Category Archives: Zambia

Zambia – President Lungu requires throat surgery

On 10 March, the Zambian people woke up to the news that their new president, who only began his presidential term on 25 January, has already been forced to postpone some of his commitments to seek throat surgery in South Africa. This would be worrying news in any country, but it has deep political resonance in Zambia, where two of the last four presidents have died in office. Already, rumours abound that his health problems are greater that the government is willing to let on.

Reports of Lungu’s ill-health are nothing new. During the election campaign it was alleged that he was sick, but he denied the suggestion and even offered to undergo a medical check up. However, this now appears to have been an act of bravado intended to deflect attention away form longstanding throat problems.

On Sunday 8 March, President Lungu collapsed on the podium while presiding over a Women’s Day celebration in Lusaka. He was rushed to a military hospital, but later issued a statement saying that “I am feeling much better and have been told I have high levels of fatigue and should take some rest … There is nothing to worry about.” He later told a press briefing at the hospital that “I am looking forward to going home. Doctors have done their tests and they have found traces of malaria, but they are doing further tests and they will let me know what next after before the end of the day.”

However, further tests showed that the issue was not malaria. Rather, it appears that the president’s condition, which narrows his oesophagus, led to low sugar levels, which in turn led to his collapse. The surgery in South Africa is a high-tech medical procedure to correct this that could not be performed in Zambia. Although it is not yet clear exactly what kind of surgery the president requires, these kinds of procedures are said to be relatively low risk, and President Lungu is therefore expected to return to work in Zambia soon.

One major difference between the recent episode with President Lungu and previous cases of presidential ill-health is that – post election – he has been much more open about his situation. Under Presidents Mwanawasa and Sata, the government sought to cover up and obscure the ill-health of the executive in order to protect its hold on power. By contrast, under Lungu, the government has issued running updates on his condition. In an interview with the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the president said that he felt fine before adding, “But you can’t take these things for granted because what they detect could prove fatal in the near future or far future. So they (the doctors) think it’s better to seize it in time.”

This has been a deliberate strategy of the president to set Zambian minds at ease. As the president has put it, “We are coming from a history of having lost two heads of state in office and I think (Zambians) are anxious to know the state of their president … So I am explaining where we are. If I’m unfit for duty, I will be the first to say ‘sorry I can’t continue.’ I think that’s how it should be.” So far, this strategy seems to be working, although questions will continue to be raised about whether the president will be able to see out his term of office if he does not return to his duties soon.

Post by Dr. Nic Cheeseman 


Zambia – The rise of President Edgar Lungu and the 2015 elections

This is a guest post by Nicole Beardsworth, a South African political analyst and doctoral candidate at the University of Warwick.

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On the evening of 24 January the streets of Lusaka erupted with celebrations as Zambia’s 6th president was announced following a heated race between two front runners. Precipitated by the death of President Michel Sata in London on 28 October 2014 after a mere three years at the helm of the small Southern African nation, the election would be the closest in Zambia’s 25 years of multi-party democracy with President Edgar Lungu beating opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema by just 1.66%.

The new president was a relatively unknown entity within the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) until his appointment as Minister of Defence in late 2013. He had been Michael Sata’s lawyer while in opposition and was appointed as Junior Minister in the Office of the Vice-President when the PF came to power in 2011. In 2012 he was made Minister of Home Affairs, but wrangles within the PF pushed this unlikely successor to the top seat of the party. The resignation of Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (Defence Minister) and firing of Sata’s heir apparent – PF Secretary General and Minister of Justice, Wynter Kabimba – in August 2014 led to Edgar Lungu holding a second powerful portfolio. He was allegedly appointed by Sata as a nod to ethnic-balancing and appeared to have the backing of the PF’s Bemba faction spear-headed by powerful finance minister and Sata’s uncle, Alexander Chikwanda.

President Lungu’s campaign began with a shaky start, marred by infighting, intimidation and intra-party violence within the PF. The party was divided over his candidacy, particularly as Acting President Guy Scott attempted to block Lungu’s rise at every turn while trying to position his preferred candidate for the party’s top job.  Following a long string of accusations, suspensions, court injunctions and public spats that played out in the media, the party only united behind Lungu just before the nomination of presidential candidates on 20 December 2014. With only a month to campaign and a relatively unknown candidate for the presidency, Lungu played on President Sata’s popularity and charisma, standing on a platform of ‘continuity’ and positioning himself as the guardian of the late president’s legacy. When asked about his policies and platform during a radio interview in December, Lungu stated “I have no vision,” clarifying that he would merely implement Michael Sata’s policies, acting as caretaker of the former president’s projects. The PF’s campaign materials reflected this, giving Sata’s face prominence and placing Lungu’s smaller image below it in a symbolic sign of deference. During the final weeks before the election, people in Lusaka and across the country frequently referred to Lungu as having been ‘anointed,’ a result of his appointment as PF Secretary General and having been chosen to act as president during Sata’s absences in his final months.

The ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party entered government in 2011 on a wave of big promises buoyed by widespread public disillusionment with the ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD). During their three years in government under President Sata, the PF undertook substantial infrastructure development projects, most notably the Link Zambia 8000 Project which was to oversee the construction of 2300 km of roads in its first phase alone – representing an increase of nearly a quarter of the existing paved road network. As a result, Zambia’s external debt has increased markedly to USD$4.6 billion or 17% of GDP by the end of 2014, from less than USD$1.8 billion in 2010 (11% of GDP). In spite of this, infrastructure development has boosted the PF’s popularity in rural areas, making government visible to citizens who had previously had little interaction with the state and facilitating the movement of goods and people between villages and markets. In urban areas, the road development projects – aimed at reducing congestion in cities – have also been extremely popular with people employed in the country’s burgeoning informal sector, notably bus and taxi drivers who form a substantial part of the PF’s vote base. During the final weeks of the campaign, acting President Guy Scott criss-crossed the country, opening and inspecting development projects with a view to consolidating the PF’s popularity and reminding voters that the party was responsible for the popular programmes.

With limited time and resources, Lungu was unable to cover the country as extensively as the opposition UPND, allowing them to make inroads in PF strongholds. The 11th hour deal between former President Rupiah Banda of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) and the PF candidate was expected to help Lungu sweep the vote in Eastern Province, the home province of both men. Banda campaigned alongside Lungu, providing substantial resources and putting a small fleet of helicopters at the disposal of the relatively under-resourced campaign. Surprisingly, in spite of Banda’s endorsement, turnout in Eastern Province was the lowest in the country at 22.7% with Lungu garnering only 65% of votes cast. The opposition collected a staggering 25% in Lungu’s province (compared to 3.3% in 2011) and 41% in his home district Chadiza (9.25% in 2011); this stands in stark contrast  to the 91 and 95% endorsement of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema in his home province and district respectively. This election is notable for its low turnout, with only 32% of registered voters making their way to the polls, 13% lower than in the 2008 presidential by-election. This was likely due to a number of factors, including the holding of the election during rainy season, making voting both onerous and costly in rural areas; the disaffection of voters due to increased levels of intimidation and intra- and inter-party skirmishes; and dissatisfaction with certain PF policies and decisions prior to the polls that were just enough to dissuade voters but insufficient to push them en masse into the arms of the opposition.

This could almost be seen as an inherited presidency; Lungu benefited from the large store of public goodwill and sympathy towards the PF – and Michael Sata in particular – after 10 years in opposition and only three at the helm. With a margin of a mere 27 000 votes and the next tripartite election only 18 months away, the reconstituted PF government will be under pressure to deliver and ensure their re-election. This may mean the enactment of popular but imprudent policies to buy in support and maintain the party’s base. The party will have to mend its internal fissures and undertake a tricky balancing act to placate different constituencies. The high levels of private funding that flowed to the opposition’s campaign coffers have been attributed in large measure to business’ concerns about the government’s recent introduction of what in their view constitutes a clumsy and hefty new mining tax system – a position from which the PF may have to stand down in order to prevent further private sector defections to the ‘business-friendly’ opposition. The 2015 election marks a surprising shift in Zambian politics; it has seen the demise of the MMD and rapid rise of the UPND but also a change in voting patterns in some areas of the country. What is clear is that the PF will have to work hard in the next 18 months to expand their tiny lead and ensure that they’re able to bring voters to the polls in 2016.

President Sata begins to prepare for succession in Zambia

As reported on this blog on 30 May 2014, concern about the health of Zambian President Michael Sata has escalated since the start of the year. On 27 May, rumours circulated that the President had collapsed and was being flown to South Africa for treatment. This later turned out not to have been the case, but his erratic appearances, and a trip to Israel for medical treatment, have done nothing to calm speculation. Moreover, in recent weeks, Sata’s determination to curtail intra-party wrangling over his secession by moving against his former ally, Wynter Kambima, has leant credibility to reports that he is preparing to stand down.

Information about President Sata’s health is carefully guarded in Zambia, but the Patriotic Front ruling party has found it harder to control information when the president travels abroad. At the end of September, Sata appeared to be in better spirits when he travelled to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. However, he missed his scheduled speech and ended his visit early. Subsequent reports from UN diplomats claimed that he had been taken ill and had received treatment from doctors in his hotel room.

Just before Sata had left for New York, he had surprised many commentators by moving against his long-time ally and former lawyer, Wynter Kabimba. Despite lacking a major political base, Kabimba had risen to political prominence as the Secretary General of the PF and was widely seen to be one of the president’s closest advisors. This impression was consolidated when Sata moved to appoint Kabimba to the strategically important role of Justice Minister.

However, Kabimba’s position in the government was controversial, not least because he consistently clashed with other prominent PF leaders. As competition to succeed President Sata intensified, Kabimba sought to undermine the position of Geoffrey Bwalya Mwama (GBM), the wealthy and influential former Defence Minister, and Given Lubinda, the widely respected former Foreign Minister. Kabimba’s very public campaigning for the top job also led to a rapid deterioration in his relationship with Alex Chikwanda, Sata’s uncle and one of the most prominent PF leaders from the president’s own Bemba community.

Against this backdrop, Sata’s decision to sack Kabimba has been widely interpreted as a sign that he has made up his mind about who he wishes to replace him. More specifically, the removal of one of the ruling party’s leading non-Bemba figures appears to indicate that the president has set his mind on ensuring that power is retained within the Bemba community. This means that the smart money is now on a stage-managed succession to one of a small group of Bemba speaking leaders that is said to include Chikwanda, GBM, and the president’s son, Mulenga Sata, the current mayor of Lusaka.

This raises three important but as yet unanswered questions. First, will Sata stand down ahead of the next election in order to ensure that he is in good enough health to personally control the secession process? Second, will the president seek to impose his son on the party, despite his relative inexperience, and if so will ordinary Zambians accept this king of dynastic succession? Third, will Sata be able to manage the process so that it does not generate damaging splits within the ruling party?

These questions have major implications for the outcome of the next elections, and the evidence from history is not all positive as far as the PF is concerned. Research on presidential successions in Africa has found that succession struggles typically exacerbate divisions within the ruling party in a way that creates a rare “window of opportunity” for the opposition to force a transfer of power. President Sata knows this well. One of the classic examples of this process was the succession struggle within the Movement for Multiparty Democracy back when it was the ruling party in Zambia in 2001. It was President Chiluba’s refusal to select Sata as his replacement that led him to quit the government and form the Patriotic Front, paving the way for the PF’s defeat of the MMD in 2011.

Uncertainty mounts over President Sata’s health in Zambia

As yet unconfirmed reports suggest that at some point around Tuesday 27 May the Zambian President, Michael Sata, collapsed and was immediately flown for emergency treatment in South Africa. At present, the story is being denied by the official presidential spokesman, George Chellah, but it is consistent with reports that the president’s mental and physical health has deteriorated significant in recent months.

Sadly, Zambians are well used to speculation and controversy around the health of the president. The final days of President Levy Mwanawasa were marked by a public debate over his illness, in which opposition parties alleged that he was incapacitated and possibly already dead, while government figures claimed that the president was in fact conscious and in control. Mwanawasa’s untimely death on 19 August 2008 suggests that the opposition was closer to the mark, but the whole episode left a bad taste in the mouth of many Zambians.

One reason that the status of the president is so eagerly watched and ruling parties are so keen to deny clear evidence of the ailments of their leaders is that the Zambian constitution contains an unusual clause that requires a presidential by-election to be held within 90 days of the official declaration of death or incapacity. In the case of Levy Mwanawasa, his Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) party struggled to come to a consensus over his replacement, which created significant challenges for his successor, Rupiah Banda. Although Banda narrowly won the presidential by-election, the MMD lost ground to its main rivals, and was ultimately defeated by Sata and the Patriotic Front (PF) in the 2011 general elections.

There are good reasons for thinking that an unregulated succession battle would cause similar problems for the PF. The internal battle to replace Sata has already begun, and it has become clear that there is no consensus within the party on who should lead it into the next election if Sata is unable to run. In part, this is because there is no ideological cohesion within the PF – it is essentially a collection of individuals who defected from other parties in the hope that Sata’s powerful leadership. Most of the governments MPs are united by little more than their ambition. In the event of a succession contest, this ambition could prove to be divisive as rival leaders battle for top position.

The uncertainty surrounding the president thus has far-reaching political and economic implications. Evidence of President Sata’s ill-health comes from a number of different sources. In addition to rumours that he had to be brought back to life after collapsing at his residence, his day-to-day behaviour appears to have become more erratic than usual. Known for his “man of action” leadership style, Sata has always been an idiosyncratic and unpredictable politician.

But his recent appearance at a court case in which he is suing the Daily Nation, a privately owned Zambian newspaper, surprised even long-term Zambia watchers. The president is demanding K 500,000 in damages for an article published in on 16 May 2012 which alleged that he ordered the Development Bank of Zambia (DBZ), a government parastatal, to terminate the contract of its lawyers, Vincent Malambo and Company, in order to prevent the DBZ from suing some of his closest allies: Mutembo Nchito and Fred M’membe.

The DBZ had started the action in order to recoup K 14 million that Nchito and M’membe borrowed when they were directors of the now defunct Zambia Airways. Although the High Court sided with the DBZ, the Supreme Court subsequently ordered a re-trial, and the DBZ subsequently fired Malambo and Company, sparking accusations that the president had deliberately lobbied to have the case postponed and the lawyers dropped.

The case provides a fascinating insight into the way that the PF political elite protect and promote their own. Neither M’membe nor Nchito have been punished for their profligacy or the embarrassing fallout from the court cases. Instead, Nchito has been promoted to Director of Public Prosecution, while M’membe remains the editor of The Post Newspaper.

Indeed, rather than allow the incident to fade into the background, Sata has aggressively pursued those who have sought to expose the corruption at the hart of government. Even so, few people expected him to walk into the courtroom on 21 May to press his complaint against the Daily Nation – the newspaper that initially ran the story – in person. In a statement to the Court, the president alleged that the defendants were liars and had made up their story in order to persecute him. Critics of the president have already pointed out that he failed to answer a question about his age correctly. Some have suggested that this is because he wishes to trick Zambians into thinking that he is younger than he is, in case the new constitution – currently being debated – imposes an age-limit of 75 on presidential candidates (Sata is 76). But others have claimed that it is evidence of his growing senility.

However, the president’s surprise appearance may prove to have been a major miscalculation, because he has opened himself up to a cross-examination which defense lawyers have threatened to use to challenge the president’s physical and mental health in order to discredit him as a witness. Sata now finds himself caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, if he appears before the Court, he will be forced to answer embarrassing questions about his health. On other hand, if he fails to show many will interpret it as evidence that the rumours are true and that he had to be flown to South Africa for emergency treatment. Recent reports in the Zambian blogosphere suggest that the Office of the President is well aware of the challenges that the president’s appearance has generated, and is now trying to settle matters out of court.


Zambia – President Sata and the ‘people-driven’ constitution

In recent days, controversy over Zambia’s protracted constitution-making process has come to a dramatic head. With police deployed outside parliament, opposition MPs have called on President Michael Sata and his Patriotic Front (PF) government to release a long-awaited draft constitution for public debate and approval. The MPs’ chief concern is that the president will either suppress or unilaterally amend the draft version in an effort to prevent a reduction in executive powers.

The current stand off stems from what many commentators decry as an unseemly presidential U-turn. Indeed, President Sata and the PF were the initial champions of reform. While in opposition, the PF accused the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) of blocking constitutional reforms that would threaten the then ruling party’s hold on power. When the PF unseated the MMD in the 2011 elections—an historic occasion marking the first power alternation since the 1991 return to multiparty politics—it was on a ‘populist’ platform, which included the promise to deliver a ‘people driven’ constitution within 90 days of taking office.

The emphasis on a ‘people driven’ process has particular appeal in a country that has seen, since its independence in 1964, four constitutional reform efforts, all of which have run afoul of executive meddling. The 1972 Constitution, which inaugurated the one-party state, is the most notable example, but even the 1996 Constitution, the product of a relatively “broad-based” consultative process, was subject to last minute executive-led amendments.

The current phase of constitutional reform started in 2005 under the MMD but foundered until the newly elected PF revived the effort. In November 2011 President Sata appointed the Technical Committee on Drafting the Zambian Constitution (TCDZC) “to draft and present a constitution that reflects the will and aspirations of Zambians.” A series of district fora and provincial and national constitutional conventions (NCC) followed, spanning from April 2012 to April 2013.

This review process generated a considerable degree of national attention and enthusiasm. President Sata, however, opposed a number of the NCC’s resolutions, including a 50+1% threshold to elect a president, the introduction of a constitutional court with powers to hear cases against the president, and a requirement that presidential candidates pre-select a running mate.

In early November 2013 the TCDZC, which was responsible for compiling the final draft constitution, announced that the Ministry of Justice had directed the committee to print only 10 copies of the draft constitution to be delivered exclusively to the president. These instructions ran counter to the original Terms of Reference for the TCDZC, which call for the committee to release the final draft to the president and general public simultaneously.

The announcement of the TCDZC confirmed widespread fears that President Sata would block the draft constitution. Despite this executive intervention, the online media outlet Zambia Watchdog “leaked” the carefully guarded document on January 15. Civil society organizations, opposition parties, religious groups, University student guilds have since expressed support for the “beautiful” constitution while also calling for a clear roadmap to ensure its speedy approval.

Tensions reached new heights on February 27 when Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba, seen by many as Sata’s closest ally, informed parliament that government lacked funds for a national referendum on the constitution, as requested by the NCC, and would prioritize more pressing social and economic concerns.

The ministerial statement sparked a weeklong protest in parliament. Opposition MPs refused to obey the Speaker, instead using points of order to reiterate their constitutional demands. When the Speaker summoned the parliamentary police, the MPs responded by refusing to leave the chamber, preferring to remain standing in the House.

The protest temporarily subsided on March 7 when an opposition MP tabled a private members bill urging the government to provide a roadmap to approve the constitution; however, PF MPs later used their majority in the House to reject the motion.

In the wake of the parliamentary protest, the government is now engaged in a renewed show of force. Justice Minister Kabimba and Vice President Guy Scott have both indicated the executive has the power both to unilaterally amend the draft constitution and to define the terms of its approval. The government has also cracked down on protest outside of parliament, arresting over 40 people for demanding a constitution on youth day.

It is worth mentioning that, even in its current form, the draft constitution has its flaws. Human rights advocates have criticized its failure to protect minority groups. Moreover, while certain clauses may help curb executive powers, other provisions pose a challenge to legislative authority as well. For example, the draft constitution includes a clause stipulating that, if expelled from their parties, MPs will lose their parliamentary seats. Similar constitutional provisions have been used by presidents—in Zambia and elsewhere in the region—to force party discipline and to erode the independence of the legislature as a whole.

These relevance of these concerns is fast diminishing, however, as scope for dialog over the constitution has all but vanished. Neither side is blameless. The opposition too, particularly the MMD, could be faulted for using the constitutional controversy to politically expedient ends. Overall, though, we appear to be witnessing a replay of an all too familiar story—for Zambia at least—as executive manipulation yet again subverts democratizing constitutional reform. One step forward, two steps back.