among the people that they had erroneously thought would appreciate the government for delivering unprecedented infrastructure development.

Unknown to them, was the fact that balance between tangibles and intangibles is very critical so that the people are not left behind. What is a beautiful road to a hungry citizen? What good is an ultra-modern hospital without medicines? These nagging questions beg honest answers.

The pallbearers of the PF coffin

As the political pundits would put it, the PF lacked a coherent message for the campaign and began to peddle stale messages of tribalism and hate speech. Chief amongst them were Edith Nawakwi with the message of privatisation, Chishimba Kambili who incessantly vilified HH, Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba came as an opportunist to salvage his dwindling economic fortunes, Dr Canisius Banda who had defected to PF on the pretext that he was victimised also pushed the same tribalism narrative and Antonio Mwanza who literally chanted empty praises of Edgar Chagwa Lungu, to name but a few.

I liken these individuals to pallbearers carrying the casket to the grave. It became clear to the electorate that it was simply character assassination at play. They did not acknowledge any shortcomings of the PF and failed to paint a picture of a better Zambia for the masses who had now been reduced to beggars. At the time MMD left, Zambia’s GDP was around $28 billion, while in 2021 it was a paltry $18 billion; reduced to a shell of its former glory.

The other pallbearers included the campaign strategists that composed the much-dreaded song, “ALEBWELELAPO PA MUPANDO, SORRY NI LESA EWASALILE.” This exemplified the epitome of arrogance that characterised PF misrule.

The hastily organised debt-swap was another pallbearer in the final exit of PF from the political stage. A unilateral declaration by a third party to contracts duly signed and legally binding obligations just to lure the civil servants to vote for PF. The process had to start immediately, while the government would be “reconciling for three months!” First of all, the debt-swap was not budgeted for and only served to sky-rocket the already unsustainable debt the country was grappling with.

It is inconceivable that a country that had defaulted on the interest payments could conceive of a medicine that was worse than the disease. The principal amount of debt had swelled by 300 per cent as a result of exchange losses while the PF were ready to engage in such a catastrophic undertaking. What a stroke of recklessness!

The other pallbearers worth mentioning are the Pentecostal pastors who had prophesied that HH would not be president as “God had whispered to them.” They had become complicit to the wrongs of PF and buried their heads in the sand as the proverbial ostrich.

The suppression of rights and freedoms of the people had reached alarming levels and citizens were cowed into silence which the PF misinterpreted as docility and contentment, much to their disbelief and shock when the results started pouring in from the supposedly PF strongholds.

The final pallbearer was no other than ECL himself. From inception, he was largely an absentee landlord. He lost my last ounce of confidence when he appointed Christopher Mvunga as Central Bank governor, against a world renowned economist in the name of Denny Kalyalya. To say I was shocked by this action would be an understatement. The future of the country had been sacrificed at the altar of expedience and vanity.

Edgar Lungu had failed to stem the tide of fruitless and wasteful expenditure under his watch. The gassing and burning of markets that had rocked the country was very alien to the peace-loving Zambians. The case of Honey Bee scandal began to prove to the people that their leaders were apathetic to their plight. To compound the matters; Dr Chitalu Chilufya, the man at the centre of the scandal was readopted What a contradiction in terms, for a man who professed God and projected himself as the embodiment of humility!

Day of burial

The huge voter turnout on 12th August, 2021 with most voters arriving at polling stations as early as 01:00 hours, signaled an anger that had been bottled-up and had now brewed to fever pitch. The electorate could not wait a minute longer to vent their anger and frustration through the ballot box.

Efforts to salvage the situation proved futile and a waste of time. The grave diggers were already armed with shovels and the coffin had already been lowered into the grave. Attempts to stop them from filling the grave fell on death ears. The country had reached a point of no return in their resolve to put the PF into oblivion.

A new era had dawned, and people were now talking of PF in past tense terms. It once was, and it now lies in the collective memory of the Zambians, that once upon a time, the Patriotic Front ruled this country but it failed the people miserably. To consider that a sitting president could lose by a million votes is nothing but a banishment of the party and its spirit from the land of the living. May the soul of the Patriotic Front rest in eternal peace!

The author is a Zambian patriot who holds deep and abiding interests in developmental, philosophical and spirituality matters. He has a background in Business, Accounting and Finance studies.

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