Has the King Cobra Become An Ostrich?
By E. Munshya wa Munshya
We are seeing the portrait of a very active and engaging leader from State House, a cobra in his own right. President Sata is appearing in more public events. He is seen commissioning or not commissioning roads, and he is being seen in public berating his juniors for what he perceives to be mediocre work.
At State House during the famous swearing in ceremonies, President Sata does appear to be a very enchanting participant. He is seen and heard rebuking those with baldheads. It is still debatable whether the baldhead phenomenon is just because he is naturally a funny character or there is something seriously wrong with those men spotting bald. In many instances, he would interrupt the solemn ceremonies of a swearing in service to talk about the status of grass at State House. During the many campaign stops he has made since assuming office, he is heard fully engaging with voters and appealing to them to vote for his party – the PF – if those areas are to taste any “aromatic aldehyde” of development.
He has made several changes to his own team. Permanent Secretaries are being moved and transferred frequently. The latest of these transfers, of course, being the resettlement of Emmanuel Mwamba from Barotseland to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. To Barotseland, President Sata has sent Amos Malupenga as permanent secretary. This should make for interesting times. Malupenga, the man of holograms, has now been hollowed to Barotseland.
Indeed, the president does seem to be actively engaged with many issues: baldheads, bad roads, depraved grass at State House, Chief Jumbe’s bedroom and many other issues. One area, however, that has seen a dearth in silence from the Head of State does seem to be the events happening in his own party – the Patriotic Front.
Obviously, President Sata does read widely and he listens very closely. As recent as just a few months ago, he told Chief Jumbe that he listens in on his conversations including those happening in his bedroom. No one would doubt that and neither should we have any reason to doubt that President Sata can and in fact does listen in. Whatever that means, should be left to one’s imagination. We are not psychics and so we should be satisfied that we may never know what His Excellency actually meant by that. Suffice to mention here that listening into private bedrooms used to be very bad manners at one time in our upbringing. But when you are “the authority on everything” (see the Mutuna & Others case), it seems you do have the right to do so. Being president comes with benefits including that of being likened to a peeping tom.
That being the case then, there seems to be a disconnect within President Sata’s own party. Why is it that this president who is so actively engaging with everything around him has failed to mention, not even once, the emergence of cracks and the house that is quickly falling apart in his own backyard? It should be ironic that at the same time that he is noticing the browning of grass at State House he is not equally paying attention to the browning of fists at Northmead, happening right under his nose. How can one explain this ambivalence? Well let us try to provide an analysis.
First, it could be that while we think President Sata is actively engaging, he might not be. May be he just does not see the fights that are going on. But this theory is almost impossible to fathom. The same day that he went to commission a road at Kasisi, he could tell that the road he had been led to had, in fact, been tarred already. To this, he asked his longest serving Member of Parliament Yamfwa Mukanga, “why did you call me to commission a road which is already done?” On that same day, there was a battle brewing at Northmead between supporters of GBM and those of Wynter “one party state” Kabimba. I do not believe the President has not seen this. He is very aware of these problems. This then leads us to the second question, if the president is aware of these issues, why then hasn’t he taken action?
Divisions in ruling parties are not new and neither are they unique to the Patriotic Front. We have tried to analyse in this column, that all presidents have faced a test of severe divisions and factions within their parties. These problems have emerged mostly in a few months after assuming power. Divisions and all these fights are not strange. Politicians are fighting all the time. Chiluba and his cabinet started fighting within weeks. In fact, it is fights that led to Chiluba’s first vice-president to quit in protest against the bitter differences that had emerged between him and Michael Sata, who at that time was Chiluba’s closest collaborator.
Rupiah Banda equally faced a mutiny within the MMD. Mpombo and Mulongoti started fighting within the party. Kenneth Kaunda too faced squabbles within his first years in power. Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe and other Bemba-speaking hegemonists could not stomach the anti-Bemba politics that Kaunda had developed shortly after independence.
In all these differences and fights and squabbles, there has been clear precedence. That is the concerned presidents have played an active role in directing the outcomes of these fights. Kaunda identified the squabbles early and settled with the Bemba-faction. Chiluba showed his preferences and Mwanawasa was left with no option but to resign. Rupiah Banda had made it clear that he was not in favour of either Mpombo or Mulongoti. These presidents did not bury their heads in the sand. They showed up when conflict came up and Zambia was clear about where they stood. Again, these presidents might have taken wrong decisions. They might have even backed the wrong horses. But hey, at least they showed up and showed leadership!
In 2013, however, in the face of squabbles, the ever-engaging cobra does seem to have become desensitized and ambivalent to the problems eating the party and consequently the nation. President Sata has said nothing, absolutely nothing about these conflicts. Everyone does seem to be speaking for him – except himself. GBM is saying that he is carrying out a message from President Sata, and so is Kabimba claiming that he is running the party in the name of the President. Both Kabimba and GBM cannot be right. One is obviously lying. But in the event that both of these gentlemen give us conflicting messages about the direction of the Patriotic Front, it is incumbent upon the president himself to show up, show up strong and tell the nation where he stands.
President Sata is nicknamed king cobra. A king cobra can bite multiple times and in multiple ways. No testing times require the king to show up than now. The Patriotic Front has faced no crisis requiring its cobra to bite, and bite harder, than now. This silence would be excusable only in one instance. That is if the cobra has in fact mutated into an ostrich. It is the ostrich that has the reputation and the myth of burying its head in the sand, while the world around goes to Northmead for a fight of fists.
But this should not be characteristic of our cobra, our Michael Sata and our president. He must speak and speak now to redeem the image of his party and through that redeem the pride of our nation. Otherwise, the myth of the ostrich will grow bigger while the reality of the cobra is decreasing by the day.
What good is the cobra if it cannot bite?