Once Supportive, Foreign Diplomats Feel the Bite of King Cobra

Whenever Zambia’s president Michael Sata takes a swipe at foreign dignitaries accredited to the country, for those that follow political events here, they are usually confronted with two scenarios: either to be happy or pessimistic.

Pessimistic because the general feeling in Zambia, and among bloggers, is that Sata’s ascendancy to the presidency was heavily aided by these same Western powers who he now has clearly turned against.

Happy because if indeed the western powers had anything to do with Sata’s victory, they are getting a dosage of their own medicine.

Some of them were clearly warned that the political history of the man they had invested so much faith in was built on shifting sands as he could anytime change his position on issues.

But they played dumb while hoping he would be the means to their ends—whatever they are.

There has been a strong belief in Zambia that last year’s election which saw Sata’s Patriotic Front defeat Rupiah Banda of the MMD was not only about Zambians wanting a new leader.

It also had something to do with the world’s geopolitics, as it pitted the West (Britain and United States) against the East (China).

It should come as no surprise that even the BBC, in one of their election previews, ran a story by journalist Louise Redvers titled ‘China’s Stake in Zambia’s election’ which suggested the MMD campaign was funded by China.

To some Western powers, Sata on the other hand, riding on his populist anti-China rhetoric, was like the proverbial donkey  upon which Jesus rode to mark his triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

In the end, the West won, but it was a pyrrhic victory.  Interestingly, no sooner had he assumed his office, than Sata hosted and treated the Chinese based in Zambia to lavish lunch at State House and declared them the country’s all-weather friends!

So has Sata exactly lived to the expectations of the foreign powers who once cherished him? Maybe they have a different answer, but clearly for us, he has not.

Early this year, Sata warned foreign diplomats serving in Zambia to stop interfering with the country’s internal politics.

This was after leaders of Zambia’s opposition parties had a meeting with the European ambassadors accredited to Zambia to discuss some of the issues they were experiencing under the new PF government – such as the attempted de-registration of the largest party, seizures of vehicles, and sundry incidents of arrests and harassment.

Sata again sounded this warning on Friday; advising the diplomats to change their habit of visiting him at State House, telling them that the proper procedure was to go through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Sata made it clear that whichever diplomat “meddled in Zambia’s politics” risked being ejected from the country.

It is amazing that just last year, Sata embraced these same diplomats and whenever an opportunity arose, he would pose for pictures with them which would be published on the front page of The Post Newspaper, arguably as part of their propaganda ploy suggesting to Zambians that he was in good standing with the outside world.

That time, Sata saw nothing wrong with an opposition leader meeting with foreign diplomats. In his eyes, only last year, having meetings with these diplomats (whose details Zambians were not privy to), did not amount to interference because it obviously suited him.

So how hypocritical can Sata be when the same person who used to meet these same diplomats only last year, now sees everything wrong when the diplomats today meeting leaders of Zambia’s opposition?

Why didn’t Sata raise this same alarm when British High Commissioner to Zambia Tom Carter and his American counterpart Mark Storella consistently and openly backed the Parallel Voter Tabulation (PVT) to be used in last year’s election, something that the PF also supported it?  Wasn’t that “interference” in Zambia’s internal politics?

Why didn’t the PF chase Storella from the Mulungushi International Conference Center, which was the nerve center of last year’s elections where sometimes he would be seen chatting with PF officials?

Why didn’t Sata refuse to meet US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she came for the African Growth and Opportunity Act conference, citing “interference” in Zambia’s internal politics?

When all this was happening between Sata and the diplomats, did Sata’s predecessor Rupiah Banda ever threaten to expel the dignitaries? No.

For Zambians, perhaps there is every reason to be pessimistic.

While some of the actions of these diplomats raise serious questions like could have been the case last year, these envoys are the chief representatives of their counties and if one is ever expelled, such actions come with sanctions and diplomatic rows.

For a poor country like Zambia, you don’t want aid to be cut as was the case with Malawi when Bingu wa Mutharika (MHSRIP) expelled a British envoy from that country.

Zambians should further be pessimistic about the country’s foreign policy, if at all there is any.

Sata has made close allies out of some very disreputable personalities like Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir (a man wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court) whose party with whom the PF has signed a memorandum of understanding.

Strangely, at a time when the world has embraced free markets and deepening trade, the PF sees nothing wrong with affiliating their party to the international socialist party nor one of their propaganda newspapers, the Daily Mail, signing an MoU with a government newspaper from Iran—whose president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is ever at crossroads with the US over his nuclear weapons programmes.  And of course, Sata’s vanity vehicle The Post also has been bestowed with awards from the Cuban government – not exactly a paragon of progressive values.

Already there has been some blowback.  U.S. Ambassador Storella has begun to issue some statements urging the Sata government to ease back on their crackdown against political opponents, especially following the publication of phony letters by the PF that attempt to incite ethnic tensions.  But the Ambassador makes these statements with blissful amnesia, as though the U.S. government did not play a role in the election of this dangerous man.

All this has happened in less than a year the PF has been in power, a period during which Sata labeled former US president George W. Bush as a “colonialist”, created something of a diplomatic row in Botswana during an official visit and irritated delegates in Angola when he attended a SADC conference where he chanted pro-Mugabe slogans.

While some people may argue that there is nothing wrong with Sata’s diplomatic gaffes in his first year, who he chooses as his friends, and the lack of a defined foreign policy so far, but only time will tell what price Zambia will pay for their president’s actions.

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