By E. Munshya wa Munshya
That the Patriotic Front’s foreign policy is a disaster is there for all to see. It started at the inauguration of President Michael Sata when he refused to invite his Malawian counterpart but instead invited Wa Mutharika’s tumultuous predecessor Bakili Muluzi. This lack of clear foreign policy guidelines has spilled over into several diplomatic agencies of our republic. Zambia abstained from the UNESCO vote that admitted Palestine into full membership and additionally, it voted against a UN General Assembly motion condemning Iran for its role in planning an assignation of the Saudi diplomatic personnel.
Closer to home, the new government has picked up quarrels with the Malawian authorities to the extent of allowing a Malawian opposition radio station to operate on Zambian soil. With regard to Angola, the entire nation, and SADC region, and diplomatic corps was shocked when President Sata apologized to Angola for the “MMD government’s support for rebel leader Jonas Savimbi during the 1990s”. The irony of this apology is that President Sata himself was actually the de-facto number three during this MMD government he was condemning. Since his inauguration only 2 regional leaders have been to Zambia and he has not even dared to travel to visit with his counterparts. Zambia a beacon of regional peace has been reduced to a grouchy neighour.
Nothing further demonstrates the Patriotic Front’s foreign police catastrophe than what happened just this week. On a day that he sent President Kenneth Kaunda on a mission to China, President Sata refused to fund President Rupiah Banda’s trip to the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo for an observer mission. In the same diplomatic hullabulla of fixing what is not broken, Sata not only sent Kaunda to Angola to mend relations that were not broken, he has now sent Kaunda to China to mend relations with China that have never been broken. His lunch with 150 Chinese investors at State House was more than enough for him to apologize for his anti-Chinese stance during his campaigns. Kaunda’s trip to China is unnecessary. Given that it is necessary, I wish to argue that equally necessary is how we handle our neighbors like Malawi and Congo DR.
On November 28 2011, Congo DR goes for its second national wide elections ever in its history. The international community is very concerned that Congo may relapse into yet another civil war. The opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi has proclaimed himself Head of State, and the incumbent is facing the biggest opposition yet of his presidency. That the Congo is a turbulent country is a no brainer. Zambia has shared the problems of the Congo in our long history as a country. We share the longest border with the Congo and most ethnic groups in Zambia do have their counterparts across the border. What happens in the Congo greatly affects Zambian security and peace. Zambia cannot afford to overlook the Congo.
Since a peaceful Congo is in our best interest as a nation, any Zambian leader should make it a priority to ensure that Zambia is able to live at peace with the Congo. As such, any effort at ensuring that the Congo has peace should be a foreign policy priority for any Zambian government, but at least not for President Michael Chilufya Sata.
President Jimmy Carter has extended an invitation to President Rupiah Banda to co-lead with him a mission to Congo during these elections. President Carter and many western powers are quite impressed with Zambia’s peaceful transition from the MMD government to the PF government and from President Banda to President Sata. It is in this vein that most western powers are looking at using the Zambian example as a model of democracy to other African countries. A peaceful handover of power from one leader to another is something that is rare in Africa and so President Banda should be commended for having peacefully handed over to Sata.
It is in this spirit that Banda has been recognized by Carter to travel with him to Congo and help the Congo through its elections. No American leader has taken African interests more zealously than Carter. He was here in Zambia in 1991 when we made our transition from the Kaunda dictatorship to democracy. He helped pacify a nation in transit. Carter helped Zambia in our time of need. He spoke and advised Chiluba at a critical time when Chiluba was about to assume power. His presence was also an encouragement to Kaunda who quickly relinquished power when it became apparent that he had been beaten by over sixty-percent.
That Banda has been invited by Carter to go to Congo is positively praiseworthy. But the way President Sata responded to this invitation leaves much to be desired. Importantly, Sata equally praised the gesture. He congratulated his predecessor for this appointment. In what could just be described as shocking, President Sata then added that even though Banda should be congratulated for this appointment, he (Sata) was not going to fund Banda for this private adventure. President Michael Chilufya Sata’s response leaves much to be desired. Here are the reasons why.
First, President Banda still remains a former Head of State who is entitled to security at taxpayer expense. President Sata cannot refuse to fund the security for a former Head of State. Indeed if Banda went to Congo and due to a security breach Banda gets hurt or is killed, it would not be good for the world to learn that our only other former Head of State went to the Congo without security.
Second, President Sata is wrong to insinuate that Banda is taking a purely private visit to the Congo. It is either President Sata has paranoia or may be he has amnesia. How can a trip of peace to a troublesome neighbor be branded as a purely private visit? Indeed this would not be the first time that Banda is traveling out of the country. He recently went to Morningside Clinic for a medical check-up, and Sata funded that trip. If Sata funded the trip to Morningside Clinic, he surely can fund Banda’s trip to Congo, can’t he?
Third, President Sata is wrong because his actions are dangerous to the security of our republic. To a large extent, Zambian security is closely intertwined with that of the Congo. Any initiative that helps to bring peace to the Congo should not be jeered but rather cheered. If the Congo is not peaceful it will be difficult if not impossible for Zambia to have peace. The fact that the Congo is having elections provides a chance for Zambia and other nations to play an initiative of peace. And as such, if that role comes through sending a former head of state to Congo, we must encourage that and not molest it. Doesn’t President Sata realize that if Congo relapsed into civil war, its insecurity will affect our own security? Doesn’t President Sata realize that if the Congo is unsafe, even the Chinese investment in Zambia may be at stake? It he could fund Kaunda’s trip to China couldn’t he also fund his predecessor’s trip to Congo. Surely, even if China pumped millions into Zambia if the Congolese “kadokos” decide to invade Zambia, even those Chinese millions will lose value. Peace is a prerequisite to economic growth.
Fourthly, there is no justifiable reason why President Sata should refuse to fund Banda. There is no justifiable reason why Sata should refuse to provide security to Banda while in Congo. There is no justifiable reason why Sata should even have mentioned that gobbledygook about not funding Banda or members of Banda’s entourage. If Banda goes to the Congo and after the elections it emerges that Kabila has lost, no one can play a better role in convincing Kabila to relinquish power than a fellow African who has the experience of losing an election. Besides, Banda’s mission to the Congo is not a selfish enterprise on his own; it would lead to Zambia gaining a higher profile on the international scene.
May be Chilufya needs reminding that leading Zambia is not just about what you do in Lusaka for the people of Lusaka. It includes small efforts that you do for the weak and turbulent nations like the Congo. This is because, if Katanga or indeed Congo DR catches fire, that fire can easily spread to Nkwazi House or for the moment to Omelo Mumba Road since Chilufya has refused to move to Nkwazi House because it is too filthy. But for now, whether Nkwazi House is filthy or not, our sister nation is calling for our help and it will be folly for us to say no.