Zambia: Anti-Corruption or Political Witch Hunt?

By James Kimer

The surprising victory of Zambia’s national football team, the Chipolopolo, in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations has prompted weeks of celebrations and confident swagger across the capital city of Lusaka. Amidst the celebrations, citizens and commentators reflect on how far Zambia has come as a footballing nation since the tragic 1993 airplane crash in Gabon that killed the majority of the national team.

Typically when sports and nationalism collide, politics is sure to follow, and Zambia has been no exception. Following each goal the Chipolopolo performed a celebratory dance mimicking the hush gesture from President Michael Sata’s “Don’t Kubeba” slogan during last September’s election. During Sata’s eccentric campaign rallies, he would instruct his supporters that if the other parties offered them anything, from bicycles to t-shirts, they should just take it but not vote for them: “Don’t Kubeba” – in other words, “don’t tell”, it will be our little secret.

A man of questionable action

With the team insisting their celebrations were not political, the brief moments of national unity their success brought may only have obscured what some see as a deepening polarisation. Since coming into power by a narrow margin five months ago, Sata’s Patriotic Front party has brazenly implemented its agenda. Companies and banks have been re-nationalised, anti-corruption probes have proliferated, and new districts and ministries have been created at a surprising pace.

While Sata’s supporters applaud this “man-of-action” approach, his opponents and critics decry a campaign of persecution under the cover of Patriotic Front’s anti-corruption drive. They warn of a “political witch hunt” that threatens to drag Zambia back to the days of a one-party state – a development that has foreign investors alarmed.

Opposition frustration

Frustration culminated on February 22, as the opposition staged a walk out of parliament, just days before a visit by the UN Secretary-General. They alleged that the president was abusing due process by establishing districts and ministries without the consent of the legislature.

“As members of parliament, we pledged to uphold the constitution of the Republic of Zambia and we feel that this government has been breaching the constitution,” Felix Mutati, a former minister of commerce of the opposition Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), told AFP. “They have been creating ministries and transferring some responsibilities from some ministries to another.”

And furthermore, Sata has also come under fire for the controversial nationalisation of several privatised assets. Among his campaign promises, Sata pledged that he would crack down on the alleged corruption of past privatisations and reverse deals that disadvantaged the state.  He didn’t wait long to act.

Impartial reports?

Several Commissions of Inquiry, handpicked by the ruling party, delivered their reports within a month of Sata taking power. The new government moved swiftly to reverse the sales of First National Bank and the telecommunications firm Zamtel, and now have their eyes on Zanaco Bank as well as the cancellation of a tax deferment deal with a Pepsi distributer, Varun Beverages. The Sata government has also issued a slew of corruption accusations, investigations, and search warrants targeting mainly MMD members and their families – the opposition alleges political persecution.

Some of the government’s accusations have bordered on the absurd. Maxwell Mwale, the former MMD Minister of Mining, was arrested in early February and accused of stealing 20 bicycles. Former Finance Minister Situmbeko Musokotwane is the target of a probe related to the Pepsi tax deferment as well as Zamtel. The home village of former Vice President George Kunda was raided by police who were looking for suspected stolen government property. Instead they came away with seizures of 46 bags of maize, 15 bicycles, two sewing machines, two oxen ploughs, two mills, and clothing fabric left over from the last campaign that would have been used in the next by-election campaign. Former Energy Minister Kenneth Konga has had numerous properties seized by the police, including a multi-million dollar hotel investment, and was accused, but later cleared of, having circulated counterfeit currency.

Properties seizures and warrants based solely on suspicion appears to be the new reality in Zambia:

“My case highlights the whole issue of the breakdown of the rule of law here,” Mr Konga said in an interview. “I have only been warned and cautioned, and yet my property has been seized while they carry on the investigation, instead of the other way around.  I am confident my property will be returned because I have not violated any law.”

Many of the corruption allegations against the opposition stem from the conclusions of the Commission of Inquiry reports on Zamtel and the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), which are available online.  But the opposition claims disputes the objectivity of the Commission’s reports, not least because they are chaired by Patriotic Front party members.

The Zamtel report, for example, recommended that the government immediately reverse the $257 million sale to LAP Green, because the buyer supposedly failed to meet pre-qualification criteria, that the asset was undervalued, and that the negotiations were riddled with irregularities.  In particularly aggressive language, the report stated that the sale of Zamtel by the previous government was “a clear case of economic sabotage which pervaded and compromised key GRZ institutions to the extent that GRZ decisions and policy were being managed by a foreign consultant.”

In a recent interview, however, Former Finance Minister Musokotwane scoffed at the conclusions of the report. Musokotwane claims that not only did LAP Green fulfil all requirements and present the highest bid, the Commission report ignored the fact that Zamtel was audited and evaluated by Ernst & Young, which found the company to be insolvent with a negative net worth. What the Commission did, says Musokotwane, was to take the asset valuation but ignore the liabilities, such as tax liability, debts to suppliers, and an unfunded pension liability.

“They have used massive propaganda in newspapers such as The Post to give the Zambian people the impression that there was fraud or corruption in relation to these companies, and now they have used that as an excuse to nationalise the assets,” said Musokotwane. “And for investors, both in Zambia and from abroad, they read beyond propaganda and see the details contained in the report, and now they are legitimately worried that anyone’s investment can be taken by this government without the protection of the law.”

There have been similar complaints over Sata’s reversal of the sale of First National Bank, which had been purchased by South Africa’s FirstRand for $5.5 million last year. After taking back the bank in early October 2011, Sata handed it back over to the former owner Rajan Mahtani, believed to be one of the president’s largest financial supporters. And now, with another Commission of Inquiry due to present its report soon on Zanaco, which was sold by President Levy Mwanawasa in 2007 to the Dutch entity Rabobank for $8.25 million, the opposition is expecting a similar outcome.

Government stands firm

Government officials strongly deny any suggestion that President Sata’s anti-corruption drive is aimed at punishing his opponents. “If you look at the privatisation programmes of the last few years by the former government, you will see that they are riddled with irregularities and improprieties,” said Commerce Minister Bob Sichinga. “We have zero tolerance for corruption.  We said it before the election, and now we are doing it after the election.  There was a huge outcry on behalf of Zambian people against the privatisations, and the only people who are complaining are the ones who want to protect wrongdoing.”

The Commission of Inquiry claims to have uncovered underhand methods and ulterior motives in the sale of Zamtel and no receipt of funds for First National, said Given Lubinda, the PF’s Foreign Affairs and Tourism Minister. “I want to deny all these allegations that there is a witch hunt,” Lubinda said. “Has anybody been charged, put on trial, or imprisoned? No – and if someone were to be found in violation of the law, they would be given a trial and presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

Accommodating wider dissent

Nevertheless, there are public figures outside of the MMD who retain some doubts that Sata’s anti-corruption drive can be taken at face value.

“There is no doubt that there is a need to fight corruption, nobody questions that,” said Hakainde Hichilema, head of the United Party for National Development (UPND), another opposition party which formerly held a pact with Patriotic Front.  “But what we want is a professional and transparent fight against corruption; a fight that will ensure that there is no selectiveness, and no vindictiveness. Unfortunately, at the moment it is very clear that the fight against corruption is being used to settle political scores.”

When UPND and PF were joined in their pact, Hichilema says that Sata wanted to gain the trust of moderate voters and the support of the investment community, but ultimately his plan was move the country toward nationalisation. Hicilema, who has become a vocal critic of the Sata government, suffered an attack on his house two weeks ago by an organised cadre allegedly sent by the ruling party. The police failed to intervene and protect the house, says Hichilema, because they are afraid they would be dismissed by the government.

Protecting foreign investment

All across Zambia’s political spectrum, investment is recognised as the key to economic development and employment. How the new government handles the review of privatisations and its anti-corruption drive will depend upon the impact on foreign investment. Both Sichinga and Lubinda are keen to emphasize that Patriotic Front is open to working with any and all foreign investors, despite past statements by the president – on the campaign trail in 2006, Sata denounced Chinese labour standards, and describing foreign investors as “foreign infestors”. He substantially toned down his criticism in the 2011 campaign and held his first public meeting after winning the election with China’s ambassador, Zhou Yuxiao, where he stressed the importance of China’s investment to the country and also the sanctity of Zambian labour and investment regulations.

“Our government is not one that is going to be selective in the manner that it treats foreign investors or foreign governments,” said Lubinda. “We do not look North, South, East, West, up or down. For us, we treat investors equally irrespective of their origins, and we consider ourselves to be a neutral player in the global economy and in global politics.”

Yet the opposition insists that by pursuing these expropriations without adhering to constitutional norms, President Sata risks losing the trust of the investment community, the stability of the Kwacha, and all the progress made over the past 20 years. “Sata has promised civil servants in the health sector a 100% salary increment, and of course, soon all other public sector workers will demand similar treatment, creating unprecedented inflation in Zambia,” said Mr Musokotwane. “It is difficult to see the new direction the government is taking; no one knows what their policy is.  They say ‘more money in people’s pockets,’ but that can only happen when you create business opportunities and employment opportunities.”

The political challenge Zambia is facing is familiar to many developing countries that are dependent on resource exports.  Under former President Rupiah Banda, Zambia’s GDP growth surged from 5.68% in 2008 to 7.61% in 2010 while inflation dropped to a single digit number. Yet despite a growing job market, many young citizens have yet to be incorporated into the economy.  More than half of Zambia’s 13 million people are under the age of 20, and most of them graduate from school with little hope of finding work.  In such an environment, Mr Sata’s campaign promises to transform the country in 90 days and put more money in people’s pockets finds a very receptive audience, especially among the youth. And if the Zambian people run out of patience, the “Don’t Kubeba” slogan could take on a whole new meaning.

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21 Responses to "Zambia: Anti-Corruption or Political Witch Hunt?"

  1. Citizen  March 1, 2012 at 16:26

    Just for those who may be interestested to the origin of the so called “Donchi Kubeba” symbol, they can visit the illuminati website on http://www.iluminati and follow rhe link to “symbols”. Illuminati is a secret organisation similar to the Free Masons, the Knights Templars, etc.

  2. yonah hara  March 1, 2012 at 15:58

    @mubanga,
    You beginning to sound like you using a wrong name. I have read a number of your comments and I think you too intelligent to be a Bemba. If we had a few more of your type mother Zambia would definately move in the right direction.
    I just hope after all is said and done the President and his team will understand that we gave them a chance to rule us and in turn we expect results. We don’t want to see what HH called late Chiluba one time that the man was acting like a monkey in the maize field. Due to the large number of maize cobs they just eat a bit and throw causing unneccessary damage. The mandate to those in leadership has a finite time and it will not go on for ever.
    Mother Zambia is for all of us including the rehabilitated gays and lesbians!

  3. Mubanga  March 1, 2012 at 12:08

    The powerfulness/effectiveness of a leader is attained to a large extent by the people surrounding him/her. No matter how eloquent Obama may be, his achievements cannot entirely depend on his personal character only but also on the people that surround him.

    As long as Michael Sata is surrounded by his “muzungu anikhonde types”, our country will continue wallowing up in poverty. He used to be termed as man of action in the past but I wonder how many today would accept this phrase to mean what it did years back.

    We have a duty to love our country, get united irrespective of gender, tribe, educational background/status, political affiliation, region etc and work hard to improve our own country.

    However, it all falls back to those at the helm of power! Drive us safely and show us where we are going because we dont know where we are going and where we are currently are!!

    God bless Mother Zambia!!

  4. Mubanga  March 1, 2012 at 11:57

    “And if the Zambian people run out of patience, the “Don’t Kubeba” slogan could take on a whole new meaning”

    Can someone explain the meaning of this sentence to me please!

  5. MWAONA  March 1, 2012 at 11:54

    WE SHALL RUIN THE PROSPECTS CREATED AND THE GOODWILL,IF WE LACK WISDOM LET US ASK FOR IT FROM GOD SINCE OUR STATEMENT WAS WE SHALL RUN PER 10 COMMANDMENTS.
    NO ONE HAS TOTAL USE WISE COUNSELLORS AND CONSULT THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN THERE BEFORE.

  6. Tabasco  March 1, 2012 at 11:30

    Sata claims that he is allergic to corruption.Currently,he is aware that his DPP Mutembo Nchito fraudulently forged a High Court judgement as alleged by Mr.Alfred Ndhlovu in his petition to LAZ.This forgery was to advantage his client so that he can be let off the hook.To a layman this action was aimed at defeating the course of justice and rule of law.What has Sata done about this?Why has he not recommended for the process of investigating the DPP Mutembo Nchito with the aim of removing him from his position? With this type of behavior on the part of Michael Sata, his crusade against corruption is FAKE.

  7. Taj  March 1, 2012 at 10:57

    The problem with some of you bloggers is that any one with contrary views to PF`s is termed as UPND and you end up insulting its leaders. you are no different to MMD when they were in power. wisdom entails that you listen to your critics and make amends where it is necessary, this is what made the late Mwanawasa tick.

  8. The Gringe  March 1, 2012 at 10:54

    @Jekete

    Well said! That sums up the PF ruling culture

  9. OBATALA(upnd no1 die^hard)  March 1, 2012 at 10:21

    The former Heads are turning in the graves: more popcorns the cindellela drama goes on!

  10. supercrown123@hotmail.com  March 1, 2012 at 10:17

    KK started the system of cronyism, patronage political intimidation, physical and economic brutalisation of the masses and perceived enemies.

    FTJ, when he had the opportunity to change things did not. Instead he added to the list in the form of tribalism, corruption, greed, gluttony, sexual depravity and plunder.

    Mwanawasa, pretended to help, but in actual fact further entrenched corruption, abuse of office, nepotism and greed.

    RB took nepotism to its highest levels ever, his sons and he looted the country for all of its remaining wealth.

    We, as a nation are doomed. There is no such thing as Zambia. Zambia does not exist. This place is like one of those bus shelters occupied by vicious, ignorant touts. Though it is a public convenience, the shelter is now a “private” business. The behaviour of the lead tout (like the famed Kadobi) is exactly the same as that of our leader.

    Go ask a tout who granted him the concession for the ‘Kantemba’ and he will not let you know. Instead he will take it as a primal challenge and respond in primal fashion i.e. like a savage. Ask him what his plans are for the ‘Kantemba’ and he will respond with violence.

    His minions at the station see the “ba ka’amba” as their benefactor and saviour and so will not say or do anything against him unless they are in a position to fight him for dominance. Otherwise all questions are met with insults and violence. Thus anyone sensible keeps their distance, if they get desperate, they drop their sense and sensibilities and join the “ba ka’amba” and get down and dirty.

    Go back over this site and comments. You will see the people who claim the opposition is “just jealous” or who posts “it’s our turn now” or “we are ruling”. These are the Kabova, Ngwangwazi and such like of the Zambia bus stop.

    Actually, if someone wanted to write a really good satirical play or book, they should just like Zambia to a Bus shelter. It would fit perfectly.

    The Council could be the Colonial UK, KK and UNIP could be the first Mishanga sellers, FTJ could be the fellow who took over and started running the bus scam and selling chamba, Mwanawasa could be the fellow who took over from the chamba seller, tried to clean up the shelter and commercialise and legitimise the theft and illegal activities but died before he could finish the move, in comes RB who was a lieutenant of KK and harkens for the decadence of FTJ and wants to amass what he couldn’t during the FTJ time in 3 years. Then, shock of shocks MS does a hostile Machiavellian takeover and… I should copyright this stuff fast. Call it “the shelter”!

  11. Dre  March 1, 2012 at 10:11

    BA UPND jealous chocked party take it easy you can have something after PF’s 20 years elapses………

  12. COONDE  March 1, 2012 at 09:55

    SATA IS VINDICTIVE. THAT ONE IS COMMON KNOWLEDGE. STEALING HAS ALWAYS BEEN A SERIOUS GRAFFITI IN ZAMBIA BY OUR POLITICIANS. THAT IS ALSO COMMON KNOWLEDGE. WHAT IS NOW HAPPENING IN ZAMBIA IS THE “SEND A THIEF TO CATCH A THIEF” SCENARIO. SATA AND ALL THESE GUYS BEING ACCUSED ARE ALL BIRDS OF THE SAME FEATHERS. MY SUGGESTION IS THAT GOVERNMENT SHOULD GO AHEAD REPOSSESSING WHAT THESE GUYS STOLE FROM GOVERNMENT, AND ANYTHING THAT WAS NOT DONE RIGHT.
    YOU SEE, OUR COUNTRY IS VERY RICH BUT THOSE WHO ARE GIVEN POWER TO RUN THE COUNTRY STEAL TOO MUCH. ACCOUNTABILITY IS WHAT WE NEED IN ZAMBIA. WE ARE SICK AND TIRED OF THESE THIEVES.

  13. Chipolopolo  March 1, 2012 at 09:36

    To our beloved president , what is now happening in our country , surely man of action ,where has your action gone to see off all kaponyas in our cities of Zambia? To control the down spiral of our kwacha compared to major currencies ? To put to an end all this debate of homosexuality in Zambia ? To your campaign promises eg ba64, more money in our pockets by increasing civil servants salaries? Curtail creation and reshuffling of ministries and ministers ? We voted for and we demand to see change before we start losing our trust .

  14. MWENDANJANGULA  March 1, 2012 at 09:23

    Sata and Kabimba received $1,000,000 from the CHINESE in the name of hosting a luncheon at State House and Kabimba has been left out from Cabinet to be receiving Money from the Chinese together with Stardy Mwale the same money Liato ended up burrying as he was receiving on behalf of MMD.
    The issue of corruption is out as there is no record at any ministry to prove that the out-going Ministers did this and that and all investigations are based on Presidential statements.
    Note that Immediately after the elections Nkandu Luo,Masebo,Given Lwenshi,Chanda councilor for MTENDERE shared illegal land in Mtendere east and sold 18 plots at K15M each . After sharing the proceeds unfairly, they ended up at Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe Police in Avondale and locking up a whistle blower Silwamba for 2 days . The issue was later resolved at Luos house in Ibexhill- so what corruption are they fighting.

  15. Mm  March 1, 2012 at 09:10

    Ba editor önly one company was nationlised and can you sell a company for $ 5million wen it makes more than that in profits .lastly why shud a varum excluded frm paying tax wen local companies are harrased to pay tax

  16. e-politics  March 1, 2012 at 08:46

    “Ulemona” If you want serious development and focussed Govt,vote HH in 2016.You can never compare his abilities with that of Chipimo or Mutati though these two are equally far better than SATA. Just swallow your pride and support HH for the sake of our country development, otherwise, we will never develop as a country if only we consider Bembaz as suitable for prsident because that is not true.So far we have been disappointed by the performance of the Presidents from Bemba speaking areas and we can try other clearly more organised and able people from anywhere else within Zambia.

  17. KK  March 1, 2012 at 08:44

    You are just jelous ba UPND.

  18. Jekete  March 1, 2012 at 08:35

    Remember, the Zimbabwean war veteran style invasion of GK’s farmstead and unwarranted confisication of his personal effects by the police  had nothing to do with fighting corruption but was clearly abuse of state machinery to intimidate political opponents.  

    And that, the pf government led witch hunt, like Mugabe’s operation Ghurughunda is mearnt to divert attention from their failures, nothing more. 

    History tells us that while Rome burnt, an indifferent Nero played the opera, urged on by his praise singers. We surely have our own Nero. 

    Why not rather focus on fulfilling his many promises and spearhead a development agenda?

    The current downward spiral of the Kwacha against major currencies is by far more urgent an issue than the abuse they allege GK commits by owning 46 bags of mealie meal, 2 sawing machines and a couple of bicycle pumps. 

    And if this was absolutely necessary, why send a whole battalion of armed policemen to swamp a defenceless rural farmstead? Certainly what they confisicated was far less than the cost of ferrying the police platoon.   

    What is the government doing about the sudden degeneration of public order & health in Zambia’s cities? It is amazing that within such a short period of time Lusaka city centre has degenerated into such a terrible mess. 

    As I write, vendors are piling up all assortment of merchandise, from dried fish, vehicle parts to ‘tujijili, at shopfronts. 

    While our ruling elite magnificent  mansions are being renovated, brushed and polished at our expense, the masses are left to rot in the open sewers of non existant public services. 

    Finding nowhere to relieve themselves, the vendors have resorted to using opaque beer packs as toilets which they dump at the back alleys. The stench at city centre has never been worse.

    To compesate and appease cadres for failure to deliver the promised ‘more money in their pockets’, Mr Sata has disregarded his own party led local Authourity regulations to allow them to erect in record time an eyesore makeshift market right at the artery of Lusaka town, one they have rightfully named ‘Donti kubeba market’ a monument of pf’s epic failure in the making, annoucing to every arrival by road or train:  

    ‘Welcome to  new Lusaka, the centre of excrement’.

    Mr President Sir, what will it take for you to put your act together? Must we wear surgical masks whenever we wish to visit town for you to act? Man of action eh.      

  19. bantu ndife  March 1, 2012 at 08:35

    @prnc chrmin,,,elias chipimo….hz my man.,.

  20. prince charming  March 1, 2012 at 08:14

    This is a well balanced article which puts things in perspective. Although the sphere of interlocutors is severely limited, it is refreshing to get HH’s correct view on corruption.The problem in Zambia is that we repeat the same mistakes of suing over an absurdity like a stolen TV(Regina) and have no capacity to get to FTJ’s volume of wealth.In short what we consider as wealth is an absurdity to someone outside Zambia. To get to the volume of wealth stolen, you need razor sharp independent researchers and not our friends who want an extra coin to finish “kumanga nyumba”. The number of commission of inquiries simply indicate the paucity of tangible research in Zambia and we will continue shooting in the dark as we always do. Yes, donchi kubeba will soon feed on its originators.

  21. Ulemona  March 1, 2012 at 07:56

    Sata is a joke – we have always known that. Mwanawasa worked hard to entice new nvestors in after anglo pulled out. The question: Who will take over? We know already that Sata has FAILED!

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