Michael Sata, The Unquiet Diplomat

Sometimes in life, keeping one’s mouth shut is not a sign of cowardice, but rather one of restraint.  When it comes to the public appearances of of our Head of State, President Michael Sata, one would hope that he can learn that less is more.

For the former police constable and train station sweeper — whose level of education remains a mystery— maybe he can be forgiven, because suddenly out of nowhere he has been catapulted to the expectations of a member of elite political leadership on an international scale, and with just eight months on the throne, perhaps the culture shock is still lingering in his head.  But he needs to tame it, and needs to get over this lack of confidence soon.

Presidential status comes with the responsibility to show diplomacy and intelligence, which must go beyond populism, thuggery and insults that have been synonymous with Sata’s decades old political career back home in Zambia.

It is not surprising that The Zimbabwe Mail reports that Sata has become the talk of Africa after his clownish performance at the recent Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Angola. While most regional leaders demanded reforms before elections in Zimbabwe, Sata kept chanting ‘Pamberi ne Zanu PF’ (meaning ‘forward with Zanu-PF’) interrupting anyone who dared criticise Robert Mugabe.

Despite Sata’s efforts to protect his friend, the SADC Summit effectively ended President Robert Mugabe’s plans to hold polls this year without any meaningful reforms.

Sources who attended the SADC Summit have revealed that the meeting was full of fireworks.  Apparently the Tanzanian Prime Minister, Mizengo Pinda, told Mugabe to behave like an elder statesman and stop calling for elections this year, warning this would only take Zimbabwe back to the “dark days of 2008.”

Pinda did not understand Mugabe’s impatience on holding elections and told him to do it “for the people,” not just himself. Pinda’s attempt to advise the Zimbabwean head of state was however continuously interrupted by Zambia’s President Sata the only leader to support an election this year.

“Sata kept saying ‘Pamberi ne Zanu PF’, interjecting when anyone dared criticise Mugabe,” the source said, adding that at times, the Zanu PF contingent of Emmerson Mnangagwa, Patrick Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche, seemed embarrassed by the chants.

Sata said Mugabe had no business discussing issues that “these boys who were not there in 1963 (at the formation of Zanu), like Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who was on holiday, while the two presidents fought colonial regimes in their respective countries”.

To show just how unhappy they are with Sata, a London-based group calling itself The Zimbabwe Vigil is planning to stage a protest on Wednesday 6th June against the visit to London by President Michael Sata of Zambia who is a guest at Jubilee celebrations for the Queen.

Vigil Co-ordinator Dumi Tutani said “Sata is an unashamed apologist for Mugabe.”

Honestly, it begs the question:  does Sata suffer from amnesia to have forgotten how many Zimbabweans feel about Mugabe’s continued reign of terror?  Is it not Zambia’s responsibility to form a relationship with the people of other countries above any particular leader?

During a visit to Zimbabwe earlier this year Sata tried to be a stand-up comedian at the Heroes Acre, saying that more women should have died in the independence struggle to make membership there more gender-balanced. “I think more women should die and be buried here,” he joked. The remarks were blasted as facile and tasteless. Just like Sata’s chanting of anti-Tsvangirai’s slogans whilst opening the agricultural show in Zimbabwe a few months ago were met with condemnation.

To his compatriots though, Sata’s behavior of antagonizing Zambia’s neighbours is not new.

Just a few months after being elected, he went on a tirade against late Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika because he was still unhappy at being deported in 2007 when he had traveled there as an opposition leader. To show just how hurt he still was at the deportation, Sata even reached an extent of granting a radio license to Malawians who were opposed to wa Mutharika’s rule to broadcast from Chipata, a town that borders Malawi in the eastern part of Zambia. Another diplomatic blunder by Sata.

Zimbabweans and Malawians are not the only ones that have so far experienced Sata’s antagonistic leadership. Last month, he told off all diplomats accredited to Zambia to keep away from the country’s internal politics after a group of opposition leaders met up with European ambassadors to protest against Sata’s leadership.

Sata argued that such meetings between the opposition and ambassadors amounted to “interfering” in Zambia’s internal affairs.

Yet this is the same Sata who just last year stopped at nothing and met all the key ambassadors to Zambia in a quest to win their hearts over. And whenever he did that, his propagandists made sure that his pictures were splashed in The Post newspaper, Zambia’s biggest newspaper, now turned into Sata’s mouth-piece.

Even when United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Zambia last year, when Sata was in the opposition, she met him and his teeth were all over the media to show just how happy he was at meeting her.

What has changed in less than a year for Sata to realise that meetings between the opposition and foreign dignitaries amount to “interfering” in a country’s internal affairs? So if Zambian opposition political parties meeting diplomats really amounts to interference, then what about Sata’s new found love with in the Zimbabwean affair?

For the undecided, maybe it is also good that the man known as ‘King Cobra’ is spitting his venom at some of these diplomats who were clearly aligned behind him before the elections as if he were Zambia’s saviour.  One wonders what they now make of their once-upon-a-time darling.

President Sata needs to know that his oratorical fireworks especially at international meetings it will only give credence to a joke among Zambians that “we like our president when he is quiet.” Or is that whoever coined the phrase ‘silence is golden’ could have had the likes of Sata in mind?

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