PF meltdown is beyond tribalism

By Gershom Ndhlovu

That the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) is in serious meltdown, is not in doubt. What is in doubt, however, are the reasons being advanced for the state of affairs. Caught up in the vortex of the meltdown is the party’s Secretary General, Wynter Kabimba, whom most of the cadres want kicked out, if not from the party, at least from the position.

It is not the position that a party’s chief executive officer would want to be found in and naturally, he has come out kicking and screaming, accusing those that want him out of being tribalists. Funny enough, not too long ago, Kabimba denied the existence of tribalism in the party and government when people alleged that President Michael Sata favoured his Bemba tribesmen in various appointments.

Said Kabimba then: “Other political parties want to use tribe as weapon against others. I am the Secretary General of this party but I am not Bemba. I am Saala from Chief Shakumbila […] Guy Scott our Vice President does not even have a tribe in this country but he is vice president of our party, that is how much we respect ethnic diversity in our party.”

At the height of demands for his dismissal, Kabimba said:

“We have in PF a clique of tribalists that is emerging. The youths that you see marching on the streets of Lusaka today are being used as tools in the hands of a clique of tribalists that is emerging in the Patriotic Front. I didn’t know myself or let me say that, I have been naive all along in my belief and judgement that all those of us that have been referring to UPND as being a tribal political party were themselves non-believers in tribalism.”

This position was also alluded to by PF and Republican Vice President Dr Guy Scott who seemingly disagreed with President Sata who had, a fortnight earlier, had confirmed a party functionary, Robert Chikwelete, who had ousted Lusaka District Chairman Goodson Banda from the position.

The genesis of the party’s woes goes back to late last year when the same cadres lined up to demonstrate against a senior party member and Cabinet Minister Given Lubinda who was accused of being disloyal to the party and leaking party secrets to outsiders. He lost his ministerial job and was suspended from performing his party functions.

But, seriously speaking, what are the real issues behind this meltdown? For me, if tribalism is part of it, it is definitely miniscule. The biggest problem behind this is the fact that the PF, like most of the current parties in existence in Zambia, can be traced to one person as having started it. PF was solely started by Mr Michael Sata in 2001 when he walked out of the MMD, the party for which he was National Secretary at the time.

At the time Mr Sata formed the PF, actually three months to the 2001 presidential and parliamentary elections, the MMD which had been embroiled in a messy third term debate which saw some eligible senior members such as then party vice president Godfrey Miyanda and Republican Vice President Christon Tembo expelled from the party, had settled for former Vice President Levy Mwanawasa to contest the presidential elections.

What probably incensed Mr Sata even more than never having seen eye to eye with Mr Mwanawasa, he (Mwanawasa) was not even a member of the National Executive Committee at the time he was picked as presidential candidate when it became clear that President Chiluba’s attempt at a third term had collapsed.

Mr Sata went on a membership recruitment exercise and among his early acolytes was Dr Guy Scott whose Lima Party formed in the late 1990s, did not go very far. The PF won its first parliamentarty seat through a by-election in Mufulira not too long after its formation and from then on, it was an onward march through to the 2011 elections which it won convincingly, ushering Mr Sata into State House as President.

Incidentally, and true to-date, the PF has never really held a national convention apart from the one that was held as a formality in 2011 at which no real intra-party democracy was exhibited. What is true, however, is that most office holders in the party are just appointed by the party president Mr Sata.

Mr Kabimba himself was appointed to the position after the then secretary general Edward Mumbi stepped down for some reason. In fact, in the course of the demands of his dismissal, Mr Kabimba himself said:

“Tell those that are protesting that they are wasting their time. I was appointed by His Excellency President Sata and he is the only one who will remove me from this position… They should petition the appointing authority, first they should go to the police and obtain a permit that they will want to petition the appointing authority, for me, I serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority.”

What is at play in the PF is something that is bound to consume other political parties which can be traced to individuals for their formation and most crucially, for their sustenance. There are very few parties in Zambia which sare truly public owned. The MMD and FDD are some of the parties that cannot be traced to an individual per se but rather to a group of people with the purpose of achieving a common political goal.

In simple terms, the PF is Michael Sata’s party and most, if not all the high ranking officials in the party, are or were appointed by him rather than having been elected at a national congress or convention.

The bickering going on in the party will be up to President Sata to sort out by dismissing some people and appointing new ones in those positions. It would be different if everybody waited for the elections at the national congress.

It remains to be seen how the PF will survive at the end of President Sata’s tenure as head of state when he will be required to retire from active politics if it does not reorganize itself beyond his leadership.