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It’s hard being a female politician in Zambia

… so one has to be tough

By NAMO PHIRI

In Zambia you find that when a woman says something they attack you as a person and insult you and the public has no problem with that which is something that is very strange, National Democratic Congress (NDC) president, Saboi Imboela laments.

She says it is not easy to be a female politician in Zambia because our country is very sexist, if I may use that word. The system that we have is not that good because yes, there are things that you can tolerate but when it comes to sexism I think for me it’s a whole level of intolerance towards women, so there is a lot of that which goes on.  

Just this week I wrote a letter to the President to complain about the kind of harassment that women get and some people would even say but why do you talk about this thing and that thing you bring this upon yourself but I am a politician and I’m supposed to interrogate everything that happens but in Zambia you find that when a woman says something they attack you as a person and insult you and the public has no problem with that which is something that is very strange.

So who is Sabo Imboela and what makes her tick. The Daily Nation had a heart to heart chat with the fierce politician who is ready to take on anyone to protect the interests of the country.

A: Saboi Imboela is myself and sometimes I find that question hard to answer because I wear many hats, so to summarise it all, I’m an artist, a political activist, a political scientist and a politician.

Q: Would you say you are where you want to be in life?

A: I would say I am where I want to be in life yes, though I can say it’s a place which is a bit uncomfortable because I feel that there is so much that I can do, so I try as much as possible to work hard where I am so that I change things around me.  At an individual level I think I have a lot of satisfaction in terms of having achieved a few things that I never even thought I would achieve, but of course like everybody else there are regrets here and there but overall I can say that I am where I want to be but I work hard to change things around me especially for women like myself because I believe that all of us have that purpose on earth to ensure that we make this world better than we found it.

Q: How would you describe Zambian politics?

AWell, Zambian politics are very good but to a certain extent very intolerant and lethal in some ways and to a certain extent very uncivilised.  

When I talk about things whereby I want to help change, Zambian politics are one of those things, our politics are so uncivilised, sometimes people don’t understand what politics are there for. 

You know, as a political scientist like I said as one of the things that I am, which says that politics are about differences, if I ask my students of political science  why we have elections the answer is simple which is because we are different and we have different opinions and choices, there is no way any country would have elections if people thought the same but some people don’t understand that, and because it is like that, they should realise that everyone of us should be comfortable being with someone who is different from who we are and that is why you find that over a long time even our history, even the bible shows that we have been characterised by our difference when people became different by beginning to see things differently that is how even the different traditional kingdoms such as the Mwenemutapa and Shaka kingdoms were able to split and move to various places so even Zambia itself exists because we came from somewhere and found ourselves right here, those differences caused us to be a nation. 

So at the end of the day even now for us to now say that we are a people of so many ethnic groupings we need to for example have a leader, and it’s a democratic process we all sit and start choosing. 

We all came from different places but we are one Zambia one nation and if you look at the way we govern ourselves, we do so with our differences by coming together and ensure that we all choose leaders of our choice. We have democracy and we have peace that is what it is all about.

Q: Would you say you are doing well in terms of selling yourself to the public and interrogating the government?

A:  I think I’m doing my part in terms of selling myself to the public and I think in terms of the responses, very overwhelming I can tell you that just from Facebook the kind of responses that are there on a daily basis shows that we are doing a lot and it shows that as a leader really I’m doing my part. 

There is so much that we can do for the public to be able to get our message but it’s not easy because politics are very costly and there are people who believe that they need to be given money to join a party, but for us in the NDC we make it clear that we don’t do that we have declared the party as women and youths party. And when it comes to interrogating government I feel like I am doing my part as the NDC president I think I am one of the most highly quoted people.

Q: How easy is it to be a female politician in Zambia?

A: It is not easy to be a female politician in Zambia unfortunately, our country is very sexist if I may use that word.  The system that we have is not that good because, yes, there are things that you can tolerate but when it comes to sexism I think for me it’s a whole level of intolerance towards women, so there is a lot of that which goes on.

Just this week I wrote a letter to the President to complain about the kind of harassment that women and some people would even say but why do you talk about this thing and that thing you bring this upon yourself but I’m a politician and I am supposed to interrogate everything that happens but in Zambia you find that when a woman says something they attack you as a person and insult you and the public has no problem with that which is something that is very strange.

Q: What do you think is the reason why there are ew female politicians in Zambia?

A:  One of the reasons why we have a few women in politics is number one, the issue of cultural and traditional practices. 

For a long time people believed that its men who have to be leaders which is so shocking because if you look at our history as Zambians most of these things were done so much by the colonialists because before then we had female leaders in many parts of the continent. 

I will give an example of Western Province where the first Litunga was a woman and even the 16th Litunga of the Lozi people was a woman but a lot has changed, so our tradition practices also impact on how people view women and the fact that many of our places in Zambia do have male leaders impacts on how they look at women and men, so really traditional beliefs where it is believed that men and not women are meant to be leaders have a huge impact. 

Another reason is the issue of the economy, they say that poverty has a female face you know so meaning that most of the poverty is borne by the women despite the fact that most of the people who are engaged in agriculture are women. Issues of finances are also there because most men are able to provide nomination fees which are quite high while most of the women cannot afford.

Q: How did you find yourself in politics from being a musician?

A: I think for me the bottom line is that out of all these things I’ve always been an activist, it all begun from when I was young back at my parents’ house.

I was a last born for a long time before my parents had another child so my older siblings would send me to advocate for things that they didn’t have courage to approach our parents for, and later on in life I became an artist, and as an artist I did a lot of charity works with various organisations.

I went to different parts of the country so apart from the music itself I was exposed to the real life of Zambians in every corner of the country. 

I worked with organisations such as the Operation Young Vote and even the ECZ itself I worked with them, we would go out there to encourage people to vote, but earlier on when I was still at UNZA I had the privilege to work with the UNDP where I was one of the people that came up with the women’s parliamentary caucus of our Zambian parliament spear headed by my former boss Mr Michael Soko. 

We would go to parliament just the two of us and the women parliamentarians would come to the UN and that mixture with the women parliamentarians got me interested in politics. 

My former boss and even my fellow musicians would also encourage me to join politics after seeing the zeal that I had towards articulating issues, even my former husband Mr Owas Mwape would also encourage me to become a politician, he would persistently tell me that I will become the first female president of Zambia. 

So the people around me saw the politician in me before I saw myself.  I had done a lot of work around elections and sensitsation before becoming a politician. So to cut the story short, having been exposed to most of these problems being faced by people is what helped me to make a decision to become a politician.

Q: How do you balance being a mom and a political career?

A: it’s actually very easy. Sometimes you can think it’s not easy but I balance very well and the reason why I say so is because I love everything I do, you know they say women are natural multi-taskers, you go to the market you will find a woman carrying a baby on her back and another one in the hands busy selling tomatoes or vitumbuwas and interacting with the customers, so I do the same, I multi-task.  When you come you will find me busy being a mom and laughing with my kids, and in the lecture theatre it’s a different Saboi, you find me as the NDC president it’s a different story and on Facebook I become militant you know, so at the end of the day it’s the fact that I love everything that I do that makes it so easy, but sometimes time is never enough like for  example I have been wanting to go back to school and finish my PhD but time has not been allowing.

Q: How do you manage criticism?

A: I take criticism in various ways, so sometimes I totally ignore and other times I don’t even read the messages, but the few comments I respond to a few people and then sometimes I just address criticism by writing separate statements. Criticism is okay but some critics are just overboard especially towards us women because some people feel like they can say anything because I am a woman and they forget that they came from a woman and I am a mother and my kids see those things they say about me and people need to respect me and the fact that my kids are grown and they see and read everything. And I think the leadership is very tolerant towards disrespectful criticism.

Q: Do you think women are easy targets of criticism and attacks in politics?

A: Yes and sadly so, when it comes to these issues of negative criticism the targets are the women, I think Zambians are still uncomfortable seeing a woman say certain things, I sometimes get shocked seeing a young person in this day and era say they can’t vote for a woman or how can a woman say this, such remarks coming from such a young person is disappointing, Political socialisation is all messed up, you cannot discriminate people based on their sex.

This article is supported with the WAN IFRA Women In News (WIN) Social Impact Reporting Initiative (SIRI). Information in this article does not reflect the views of WAN IFRA Women In News 

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