Southern Africa : New Zambian President’s Zim Policy Anxiously Awaited

October 11, 2011 4:22 pm 0 comments

Brian Chitemba

29 September 2011


A NEW dawn has broken across the Zambezi in Zambia where long-time opposition leader Michael Sata won the country’s presidential race against incumbent Rupiah Banda.

Sata (74), a former railway station cleaner at Victoria Station in London, won a close-fought poll securing 43% of the vote compared to Banda’s 36%.

Sata had lost four previous runs, the last being to Banda in 2008.

Sadc leaders and the international community should be anxiously waiting to hear Sata’s foreign policy, particularly towards Zimbabwe. While in opposition a few years ago Sata publicly expressed admiration for President Robert Mugabe and criticised Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai as a puppet of Western governments who enjoyed financial backing from Britain and the US “to cause trouble in Zimbabwe”.

On the other hand, Banda had no kind words for Mugabe, whom he warned of an Egyptian-style uprising in Zimbabwe as a result of his refusal to step down.

Sata has lauded Mugabe for his liberation war credentials and supported his controversial land reform programme saying Western governments which criticised the ageing leader were imperialists and capitalists who wanted to see Zimbabweans suffering.

The question on many lips is: does Mugabe have a new ally in Sadc across the Zambezi? However, the irony of it all is that Sata is no friend of the Chinese who have virtually taken over the economy of the copper-rich country, and has threatened to clampdown on them, while Mugabe is best friends with the Chinese.

The Chinese have liberally been granted mining and business concessions in Zimbabwe despite widespread complaints of exploitation. They have been accused of using cheap labour at their mines and construction firms with impunity.

Zimbabweans are expected to go to the polls next year after the writing of a new constitution whose draft referendum is expected in January. The constitution has been delayed by several months due to bickering between Zanu PF and MDC-T as well as erratic funding.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai formed a shaky coalition government in 2009 which has been characterised by serious infighting. “The election itself is reassuring and inspires confidence among Zimbabweans that elections can be a vehicle to achieve change,” said Mavhinga.

Some commentators have raised fears that Mugabe and his securocrats may refuse to hand-over power should he lose elections. In the 2008 harmonised poll, Mugabe withheld presidential results for a month after losing to Tsvangirai.

Political analyst Blessing Vava said it was uncertain whether Sata would stick to his eccentric views on Zimbabwe because the demands and expectations of a Head of State are different from that of an opposition leader.

He said the critique on Tsvangirai by Sata could have been a populist campaign statement which does not necessarily reflect his stance on Zimbabwe because he once praised Tsvangirai as one of the most courageous leaders on the continent.

“The trend of most African leaders, especially the newly elected ones, is how they quickly embrace policies that have a positive bearing on the economy and service delivery to their people and that encourage and boost investor confidence and try as much to embrace the global village and co-existence concept which is to the contrary to the Zanu PF way of governance,” said Vava.

As an opposition leader Sata could say anything but as president, he may need to engage in diplomacy and not recklessly attack leaders across his country’s border.

He could have been ignored when he strongly criticised Tsvangirai and praised Mugabe because opposition leaders are often not taken seriously.

But questions have also been raised over Sata’s age. At 74, will he seek another term in office?

Sata’s first term in office may plunge Zambians in the same predicament as Zimbabweans where Mugabe at 87 is still active in politics. Vava said Sata could not risk going the Zanu PF route which ravaged the once prosperous economy because he needs to attract investors to Zambia which has a gross domestic product of US$12 billion and a population of 13 million.

Although the Zambian elections were marred by sporadic violence, Banda’s acceptance of defeat was a lesson for leaders like Mugabe who have been clinging to office for decades.

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