President Edgar Lungu with Sports minister Chishimba Kambwili during his Inauguration Ceremony at Heroes Stadium in Lusaka on January 24,2015 -Picture by THOMAS NSAMA
FILE: President Edgar Lungu with Chishimba Kambwili during his Inauguration Ceremony at Heroes Stadium in Lusaka on January 24,2015 -Picture by THOMAS NSAMA

The ruling Patriotic Front’s expulsion of one of its founding members paves the way for President Lungu to be its presidential candidate. But they’d be wrong to think they’ve seen the end of Chishimba Kambwili.

Last week, Chishimba Kambwili MP, an ambitious firebrand and possible presidential aspirant, was expelled from the ruling Patriotic Front (PF), a party he had helped found 16 years previously.

PF Secretary-General Davies Mwila claimed that the Central Committee’s 22 July decision to dismiss the former Information Minister followed his covert attempts to destabilise the party. He dared Kambwili not to challenge his dismissal in court but rather to test his popularity in a by-election.

At the time of publication, however, unconfirmed reports in the local press suggest Kambwili has begun a legal challenge. If he were to win, he would keep his parliamentary seat, either on the PF ticket or as an independent if he chose to resign from the party. If he were to lose, a by-election would be held within 90 days of the vacancy.

Before his dismissal, Kambwili, 48, had been a party stalwart. A former scrap metal dealer, he was a founding member of the PF in 2001 and one of party leader Michael Sata’s close associates. In 2006, he was elected on a PF ticket as the MP for Roan, an urban constituency on the politically-important industrial Copperbelt. In recent years, he has cultivated a reputation for being outspoken, winning him considerable popularity in the urban centres of the capital Lusaka and on the Copperbelt.

Kambwili recently indicated that he would consider running for the presidency in 2021. President Edgar Lungu has also unexpectedly declared his intention to seek another term in office. It was likely the incumbent’s ambitions that led to his former colleague’s expulsion, though the president would be wrong to think the matter is now settled.

Why Kambwili may welcome his expulsion

For Kambwili, being expelled from the PF is neither surprising nor necessarily unwelcome. It may be a mutually beneficial arrangement for both sides.

The ruling party has long been looking for a pretext on which to expel the Roan parliamentarian. Kambwili has been reprimanded on charges of gross misconduct twice, and although the PF fell short of expelling him, those incidents presaged the latest development. In the party’s judgement, expelling Kambwili rids them of a troublesome internal critic and destabilising influence.

For Kambwili, expulsion provides an opportunity to take another step in his political career. In this sense, the PF may have played into his hands. Unlike some other former party stalwarts, Kambwili was never going to leave voluntarily. His political strategy was to either remain in the PF, which he constantly described as “my baby”, and carve out a power base for himself, or be expelled by Lungu. Kambwili knew the latter option would allow him to argue that he was forced out of the party he founded and built alongside former President Michael Sata – a party that, in his view, has since been hijacked and departed from its original ideals.

In fact, Kambwili has consistently courted dismissal in recent months, knowing it gives him a better platform from which to criticise the PF. Being dismissed fits with his narrative that former Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) figures and allies of ex-president Rupiah Banda, Lungu’s political godfather, have commandeered the party. It also gives credence to the argument of some Bemba speakers that they are being marginalised from the uppermost echelons of power – and are now even being chased out of the party.

Kambwili’s expulsion indicates that President Lungu is serious about his plans to seek a third presidential term of office in 2021. Although his eligibility to contest the elections remains the subject of a legal challenge, the PF appears certain of procuring a favourable outcome from a Constitutional Court widely seen as being biased.

Given this, the PF may have reasoned that internal opposition will be harder to tackle and that the earlier it is addressed the better. It is telling that soon after expelling Kambwili, the Central Committee moved to adopt Lungu as the party’s presidential candidate for 2021, subject to approval by the PF elective general conference in 2020. This suggests Kambwili was regarded as an obstacle to Lungu’s desire to extend his rule.

Having successfully dealt with external critics — which has seen knockabout blows to the critical free press, the main political opposition and, more recently, civil society organisations — it appears Lungu is now turning his attention to his opponents within the PF. Kambwili, who has never hidden his own presidential ambitions, was seen as effectively campaigning against Lungu’s third term and positioning himself to stand for the party presidency.

In addition to criticising the idea of floating Lungu as the sole candidate at the elective 2020 general assembly as undemocratic and a violation of the party’s constitution, Kambwili also craftily indicated that he would consider launching an alternative bid. Given his capacity to mobilise, endear himself to the rank and file, and create his own power base, it was not inconceivable that Kambwili could have defeated Lungu, who is yet to establish his grip on the PF, in an open intra-party election. It is this prospect that may have frightened the PF into permanently eliminating Kambwili’s possible candidature.

What next for Kambwili?

Depending on how he plays his cards over the course of the next weeks and months, Kambwili’s expulsion could cause a rupture within PF strongholds and potentially lead to the implosion of the governing party. It would be a costly mistake for Lungu to dismiss Kambwili as a political nonentity, a rabble-rouser or clown with a sharp tongue, and think that his exit will not adversely affect his electoral prospects.

Much more so than other prominent PF members who have walked out in recent times — notably former Vice-President Guy Scott, former Minister of Defence Geoffrey Mwamba Bwalya, and former Commerce Deputy Minister Miles Sampa —Kambwili has significant support and appeal.

The former Information Minister is a shrewd political operator, a skilled grassroots mobiliser, an accomplished agitator and a Bemba nationalist. He is an effective populist in the mould of Michael Sata with a gift for oratory and the common touch. Notwithstanding his previous closeness to the levers of power, during which he rattled many people, he is capable of recasting himself as a spokesperson for poor people, workers, marketers, street vendors, the citizen on the public minibus, and Bemba speakers – constituencies that were crucial to Lungu’s rise.

Indeed, Kambwili could mobilise the same constituencies that voted for Lungu in 2015 and 2016: namely the urban centres of Lusaka and the Copperbelt, and the Bemba-speaking rural communities of Luapula, Muchinga and Northern provinces.

These electoral bases are likely to be receptive to a new populist party. Zambia is facing mounting economic challenges, which are likely to be aggravated by the soon-to-be implemented International Monetary Fund programme. Meanwhile, there is a growing sense of marginalisation among Bemba speakers, who argue that Lungu’s 2016 running mate should have come from their ranks as a show of appreciation for their political support in 2015.

It is important to note that despite pretentions to the contrary, the PF started as a Bemba project and its support in the Bemba-speaking region rested on Sata’s use of an ethnic strategy. Attempts by Lungu to nationalise the party’s appeal by promoting non-Bemba figures like Inonge Wina (now PF and Zambia’s Vice-President), Ngosa Simbyakula (PF National Chairperson), a horde of former MMD ministers such as Lucky Mulusa, Dora Siliya, Vincent Mwale, and many others who lack political gravitas have not received the endorsement of the Bemba core.

It remains to be seen whether Kambwili will form his own party or join an existing one. It is almost certain, however, that he will not join the main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND). This is both because his presidential ambitions may prevent him from agreeing to serve under someone else, and also because he is a Bemba nationalist who, like Sata, believes the UPND is a vehicle formed to advance Tonga ethnic interests. Kambwili is more likely to either form his own party or, if the ruling elites frustrate his efforts to register one, assume leadership of an existing political outfit such as the one about to be formed by Mwenya Musenge, another prominent PF member and Bemba speaker who was expelled alongside Kambwili.

Crushed under a tonne of bricks

The potential effect of Kambwili’s expulsion, however, is not completely down to him. Opposition figures in Zambia are now faced with continued obstruction from ruling elites. Kambwili has already had to cancel a press briefing and failed to appear on a private television station for a scheduled interview due to security concerns. There is also a possibility he will be arrested on trumped up charges or that Lungu may seek to stymie his actions by quarantining him in one location as part of the declared state of threatened emergency.

It is worth noting that when Lungu sacked him from Cabinet last year, no reasons were offered. This did not stop Kambwili’s detractors from linking his dismissal to allegations of corruption, especially when the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) started investigations into his conduct when a minister. No charges were issued, but Kambwili’s expulsion may encourage the ACC to announce the outcome of their investigations and bring formal charges.

Such a move may backfire and feed into public perception that Kambwili is being victimised. The legal process could additionally provide him with a platform to launch criticisms of the government or accuse other key figures in the government of corruption. But the charges would also likely force Kambwili into a distracting and possibly lengthy court case.

President Lungu – who, critics argue, is not averse to deploying state institutions for partisan use – may have a final say on the course of Kambwili’s next moves. Secretary General Mwila’s call for Kambwili to test his popularity by embracing a parliamentary by-election may be informed by the PF’s burning desire to defeat Kambwili and desecrate his political influence on the Copperbelt.

A by-election in which Kambwili runs would likely see the deployment of massive state resources for partisan use, high levels of intimidation, and outright political violence. But the ruling party will probably not care as long as Kambwili is, to quote Lungu, crushed under a tonne of bricks.

By Sishuwa Sishuwa
Source: African Arguments

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41 COMMENTS

    • I think a tonne of bricks crushed on Lungu family too.
      The once beloved, hardworking, Tasila was always for PF. But now she is a councillor, has become a threat to PF presidency.

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    • Kambwili won 11,397 votes in Roan constituency. His nearest rival Kayekesi won 5,099 but, altogether, 8,210 people did not vote for Kambwili. This means that he has a very narrow majority of 3,187. Depending on whom PF picks, Kambwili may have a very difficult time defending his seat. The independent Musanje came third with 1,857 votes. No matter how one looks at this, the only way Kambwili will return to Manda hill is to join UPND. Otherwise, he will be dividing the PF vote he got.

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    • Nothing intelligent and mind stimulating in this whole defective opinion. It’s devoid of researched shove. The author must have cooked it based on tarven hearsay not some empirical data. Zambians are not mindless ethnocentric zealots but rational actors. Learn from history. Next topic please.

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  1. Being a founding member does not mean one should be disrespectful to others, no new comers and should not be given government posts, if Mr. Kabwili forms his party, is he going to do it alone without any defectors to join him since nearly everyone is affiliated to a party? So even those who will join him will only come from PF no any other party as he is allergic to newcomers especially from MMD. We are yet to see how he will do it alone.

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  2. Why should the opposition be so upset about an expulsion in another party?
    The author here is a UPND and is from a known region bitter about ECL.
    Wany*****!

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    • @Ken. Unlike you, the author is an educated young man, authoritative and respected even by EL himself. As for you, not even enough ball.s to reveal your identity. Squeaky squashy ball.s.

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  3. The fat coward will not even dare stand for re-election, cant stand the looming electoral embarrassment. Only place of refuge is among the equally pokitically daft UPNDonkeys where maybe he can replace the fat donkey GBM which faiked to bring the votes and instead scared away the voters.

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    • CK is not a coward like you who hides behind that silly name, you will be embarrassed yourself with Lungu if you dare go for a by-election. The author of this article is spot on if CK plays his cards well, this will be the end of PF it will only remain in eastern province which always a late comer on the political scene. Eastern province is a decade behind in terms of politics,

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  4. You are over rating Kambwili. I love him. I appreciated him in PF but at times he is a liability. The late Sata would have successfully made PF without Scott, Kambwili, Mills etc.. We knew the late Sata and I personally was sure that he would one day rule Zambia… ECL needs to get rid of some of the cowboys around him otherwise he is getting better. He has never show greed to be president in my opinion

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  5. Kambwili is gone. Those corruption charges will finish him off. Don’t throw stones when you live in a glass house. These guys became very careless when in office. You don’t have to dig deep.

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  6. Who is an undemocratic person? A person who refuses to accept the decision of the majority or who work to undermine a democratically made decision. I just wonder on what basis people are accusing PF to be undemocratic by showing the door to two people who chose not to play by the party rules! Hello people … Indiscipline and democracy are not synonyms!!

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  7. Authoritarianism? These guys are so dull that thy do not even understand what that word means! When one guy who disobey the law is called out for acting silly you call it authoritarianism? You can always know who wrote the article by the title, Either a Tonga or L…? Denial, delusional, illogical, tribal, unfounded bias, childish and shocking! UPND is a spirit – an evil spirit! They all read Dog Watchers in Zambia that is why they think alike!

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    • Think in English, not in your local language. What does “dull” mean? Is it because you always say “Tawakwata amano”?

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    • if I disagree with your point, (I may not see my family again).
      You look at your self first. What makes you none tribal when you keep mentioning others? the ones u accuse of
      being tribal never practice or talk or worry about it as much as u do. so what does it make you?

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  8. Kambwili is no factor! It is like Mulenga Sata and former Matero MP, they thought they were somebodies when they were not! Leadership is from above! The man, meanwhile, is working and he will end up soon as one of Zambia’s best presidents. Hazaluza Hagain cannot accept this nor will his fellow tribesmen but this is a fact!

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  9. I would rather support Mr lungu anytime than the rabid tribalist kambwili .

    If Mr lungus dictatorship is the alternative to rule based on tribe and the perception of tribal supremacy I will support Mr lungu.

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  10. The PF party was founded by another authoritarian named MCS… so bwana Lungu is just keeping the tradition alive.

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  11. It was yesterday HH was supposed to attend his case before the magistrate court in which HH sued Minister for your Islamic religion and Christian for Lungu which did not take place after the plan almost crashed. The truth is that the plane was sent to pick HH nor wonder your Minister did not even attend the court because she was waiting to hear that HH has died in a plane crash.

    Zambians be watchful and know the kind of your so called president and his leadership. I don.t see God in Lungu but devil.

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  12. It has been said time and again that when a political party is registered with the registrar of societies as a public entity it remains as a public entity. So for politicians who want to treat their political parties as personal entities are missing the point. If they want their political parties to remain private entities they should never register them. Members irrespective of their position in the origin of the party they need to be disciplined. Any organisation need disciplined members to survive. We expected Kambwili to toll the line and have some respect for the hierarchy of their party. If you try to behave otherwise you get the boot it ends there.

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  13. I look to a day when Lungu will be no more president of Zambia because he has brought more corruption, evi and tribalism in Zambia; he has divided Zambia;

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  14. MR KAMBWILI WAS RIDING ON THE POPULARITY OF MCS ON THE COPPERBELT. PEOPLE VOTED FOR KAMBWILI BECAUSE HE WAS IN PF. NOW THAT HE IS OUT, THE VOTERS HAVE REMAINED WITH PF. SO DO NOT OVERRATE KAMBWLI. WITHOUT PF HE IS NOTHING. HE KNOWS IT. AND THAT IS WHY HE HAS RUN TO THE COURTS INSTEAD OF FACING THE PF IN A BY ELECTION.

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    • The PF of MCS and the PF of ECL are very different, things change if you think that PF is still popular on the Copperbelt my friend you are cheating yourself, take a survey in some of the compounds on the CB and hear peoples views and you will be surprised. People change my dear.

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    • …Miles Sampa, Guy Scott, Mulenga Sata are all who thought people had changed because it was no longer MCS’s PF. What happened?? All of them have literally had their political careers destroyed!! Chovix, what you fail to grasp is that if ECL was not accepted by the general population, he wouldn’t have even gone through the 2015 by election-the people who had put PF in power would have voted for hh. But the contrary happened, Zambians in general accepted ECL-he represented a fresher approach as opposed to the usual and orthodox approach hh represented. Believe me, I run an SME in one of the biggest compounds in Lusaka and I interact with hundreds of people on a daily basis-people are focused on their daily activities and have moved on from elections and politics; They have no real…

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  15. @Zambian citizen, the situation you have stated above is different from what is happening in PF today. People you have mentioned above left PF own their own but CK was hounded out. I am also a PF supporter and I voted for ECL but to be sincere the happenings in the party have left me frightened.Let us call a spade a spade the decision to expel CK will have bad consequences. What should have happened was to censure him strongly and reconcile if he had made a mistake, he is also human and bound to make mistakes. Ba Davies Mwila can not mobilize the party. We shall wait and see.

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    • Hounding out is a very strong word and it is synonymous with the current slander crusade going on to portray ECL as a dictator and the fake crisis in the country. Kambwili even before MCS died had presidential ambitions. It struck him deeply when MCS chose ECL instead. From that moment on he and other disgruntled elements such as Scott, M’membe have been undermining ECL. Infact ECL gave Kambwili a chance by appointing him minister. When confronted by a party disciplinary committee, he was given a chance to exculpate himself amid proven facts that he distributed K110,000= to known elements to distabilise the party in Luapula AND HE FAILED TO DEFEND HIMSELF!!! The whole Roan PF protested against him just like the Matero PF when Miles left-IT IS DEJA VU, bwana. Kambwili is not a factor…

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  16. …When Zambians vote, from president, mp to councillor they always choose the same party. I don’t see that trend changing any time soon. C/Belt is still PF.

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    • I doubt your assessment I live on the copperbelt and I interact with a lot of grassroots in Compounds, I have family members living in Roan and Mpatamatu compounds, I have asked them if the move taken is ok, they have all said it is a blunder. As I have said before pipo change and only time will tell.

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    • Change happens when certain factors are at play: when people are tired of government or when there is a crisis. Those factors are not there right now. Even if an election was held, it wouldn’t be a landslide for PF-that can’t happen anymore under current conditions. Your best bet for Kambwili would be the upnd supporters backing him and part of the PF support, but as you know, upnd would rather vote for a frog than the person who insulted them so much!!!

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  17. @16, I see God in the president and the devil in the other loser and all his supporters! You need to buy the right glasses!

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  18. I agree with chovix his views are shared with majority silent original PF and many Zambians.You cant be chasing away your strong letinents when you are supposed to gather your support base. PF will surely regret this decision of hounding out kambwili. Just to disagree with you Zambian citizen, when people voted for PF in 2011 what crises was there? look at how close 2015 and 2016 was. Had it been a fair contest PF wouldn’t have managed the 100,000 votes the got against UPND

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