By MUBANGA LUCHEMBE
CHISHIMBA Kambwili’s grassroots popularity on the Copperbelt did not come by mere chance, and neither was it inherited from his political mentor’s long dalliance with Zambian politics – albeit being an ardent student of the late founding father of the ruling Patriotic Front, Michael Sata.
His current status was not accorded to him on a silver platter; he had earned it by sheer political determination. In Zambia’s politics, Kambwili leads the pack when it comes to grassroots mobilisation on the Copperbelt. But enter 2021 and it appears his undoing is increasingly being linked to his failure to get to the second-in-command top seat in the UPND-led opposition alliance and become Hakainde Hichilema’s running mate in the August 12 general elections.
Besides, his party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), which has been enjoying a relative following across the country, is on the brink of collapse. A rebellion openly orchestrated by one of Kambwili’s staunchest allies in the UPND-led opposition alliance and his party’s deputy leader, Joseph Akafumba, began to form when majority partnering parties agreed to a name-change. The alliance-name became “UPND Alliance” ostensibly because the voting public would not countenance the existence of other aspiring candidates from smaller parties wishing to be adopted in the opposition alliance while those branded-UPND were well-respected nationwide.
Kambwili protested over this decision because in his view, it was disrespectful of other partnering parties. A pantomime-like power struggle within the NDC ensued with court interdicts and counter-interdicts being sought in the High Court by either side to prevent each other from heading the party. Besides, ever since Kambwili got fired from the PF government and expelled from the ruling party, he has spent recent years as a vocal critic of the country’s President and many of his former close associates in PF, questioning their “wealth,” connections and the source and use of government funds for citizens’ empowerment initiatives. Strange as it may sound, to Kambwili’s credit his non-stop false allegations of PF’s corruption earned him accolades and rare praise from pro-regime change political parties and the Lusaka-based Transparency International Zambia (TIZ).
But the praises of TIZ and the myriad of pro-UPND opposition surrogates and civil society organisations could not salvage his political support base among the discerning general public who dismissed his graft accusations as sourgrapes and full of hot air. But sometimes hot air is just what is needed when purveyors of falsehoods want something ratcheted up on mainstream and social media platforms. However, matters took a turn for the worse when Kambwili unreservedly apologised to President Edgar Lungu and businessman Valden Findlay for accusing them of being drug dealers, saying he was misinformed on the matter.
In his reaction, President Lungu responded that he had noted Kambwili’s apology and accepted it in the true Christian spirit. Mr Lungu added that what mattered was someone’s actions and deeds after one’s apology for the wrongs they had done – much to the chagrin of the UPND’s diehard supporters who had been championing Kambwili’s false allegations of PF’s corruption.
Unsurprisingly, Kambwili has been in the spotlight following his recent apology to President Lungu, prompting speculation that the former PF minister intended to do the unimaginable and rejoin the ruling party ahead of the 2021 elections. He had also faced arrest and was previously charged with criminal defamation of the Head of State. Besides, he had made various allegations aimed at high-ranking PF officials in recent years, warning them that he would disclose further details if pushed. His apology to President Lungu came following his departure from the opposition “UPND Alliance,” which has seen the NDC split into two factions. That matters have not been rosy in NDC is now Zambia’s worst-kept secret. The frosty relations within NDC were fuelled by Kambwili’s arraignment and conviction on criminal charges by the Magistrates Court – pending appeal in the High Court.
This move, rather than cement cracks in the party, widened the rift. NDC has now hit the rocks and the damage is becoming more visible. A small group of pro-UPND officials in the party have continued to make one illogical allegation after another meant to smear NDC and undermine the party’s top brasss. There has been a propaganda campaign by some officials determined to create an impression that Kambwili was wooing his own party members to rejoin the PF.
For failing to quell internal rebellion in his own party, Kambwili will have to go an extra mile, to either regain or recruit new allies to replace a sizeable lost chunk of his former support base. As he shuttles to the August 12 general elections, his chances of the presidential ultimate prize are compromised by his party’s excessive internal haemorrhage and his inability to keep friends in either the PF or the “UPND Alliance.”
The nagging questions are: Why should PF officials accept Kambwili’s self-confessed contrition? If hurting PF officials with hitherto false allegations of corruption offended them, then why should they value him and absolve him from all misdeeds? The PF officials must know that the longer they are seen to be tolerating Kambwili’s waywardness, the more they are seen to be vacillating political leaders. Probably due to the inescapable political significance Kambwili’s self-induced apology has in the ruling party, some PF officials might be feeling some ambivalence towards this apology until August 12.
The lessons from NDC and UPND’s shenanigans might be too fresh in their minds to forget. But who can blame them? Besides, they must know that Kambwili’s vitriol, his position on false allegations of corruption and his crude, graft-accusing character assassinations had damaged both the internal and external image of the PF, the government and Zambia as a whole.
The fact that Zambia, as evidenced recently by its local currency free-falling exchange rate, had lost direct foreign investment is a harbinger of worse to come since Kambwili’s graft-accusing invective has already been taken seriously by global investors. This is the most painful conclusion and reality.