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The true legacy of Zambian President Michael Sata

The late leader was not a visionary. No one can point out to exactly what he stood for in the transformation of the Zambian nation. In their search for a leader to replace Sata, Zambians must awaken to the reality that a person’s popularity is not sufficient.

The Psalmist said, “I would have lost heart unless I had believed I would live to see the Lord`s goodness in the land of the living.” There is always hope as long as there is life. However, death happens, and we are all born to die. The only thing that we bequeath to posterity is the legacies we leave, for better or worse. President Michael Sata is dead, and may his soul rest well in peace. But patriotism and the love for country must now compel us to stake it for the living – Zambia is not dead and its people must continue to hope, to dream and to live.

The people of Zambia are not stupid. Michael Sata may have been popular, but it is like smoke without fire. My love for Zambia now instigates me to pin a rendition of how I see the political music playing-out in Zambia – and I could be very prescient. Myths must be curbed if the nation should emerge from pipe-dream into living realism.

Michael Sata had no vision for Zambia. The wind of change that propelled Michael Sata to power was the angst the people of Zambia had on the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). The people needed a “Saviour”, a Moses to deliver them from poverty to prosperity. The people believed, erroneously or otherwise, that Michael Sata would be the one. The Patriotic Front`s (PF’s) mantra following the 2011 presidential elections was “three months”! That people`s lives would suddenly be transformed, from paupers to riches, from no money into their pockets to more of it – suddenly! That mealie meal prices would suddenly be reduced to economical levels. That the constitution would be amended to represent the will of the people! That jobs would suddenly be created and people`s income would suddenly increase. To the people, and sometimes inadvertently, this was construed as a vision for Zambia. It was not. It has not been. President Sata was riding on people popularity; not on a cogent, coherent and objective and measured vision. It is proper to conclude that throughout the brief three years President Sata ruled, he was either completing what the MMD had begun or he was trying to figure out what the PF could do. But it will be a big mistake to describe Sata`s antics as visionary.

There are staunch critics, and assessors, who strongly believe that Sata had a vision for Zambia. But even these come short of stating exactly what Sata stood for. A flip-flopper, yes Sata was, and even more. But before we indict his legacy, or we be labelled as mindless ideologues, it’s imperative that we review what a common Zambian saw in Michael Sata as a vision. Indeed, President Sata had threatened to remove the mining license of Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) when KCM planned to lay off 1,500 workers. At Sata`s death, the economy was performing, and expected to grow at about seven percent. At his death, majority of Zambians still considered him as man of action. President Sata was, without doubt, a pragmatist; he once publicly upbraided his whole cabinet and threatened to collapse his government if it did not do a better job. By the numbers, and the turn-out at his funeral, it is obvious that the people loved Sata as a leader. And the biggest promise of all, President Sata campaigned to protect the people from exploitation, especially, as he preached earlier, from the Chinese. He also promised to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. In comparison to other African leaders, Sata`s reign can be considered less despotic. And notable, at the time of his death, Zambia`s track record in sub-Saharan Africa, still suffered less from ethnic strife than any other African nation. Government, Sata`s government, through the ministerial pronouncement of Secretary to the Cabinet, Fredson Yamba, deliberately tried to describe Sata`s vision as “inclusive growth for all through sustained high rates of economic growth, job creation and poverty alleviation.”

All said, but still the question remains: What was Sata`s vision for Zambia? It’s not vision to upbraid the cabinet in public; it could even be a sign of weak leadership (for a leader chooses his Ministers who are presumed to be competent and industrious; Sata`s proved to be incompetent and lazy). It’s not vision to threaten to withdraw a mining license to KCM; it could even be a sign of arbitrariness, of despotic tendencies (for there are proper grievance protocols that are in place to that end). It’s not vision to act when the action do not improve people`s economic conditions. It`s not vision to praise the economy`s seven percentage growth projection – that trend had begun in Mwanawasa`s reign and had continued with Rupiah Banda. In fact, most capital projects which the Pf government manage were began way before they won the elections. It is not vision to be a peaceful country – Zambia has always been peaceful even during the Kenneth Kaunda era. In addition, peace that does not engender dignity and economic productivity is fickle. Zambians should not forget that countries that have seen military dictatorships and civil wars are comparably wealthier than Zambia. In Zambia, peace may no longer be currency, unless we are able to translate it into conditions that improve people`s lives. It is still not vision when at his death over 50 percent of the people cannot find jobs – or it is still too early to transpose three months of Donchi Kubeba into three years of a cover-up.

Any national vision must be articulated in measurable parameters – with achievable indices for analysis. Open-ended statements and pronouncements do not translate into a viable vision. President Sata was, indeed, a man of actions, but none of those actions can clearly be defined as a concise, practical and cogent vision for Zambia. Everything was, and remains, the way things had always been in Zambia. To prove this point, even when Christine Kaseba (Sata`s widow) was the de-facto president of Zambia, the nation was still running, and no–one even knew the substantive president was either dead a long time ago or was incapacitated (which, I believe, must be probed, since Zambia could have been ruled then by people without a democratic mandate!)

Sata was everything you wish to call him, but not a visionary. And this is where the people of Zambia must be awakened. The presumption that those who wish to succeed Sata are making it out that they would like to complete what Sata began is unfounded. This would be tantamount to following smoke instead of fire. I submit that no-one who claims to continue to perpetuate Sata`s legacy is telling the truth. The truth is, everyone, especially in the PF is looking for personal glory at the expense of the dead president. In the alternatives, voting for a Sata`s “successor” is sustaining the very undefinable vocal inoculations wrongly dubbed a vision. Anyone who wishes to rule Zambia (either one of these PF aspiring candidates: Miles Sampa; Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba; Seleman Pangula; Given Lubinda; Edgar Lungu; Mulenga Sata; Chishimba Kambwili; Bob Sichinga; Christine Kaseba; or Wylbur Simuusa) must compete in their own right.

They must, of necessity, transact a national vision and an achievable political platform upon which they must be evaluated. Doing less is plunging the nation into “more of the same thing.” And I can almost guarantee that if Zambia again elects smoke and not fire, it will be economic mirage and political malaise that Zambia will procreate; not progress, not democracy, and, definitely, not economic development! However, a win in the Pf candidature (whether by General Conference or Central Committee) may not guarantee a win at the national level. Zambians should not vote for a Pf candidate merely because they want to attain the vision of President Sata; Sata had no coherent vision for Zambia. Each candidate must present a vision for Zambia, and with it, persuade Zambians to elect them. The same goes to whoever will be the MMD, NAREP or the UPND leader.
I hope the words of the Psalmist now and more than ever can ring true for my people – that rather than helpless winds and flagellating promises, the people must awake to demanding for real and capable leaders to take them into the Promised Land. Surely, if anything, now is the time to invest in a real visionary – a man or woman with a mission for Zambia. It does not matter if that person heaves from the Pf or MMD or even the UPND or NAREP – such a person must be elected because of their individual finesse, calibre, political savviness and dexterity. That person must yield a personality trait that brightens the Zambian social fascia and forges for good a developmental curve and gravitas – all these will be awry unless the ending of poverty and strengthening of the democratic foundation are the aim. Hope with quantifiable considerations is now what the people of Zambia needs – not opportunistic successors and their dynastic agendas!

* Charles Mwewa is author of Zambia’s biggest book, ZAMBIA: STRUGGLES OF MY PEOPLE and is professor of legal studies in Canada. You can reach him via to access his other resources, including his book on President Michael Sata called, KING COBRA HAS STRUCK, LETTER TO PRESIDENT MICHAEL C. SATA, and to his legal thriller, a novel under production by Tate Publishing & Enterprises, USA.



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