‘King Cobra’ Has Citizens Worried

Ten months after Michael Sata’s historic victory Zambians are starting to wonder whether they made the right choice. Louise Redvers reports in the Mail & Guardian.

He came to power on an anticorruption ticket, promising to use Zambia’s mineral wealth for the good of the nation and put more money into people’s pockets.

But 10 months after Michael Sata’s historic victory, in which the Patriotic Front (PF) swept aside a decade of rule by the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), many Zambians are starting to wonder whether they made the right choice.

Economists are also questioning the wisdom of renationalising state assets such as the Finance Bank of Zambia – which had been sold to South Africa’s FirstRand – and the country’s biggest telecoms company Zamtel.

Others, meanwhile, are wondering whether the criminal charges laid at the door of MMD ministers and their family members, including Henry Banda, the son of former president Rupiah Banda, are really about fighting corruption or simply about revenge, especially when graft allegations against members of Sata’s camp are reportedly being ignored.

A recent spate of lawsuits against media houses, opposition figures and even ordinary citizens accused of insulting the president and the suspension of three high court judges has prompted comparisons to Zimbabwe and local website headlines accuse Sata of trying to turn Zambia into a one-party state.

Raising eyebrows

Sata’s warm friendship with Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe is also raising eyebrows among the international community.

Relations with Western diplomatic missions in Lusaka are also understood to be under strain after the fiery 75-year-old – living up to his nickname “King Cobra” – delivered a tongue-lashing to foreign embassy staff for holding too many meetings with the MMD, even though his party actively pursued such discussions while in opposition.

On the policy front, mineral royalty rates have been raised from 3% to 6% for base metals and to 5% for precious minerals, though the government has stopped short of re-introducing the “windfall tax”, the abolition of which the PF challenged while in opposition.

Although there have been modest wage rises, the cost of living has not gone down and, although inflation is steady at about 7%, this month the price of bread reached an all-time high of 6000 kwacha (R9.50), heaping pressure on the two-thirds of the population living in poverty.

Labour unions are also growing restless following a recent fuel shortage that resulted in long queues at petrol stations in the capital Lusaka as well as recurring power outages, something the PF in opposition had pledged to tackle.

Father Leonard Chiti, the director of the country’s leading think-tank and social justice organisation, the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection, told the Mail & Guardian: “There is a great deal of disappointment among ordinary Zambians who are waiting to see the election promises fulfilled.

Read the full version of this article on the Mail & Guardian website.

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