Divided We Stand: Why Squabbles in PF Are Good for Zambian Democracy

E. Munshya wa Munshya

The beauty of Zambian democracy is that no president in Zambia holds a monopoly over political players be it in the ruling party or in opposition. In fact, Zambian democracy manifests itself greatly in the personal ambition of various political players. Without personal ambition, democracy would lose its value and we could quickly slip back into a one-party or one-man participatory democracy. As such, it is the personal ambition of various political players that gives fuel and impetus to the fight for democracy anywhere.

It is in this light that the current squabbles in the Patriotic Front should be seen. These are not fights just for the sake of fights. These are fights for control, fights for power. Clearly, the fights serve notice to the current president that no one will succumb to blind loyalty to him. It also serves notice to the future of Zambia that this nation does not lack men and women who are willing to present themselves as potential leaders of this country. It is in this spirit of competition that our democracy can be mostly nurtured and matured.

That being the case, why then should these squabbles be good for Zambian democracy? Several reasons should be provided as an answer to this question. The PF squabbles provide a test for Zambia’s leader. In fact, all of Zambia’s presidents have had to deal with such squabbles at some point in their leadership. Kaunda’s post-independence honeymoon ended abruptly when several Lozi politicians revolted against his political leadership in 1965 and 1966. For his part, Kaunda did something about this and was a present player into the problems that had engulfed both his UNIP party and the nation. Kaunda provided leadership during these squabbles and he was not ambivalent towards the problems. He fired the troublemakers and started to make efforts at winning back the Lozi constituency. These efforts paid off handsomely when at the party convention of 1968, the Lozi constituency bounced back into the realms of UNIP.

In addition, towards the end of Kaunda’s rule, several squabbles broke out. The most significant was when Enoch Kavindele decided to challenge Kaunda for the presidency of UNIP in 1990. Kavindele showed some ambition. And with the power of ambition intact, the garden of democracy shall forever be watered.

Just after winning the presidency in 1991, Chiluba also faced the greatest test of his leadership. Senior members of the MMD, unsatisfied with the course he was taking, started to grumble. However, the greatest squabble that defined Chiluba’s first year in office was the one between his highest ranking cabinet members: Miyanda, Mwanawasa and Michael Sata. Particularly, vice-president Mwanawasa felt that his cabinet juniors, with clear knowledge of President Chiluba, were sidelining him.

It was not long after that, that Chiluba took control of the situation and publicly forbade his cabinet members from “laundering dirty linen in public.” However, there was no way Sata and Mwanawasa were going to work together. Their differences were irreconcilable and a few months after these public spats, vice-president Mwanawasa left cabinet citing Chiluba’s decision to side with Sata as one of the reasons.

From this saga, one thing is clear: Chiluba took control of the situation. He was also visible throughout these problems and he showed his preferences in the whole thing. Chiluba decisively took sides in the matter. These are the elements lacking in the current spats within the current ruling party. President Sata is absent from the squabbles going on in the ruling party. This behaviour from a president is highly unusual and notwithstanding any potential problems arising from division, the president’s silence might be the greatest undoing. President Sata might pay a heavy political price for this sloppiness and ambivalence.

The people of Zambia did not vote for Kabimba. Zambians did not vote for Membe. Zambians did not vote for GB Mwamba. The man in power is Michael Sata and in moments like this, Zambians expect the president to show up and lead the way. Squabbles shall always be there, but so should be the president.

Therefore, if you have squabbles without clear leadership from a president you plant seeds of ambivalence that would stifle the growth of democracy. By now, President Sata should have taken a firm stand against these public spats. He should also have fired some of these people. Both Kabimba and GBM cannot be right. President Sata should be able to tell which one of the two is causing the problems. with this knowledge, President Sata can then fire the problem maker so that they could form a political party or something to that effect. Such a faction formed out of these squabbles would help test our democracy further. For sure all these squabbles will make any one including president Sata to have no illusion that Zambians could be taken for granted.

Had there been no divisions and squabbles within the MMD or UNIP, we would not be where we are today as a democracy. Just look at the Zimbabwe situation, without personal ambition of political players shady characters like Mugabe would continue to rule way into his 100th birthday. ZANU-PF stalwarts have shown no ambition, and no initiative in trying to remove the tentacles of this dictator. Loyalty has in Zimbabwe planted seeds of a brutal dictatorship. As for Zambia, things are different. Zambian political players do not have the same amount of loyalty exhibited by their Zimbabwean counterparts. In Zambia, most cabinet ministers do not see themselves as mere servants of a sitting president. Most of them see themselves as potential successors to the president. It is this ambition that keeps democracy alive and prevents the growth of a personality cult for a president.

If there is anything we can take from GBM’s public differences with Kabimba, it is the fact that Zambia is bettered by these differences. But in order for Zambia to benefit even more, President Sata must wake up and show leadership.

What good is a cobra if it cannot bite?


  1. Internal squabbles or “Conflicts” are good for democracy and development. This opens up people’s minds and creates ambition. However, this needs to be managed as the absence of regulated conflict can may lead to the squabbles or conflicts spinning out of control and causing serious damage to both people directly involved and the nation at large.

    I therefore agree that the president as the overall “boss” needs to show leadership and regulate or ‘manage’ this conflict before it spirals out of control and destabilizes his party and the nation.

  2. The ambition you’re identifying is as a result of the principle failing to balance interests. Much as I would want the president to come out and as you call it “show leadership” I would rather he stays away for obvious interests.

    On the flip side, president sata is better off not taking sides as any show of aligiency to either side will spell doomsday end for Pf as we have all come to know it, an extension of sata’s ego. Once his riffraffic ego of his runs out, the organisation will die like unip a year after losing elections.

  3. No matter how much I try, I always find myself disagreeing with what you write. We cannot find pleasure or console in the wrangles in the PF especially if we expect them to govern properly…I am sure you can insert relevant scripture here on ruling a kingdom when your home is not in order.
    If you say personal ambition fuels democracy then in the same way it also fuels dictatorship! Democracy characterizes itself in orderly and usually more peaceful ways than what we are seeing. I am worried that if people are willing to go this far to get power, how much further will they go to keep power? Besides, the most probable thing to come out of squabbles in a party is a host of splinter parties…and whilst that could be a good argument for democracy I am inclined to be pessimistic…If the current state of affairs is anything to go by, more parties would mean more thugs to beat and harass people, more political rhetoric…etc. Work Done =0

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