By E. Munshya wa Munshya
It is common knowledge that the battles of succession for Patriotic Front leader President Michael Sata are now being fought openly. The vultures are not trying to hide anymore. They have come out in full force, making their intentions known. They are also trying to amass as much a following as they can get. The most significant episode in all this kerfuffle has been an acknowledgment by Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba that there are Riffraffs within the Patriotic Front that are fighting very hard to win these battles of succession.
GBM could be right. Indeed a rule by riffraffs is the greatest injustice any country can endure. However, in as much as what GBM has said is right, he has misstated where the problem is. Indeed, Zambia should be concerned not that riffraffs are trying to succeed President Sata, but rather that riffraffs are actually ruling with President Sata now. As such, our greatest concern should not be that they would rule tomorrow, but rather that these riffraffs are ruling today. The challenge for all Zambians is to ensure that these riffraffs do not destroy our country.
Intra-political battles are not uncommon. In fact, going by our history, Zambian ruling parties do face bitter intra-party battles within two years of acquiring power. In fact, the reality that the PF has not even had a splinter group in the 2 years it has been in power is itself quite unusual.
Going back to 1964, after Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP) had obliterated its opponents in the January elections, there was some satisfaction among many UNIPists that the time had arrived for them. In fact, Kaunda’s success in Barotseland bolstered his position in negotiating for the Barotseland Agreement of May 1964. Had Kaunda or UNIP lost in Barotseland, that agreement would not have probably materialized and Barotseland could have in fact, negotiated a more politically amicable settlement than what Kaunda offered them. However, within 2 years of power, UNIP faced so many power struggles that it all came as a shock to Kaunda. The fact that some agitators were in fact, his close friends was quite unusual. UNIP faced problems with Kaunda’s legitimacy – many of his friends still felt that he was a Malawian charlatan ruling over a country that was not his. Some UNIP stalwarts were further concerned that Kaunda preferred to appoint his fellow Malawians to positions in government. The fact that he had gone ahead to appoint Reuben Kamanga as the first vice-president of an independent Zambia did not help matters either. The other problems that faced UNIP were tribal. Kaunda later learned that the “One Zambia One Nation” slogan he had slammed down the throat of Barotseland was not going to work. UNIP members of parliament and other Barotse senior UNIP leaders had chosen to side with Barotse regional interests. Within 2 years of power, the formidable UNIP was losing the plot. It had to take serious dictatorial tendencies for Kaunda to keep UNIP together. He expelled several Lozis from UNIP and one time sent his closest collaborator, Sikota Wina, to the Lozi king to warn him that the UNIP government was going to rule over Mongu and sideline him by force.
UNIP’s succession and intra-party fighting continued until 1973 when at the recommendation of the Chona Commission, Kaunda disbanded all political parties and entrenched UNIP as the sole political party. After, 1973 every one had to be a forced member of UNIP. Those who thought they could succeed Kaunda faced serious backlash. These included Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe. Kapwepwe was a non-conformist who resisted UNIP’s one-party state until his death at the hand of UNIP vigilantes in 1980.
After the Movement for Multiparty Democracy’s successful routing of UNIP in 1991, it did not take long for internal divisions to emerge within the ranks and file of the MMD. While, Chiluba had shown himself to be an effective leader, he too began developing some dictatorial tendencies inherited from his predecessor at State House. This coupled with the fact that other powerful figures also wanted a share of that power further led to the destabilization of the MMD. Months into power, figures like Mulemba and Wina were not happy with the direction the nation and the party were taking. Even vice-president Levy Mwanawasa was concerned that power was getting too concentrated on Frederick Chiluba and his closest collaborators such as Michael Sata. It was Mwanawasa’s opinion that, in actual fact, his Cabinet junior and party inferior Michael Sata was exercising more power than him. The breaking up of the MMD was inevitable.
By 1993, a faction had left MMD. Emmanuel Kasonde, a senior MMD leader had also left the MMD. The Lewanika duo – Akashambatwa and Inonge had also left. The new party to fight the MMD was almost regarded as a more sectarian and regional party. It had to take the highhandedness of MMD Secretary Michael Sata to curtail the further spread of the National Party beyond Southern and Western Provinces. When Kasonde stood on National Party ticket in Kasama in the ensuing bye-election, the message from Sata was clear – Kasonde had sold out what should be a Bemba political hegemony to Nkumbula’s National Party. Kasonde was soundly defeated in that bye-election.
The MMD had been fractured and beyond 1993 the internal squabbles had taken its toll. Just like UNIP before it, the first two years of political power led to unprecedented internal divisions and “succession battles.”
In the case of the intra-Patriotic Front battles, however, several things are quite unusual. The case of the internal divisions within the PF does differ significantly from the UNIP and UNIP cases. First, President Sata does not seem to be in effective control of his party or his government. It does appear like the succession battles are a result of this lack of control more than anything else. In the perceived lack of adequate control it is like every one is doing as they please. It is now difficult to figure out who exactly is speaking for Sata. GBM for his part has made it categorically clear, that he is speaking for President Sata and that the actions of those battling for actions are “hurtful to President Sata.” Each time succession battles emerged in our history, the president was perceived as a central player within those battles. In the case of the Patriotic Front, however, the absence of President Sata is the defining element of these battles. This is quite unusual.
The second issue with the Patriotic Front is that it is a problematic union of people united only by perceived personal interests and greed. It is quite unusual that President Sata has managed to assemble a team that could not see eye to eye on many issues before September 2011. Isn’t it surprising that President Sata has given no official acknowledgment to President Frederick Chiluba and yet the first acts of power included promoting Chiluba’s assistant to become a Permanent Secretary in the PF government. It also quite surprising that former intelligence boss Xavier Chungu is a part of the same team now, as Fred Membe and Mutembo Nchito. President Sata’s team is a team of contradictions and absurdities. Assembling a team like this whose players seem to be so philosophically dissimilar is a prerequisite for disaster. The battles for succession will only grow bigger and fiercer– there are too many vested interests and egos.
The third issue going on within this succession debacle is just how the issue of tribe is working out. Wynter Kabimba’s hopes for success within the Patriotic Front lay with him finding a multi-ethnic bloc within. GBM on the other hand does not need that. The Patriotic Front is a Bemba party already, and so GBM does not need to do as much fighting as Kabimba. That being the case, President Sata has shown Kabimba that he would side with GBM no matter what Kabimba thinks of GBM. At the same time that Kabimba was persecuting Given Lubinda, the same tactics never worked on GBM. In fact, GBM emerged even stronger after he survived the Kabimba onslaught. GBM survived because when it comes to the real issues of power, President Sata would side with a Bemba relative more than the man from Shibuyunji. This is not strange. In fact, from our history, ruling parties have had a share of their tribal politics and the PF government now would be no exception.
Since GBM has endorsed President Sata for 2016, it is quite unusual to see the kind of condemnation he has received from the likes of Kabimba and even Guy Scott. In a quite dramatic move, even Matero Member of Parliament Miles Sampa stated that there was no need to make any endorsements for 2016. I find these criticisms to be misplaced. I think GBM is only being condemned because he has started to do something that his opponents would have wanted to do themselves. GBM has beaten them to this game. Instead of condemning him, they should just join in and do it. They are mostly riffraffs after all.
Conversely, the fact that we have riffraffs in the Patriotic Front is a no brainer. It is a party of riffraffs. And that should the concern of all. If I were to be concerned about what GBM said, and as I have stated above, I am more concerned about the riffraffs ruling now, than those who are hoping to rule after President Sata. As such, the battle for Zambia should not be left to the riffraffs in PF to duck it out, each Zambian should be involved by making it clear that Zambians will vote in 2016 and the vote should just be for a party more civil and more elegant than the riffraffs we have subjected ourselves to since 2011.
In riffraffs, we do not trust.