‘Man Of Action’ Sets His Mark

‘Man Of Action’ Sets His Mark
  • PublishedNovember 14, 2011

It is an “African” election that has set tongues wagging globally, but this time not for the usual reasons of rigging, violence and leaders overstaying their welcome after defeat. Our correspondent in Lusaka, Reginald Ntomba, reports on the new Zambian government of President Micheal Sata, which for the first time in independent Africa includes a white vice president, Dr Guy Scott.

Pesident Michael Chilufya Sata’s long journey to the presidency is a story of sheer determination. Armed with enormous skill in the art of rhetoric, he has succeeded in projecting himself as a spokesman for the poor. Their expectations are therefore high. Will he deliver or disappoint? It is early days, but so far the new president’s whip seems to be cracking hard and jolting a lot of people and institutions into action.

The son of a cook, he came from humble beginnings and his career includes being a police constable, and then porter and taxi driver in London, before returning home to go into business and politics.

He is not one given to discussing high-sounding or abstract concepts. What he lacks in this realm, he makes up for by relating well to the common people. His language is well understood by the labourer, the street hawker, the bus conductor, and the disenchanted slum dweller – a constituency that has always massively voted for him. Although Sata is an upper-class citizen, the poor see him as one of their own.

When the late Frederick Chiluba’s presidency neared its end in 2001, Sata positioned himself for succession. But Chiluba had other plans. He brought in a successor, Levy Mwanawasa, his vice president from 1991 to 1994. Sata, a Chiluba confidante, lost out and at that point his political career seemed to have reached a dead end.

Two months before the 2001 general election, Sata formed the Patriotic Front (PF), but the party lost badly, picking up one parliamentary seat and just 3% of the national vote. However, by the next general election in 2006, Sata had grown to be the strongest challenger to the Movement for Multi-party
Democracy (MMD). A good number of the politicians and their supporters who fell out of favour with Mwanawasa, including Chiluba, found a home in the PF.

Although the PF lost the election, the party had grown in size and strength, giving the MMD and Mwanawasa a tough time. The PF increased their parliamentary seats from one to 43 and dominated municipalities in four of the nine provinces.

When the country held a snap presidential poll following Mwanawasa’s death in 2008, Sata missed the presidency by a whisker. In its election report, New African said, “Only time will tell whether the country has seen the last of him in the ring but what is known is that he is a tireless fighter and will continue to be a thorn in the flesh of the party in power.”

And we have been proved right. Sata fended off suggestions that he was too old to aspire for the top job, pointing to Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade, who only won the presidency on his fifth attempt, when 76.

Sata’s political roots have meandered through almost all the previous governments. Under founding President Kenneth Kaunda, he worked at the grassroots level as section chairman and ward councillor, before rising to district governor and minister of state for decentralisation.

In Chiluba’s administration, he served stints as minister of health, local government, labour, and later minister without portfolio – then the third most powerful position after the president and vice president. Sata twice served as an MP for his home town and in the capital, Lusaka. For six years he was national secretary of the MMD, until he quit in 2001. In all the ministries he served in, he left a mark for his “no nonsense” approach to duty, earning the tag “man of action”, which the PF trumpeted during the recent campaigns.

Also nicknamed “King Cobra” for his tough talking and abrasive style of politics, Sata’s personality means different things to different people: he is seen as controversial, dictatorial, arrogant, brave, a voice for the voiceless, a man of the people, etc.

His critics view him as a loose canon and therefore unsuitable for the presidency. But his admirers say he is a man who speaks his mind and gets work done.

Early days, early shots

Either in a bid to burnish his image as a “man of action”, or eager to stamp his newly acquired authority on national affairs, or both, President Sata has hit the ground running. His first few days were both chaotic and eventful, characterised by dismissals, appointments, and some earth-shaking announcements. So far, Sata’s broom has been swift and busy, with changes coming  fast and thick under the promise he gave to “sweep Zambia clean”. Here is just a glimpse of his activities:

• On day one in office, Sata renamed three international airports after freedom fighters – Kenneth Kaunda, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe and Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula, while a hospital and a football stadium were renamed after the late president Levy Mwanawasa. “We must look at our past,” said the new president.

• Sata’s cabinet, which he has slashed from 26 to 19, is a mixture of sorts. Old guards from the bygone era, party zealots, technocrats, political novices and family members are all in it. The vice president is the British-born Guy Scott. Having been Sata’s right-hand man for many years, his appointment came as no surprise, although the Western media were quite mesmerised by it.

• Boards of several parastatals have been dissolved and some of them condemned as “conduits of corruption”. CEOs of the central bank, the national power company, and the grain marketing agency have all been replaced, while the head of the revenue authority has been suspended pending investigation.

• The heads of the Anti Corruption Commission, Drug Enforcement Commission, Army, Airforce, and Police have all been replaced. Some positions in the police have also been abolished, while the government has promised to realign military ranks.

• Contracts which the former government entered into to build a new State House and an international airport have been cancelled. The current State House “is more than adequate”, says Sata, and if the need for another international airport arises, it will be subject to open tender.

• A probe has been ordered into the sale of the telecoms company, Zamtel, to the Libyans, while a local private bank which the former government had taken over and later sold for $5m (ironically, when it has assets totalling $200m) to South Africa’s FirstRand Bank, has been repossessed and handed back to the owners.

• Three Commissions of Inquiry have been established to probe corruption in the energy sector, the revenue authority, as well as extrajudicial killings by the police in the Western Province.

• Fighting corruption has been emphasised. “I am allergic to corruption,” Sata has repeatedly said. His government will reintroduce an “abuse of office” clause which the former government had abolished.

• A new Constitution has been promised within 90 days.

In the meantime, the opposition is closely watching and has pledged to hold the new government to account for its pronouncements.

Written By
New African

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