President Sata’s Bad Diplomacy

His public appearances are now becoming irritating. His comparison to Nigerian actor Nkem Uwoh (Ukwa) is a serious understatement. His international visits leave Zambians awe stricken, provoking jaw-dropping reactions. His diplomacy or the lack thereof does not befit anyone carrying the title of ‘His Excellency.’

That’s Zambia’s President Michael Chilufya Sata. The agony, or is it the anguish his undiplomatic behaviour is causing not only his staff but the country is enormous to an extent of displeasing majority of the people that thrust their hopes in this ex-platform sweeper at London’s Victoria Station as a beacon of change from MMD’s 20-year-old rule.

At first glance, his election victory had a positive spin.  Many Zambians voted for Sata because he spoke to their concerns over inclusion, and they looked to him to provide direction and change.  Instead, what many have come to realize is that his election was a gamble based on deceptive campaign promises (‘more money in your pocket’) that will not be fulfilled.  President Sata has barely served six months out of the possible 60 he is supposed to preside over the country, and the public trust is state institutions is rapidly eroding. In this period however short, Sata has made four international trips, all of which have been full of embarrassing drama.

Inside Zambia, Sata has demonstrated the habit of literally not knowing when to say what or at major functions in which he makes appearances, with errors in protocol, misunderstanding of government procedure, ignorance of hierarchy of authority, and gaffe-prone public pronouncements.  The most disgraceful example to come to mind were the insults hurled by Mr. Sata during former VP George Kunda’s funeral toward the mourners.

Before a congregation comprising among others the grieving family of Kunda and members of the opposition, Sata ordered Inspector General of Police Stella Libongani to deal with these cadres who were exchanging unpleasantaries, a situation that nearly erupted into full scale violence outside the building.

Unsurprisingly, it was not the first time Sata – proud of his strident but uncivilised language – has disgraced the chief of the police service barely six months in office. The same instance was witnessed when he made disparaging remarks at Dr Martin Malama over the contentious issue of Barotseland he promised but has lamentably failed to honour in his “sweet but fake” 90-day campaign promise.

At a public event, Sata demonised Malama as an idle police chief who had literally sat, arms folded when the people of Barotseland in Western Province were forming a state within a state. This direct attack on Malama prompted a smile, much to the disgust of the Head of State, who lashed at the hapless senior officer. Sata said Malama was even smiling when the matter at hand was serious. He later sacked the police chief barely three months after he appointed him to the position, making him one of the shortest serving officers at the top of the service in the history of the country.

Aside from giving Libongani orders before a perplexed audience at Kunda’s funeral, Sata was not done: he went for MMD aspiring presidential candidate Nevers Mumba, an emerging strong critic of the PF leader demeaning his religious background saying he was posturing as a self ordained pastor who did not even have a church. Nevers is founder of Victory Ministries which has been in existence longer than President Sata’s PF political party.

It didn’t end with Libongani or a defenceless Mumba. Sata further touched on concerns relating to Kunda’s eventual death wrongly using what was supposed to be a sombre church message to defend his government.

“These self-ordained pastors, have printed T-shirts ‘Don’t kutina’a and have put thugs outside who are provoking trouble. Can Zambia Police… Madam Libongani get outside and sort them out. We have come here to mourn and not entertain the thugs,” President Sata was quoted by his loyal propaganda wing The Post as having said shortly after addressing mourners as he made way to his seat.

Traditionally, most high profile Zambian politicians and individuals, including Sata, have received treatment abroad with the taxpayer footing the bill. As leader of the biggest opposition Sata suffered a heart attacking forcing second republican president Levy Mwanawasa to evacuate him to South Africa.

Kunda spent nearly three weeks in Zambia’s University Teaching Hospital and his eventual death attracted criticism from particularly MMD members, among them Kenneth Chipungu, as to why he was not sent for specialised treatment.

Sata, who a few months before Kunda’s death described him the dullest lawyer in South Africa, emerged at the funeral service as the most compassionate saint to give counsel to the widow not to pay attention to sentiment such as those offered by Chipungu.

“Madam (Irene) Kunda, on your behalf, I would like to thank the Zambian people who have come to escort you to this unbearable celebration… It’s not easy. Some of us have gone through this,” said President Sata.

In more than what was a guilty but face serving address, Sata told mourners that not even science would have saved Kunda from death because, in his usual absurd and illogical thinking, another politician Princess Nakatindi Wina died even if she had been evacuated to South Africa.

“Don’t listen to self-ordained reverends because in this country, we have self-ordained pastors; all they think of is ‘Oh, George Kunda was neglected, he was not evacuated’ but last week we evacuated Mrs Nakatindi. Where is she?.”

Strangely, Sata seemed to appear more knowledgeable about science to determine who between Nakatindi and Kunda would survive or not when exposed to treatment within or outside Zambia. In his wisdom, it was better to keep Kunda at UTH but give him a three-day state funeral than send him for expert treatment to South Africa.

That is the kind of joke Sata is turning the Office of President in Zambian into laughing stock – a trend of poor diplomacy that has continued on his international travels. On his recent state visit to Botswana and Zimbabwe, Sata was more of a disaster than a Head of State on duty. In believing he was offering light moments or offering Zambians abroad “quality advice”, Sata was making himself worse than a traditional Nyau dancer or semi-deranged.

During a meeting with Zambians in Botswana, Sata, whose audio version, has since gone on Youtube suggested accountants in that country were working at what he termed “five shops.” It prompted a reaction from Botswana’s opposition in similar manner his Zimbabwe behaviour raised eyebrows forcing opposition leader Morgan Tschangirai, whom he once referred to as a puppet of the West, to stay away from his officials functions during the entire visit to that country.  You can literally hear the laughter and disbelief among the audience.

In Zimbabwe, Sata disgustingly suggested that there was ‘gender bias’ in the lower numbers female deaths during their liberation struggle when he laid wreaths. His overall behaviour was put into perspective.  Before that, he disappeared into India for weeks without speaking to the nation and then pretended as though he were drumming up investment (with no delegation of any relevant officials).

In fact it was suggested that Britain, a major donor, should now take a close look at its priorities in Zambia by directing some of the huge aid package given annually to the country to the undoubtedly daunting task of educating Sata and perhaps giving him basic tips of presidential etiquette to avoid a catastrophic boob as a result of the lack of diplomacy.

And then, most recently, as the opposition went to meet with a delegation from the European Union to raise their objections to the highly controversial suspension of judges by President Sata over the enforcement of debt repayment to the DBZ by Fred M’Membe (his media ally) and Mutembo Nchito (his loyal prosecutor), the president took advantage of a summit with the High Commissioner of Canada to lambast “foreign intervention” in what he deemed to be “internal matters.”

Obviously Sata’s thuggish approach to politics may play well with the cadres, but among diplomatic circles, it is highly embarrassing.  You can’t threaten other countries who meet with the opposition, and furthermore, you become incapable of determining what constitutes “internal affairs” the second you begin breaking the law with outlandish measures such as trying to disband parties, clamping down on media freedom, and manipulating the judiciary for the benefit of your friends.  If Sata wants to destroy Zambia from the inside, he had better get used to the rest of the world paying very close attention.

Unless Sata quickly studies some new diplomatic strategies, Zambia may find itself slipping from ‘a star of African democracy’ to a semi-pariah status very quickly.

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