By Frazer Bwalya Musonda
On the 5th of February 2019, the inconceivable in Zambia’s political dispensation happened. A cabinet minister with a seemingly very good relationship with the president was arrested by the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) on charges of corruption. My reaction to the news was a mixture of a deep feeling of pride in our governance institutions and a strong suspicion of a possible ploy to get rid of a potential challenger for the 2021 PF presidency. The latter is the view that even the vice president for the UPND (GBM) held and apparently one held by a prominent Zambian lawyer Elias Munshya. The reactions from Zambians were equally mixed. The questioning and eventual arrest of the minister was particularly unprecedented under the PF government.
When president Lungu before his departure for a campaign tour in Sesheke was asked to comment on the arrest of Hon Chitotela, his answer according to me revealed his lack of commitment to the fight against corruption in Zambia. The president said that he would only fire Housing and Infrastructure Development Minister if the courts found him guilty of corruption. He went on to explain how he relied on similar information from the ACC to fire Hon Chishimba Kambwili, a decision he seemed to have regretted because the former information minister had not yet been proven guilty up to now.
The president’s response when relativized to his response to the scandal of misuse of donor funds at the ministry of community development is conflicting. Hon Emerine Kabanshi was fired based on allegations of misuse of donor funds in her ministry. In making the announcement, the chief government spokesperson Dora Siliya indicated that the president had “acted swiftly, relieving Hon. E. Kabanshi as Minister of Community Development following misuse of funds allegations in her ministry.” In this instance, the president was not willing to allow the courts of law or government investigative wings to prove wrong doing on the part of Hon Kabanshi but he went ahead and fired her.
One possible conclusion one could draw from this is that the president was paying lip service when he declared his commitment to enhancing gender parity in Zambia’s political spectrum. I imagine that NGOs that champion women’s rights and participation in governance should have pointed out this hypocrisy. Hon Kabanshi was a very loyal PF suppoter, who used to say “His excellency Edgar Chagwa Lungu” in almost every sentence she uttered like is the case with most ministers, permanent sectretaries and distict commissioners plus she actually supported the “Lungu 2021 sole candidate campaign”. These two seem to be the clearest signs of loyalty to the president in PF. Take it a step further and add “The great leader of this great nation” after “His excellency Edgar Chagwa Lungu” you will gain immense favour with the head of state. Based on this loyalty testing criteria that the PF have come up with, Hon. Kabanshi passes. Perhaps her failure was not getting in front of ZNBC cameras so often to show this loyalty like Hon Chitotela did.
The other possible conclusion could be that the president has a “muzungu anikonde syndrome”. I am originally from the Copperbelt province and have basic knowledge of Nyanja but my understanding of this syndrome is a black person that goes to unnecessary extremes trying to please a white person. This is deeply rooted in the inferiority complex that the Europeans managed to infuse into Africans during colonial rule. Growing up I remember seeing certain parents praising their children saying “musungu uyu” whenever those children behaved exceptionally well. “Musungu uyu” literally translates “This is a white person”. Donor aid represents a very small percentage of Zambia’s budget compared to the total revenues generated from our economy. Tax and non tax revenues still remain the biggest contributors to the resource envelope even in Zambia’s 2019 budget. The firing of Hon Kabanshi and the reluctance to fire Hon Chitotela seems to indicate that donor aid which is smaller compare to domestic revenues is more important. President Lungu would rather fire Hon Kabanshi to please European donors but still keep Hon Chitotela in his position because Zambian tax payers are not as important as European donors.
The third possible conclusion could be that president Lungu has done similar deals with Chinese companies and he is aware of the minister’s conduct; In which case he sees nothing wrong. This narrative is largely supported by the fact that the president declared K2.5 million worth of assets in 2015, a figure that rose by a factor of more than 9 in just one year. In the western world; and by my reference to the western world I do not mean it is perfect, Hon. Chitotela should have been forced to resign based on conflict of interests. Being a minister and having companies that are awarded contracts is suspicious but unfortunately that is the culture we have cultivated and view as okay as Zambians.
Whatever reason(s) the president has for his reluctance to suspend the minister as investigations and the court process continue for me highlights his inadequacy and lack of good will towards the fight against graft in Zambia.
The author is a Zambian youth who believes Zambia deserve better governance than the status quo.