By Evans Mulenga
As President Michael Sata’s health appears to be taking a turn for the worse this week, the battle for succession from within the Patriotic Front (PF) ruling party has again spilled out into the public.
Well placed sources inside State House tell Zambia Reports that the past 24 hours have been very difficult for President Sata, and that he is not stable.
PF infighting usually intensifies in response to the president’s health, and the latest turn has made matters particularly bad.
“Since Thursday has been suffering uncontrollable vomiting and failure of bodily functions, and his weight is down to 50kg from his previous weight of 110kg,” said the source. “The family is very sad, and all State House staff are worried as things are not OK. We are expecting anything right now, which is part of the reason why Kabimba is going after ABC.”
The two key figures in the succession struggle at this stage appear to be PF Secretary General and Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba, representing the so-called “cartel” including Prosecutor Mutembo Nchito and Post Newspaper Editor Fred M’membe, who are fighting for the removal of Finance Minister Alexander B. Chikwanda (ABC).
Chikwanda, who himself is in his mid-80s, reportedly has no desire to stand as a presidential candidate, however he has maintained the closest, most loyal relationship with President Sata and would likely be the default Acting President in the event that the head of state were incapacitated. Sources say that Chikwanda represents a major threat to the cartel, and that they are determined to purge him from the government at any cost before he can assume the powers of Acting President.
“The Cartel wants ABC out by all means, and they are trying to engineer a way for Kabimba to become Acting President,” the source said. “The two senior PF members became enemies when Chikwanda blasted Kabimba and told to ‘stop campaigning for an office that isn’t vacant,’ which then resulted in Kabimba reporting the issue to Nchito and M’membe. That’s why the Post Newspaper is relentlessly attacking Chikwanda, and possibly the DPP could ring up a bogus criminal charge against him.”
According to sources informing Zambia Reports, since returning from Israel President Sata has only allowed visits from a handful of ministers, including Chikwanda and Defence Minister Edgar Lungu. Chikwanda is the only minister that can meet with President Sata one-on-one, as press aide George Chellah is not allowed to attend these meetings, which has panicked the cartel.
The source additionally alleges that Chikwanda has passed an intelligence briefing to President Sata revealing the cartel’s plans to seize power, and that they are wishing for his death to campaign on public sympathy.
“Kabimba decided to attack Chikwanda after the minister went to visit H.E. last week and told him all about the cartel’s plans,” the source said. “After the meeting with Chikwanda, President Sata called Kabimba and told him to watch himself, and not to think that he would be president even if he has to die. ‘I will not fire you now, I will let you be and pretend I know nothing but the people shall deal with you,’ Sata told Kabimba.”
There is also a tribal element to the Kabimba-Chikwanda dispute, as was revealed during the last period of infighting in July, when President Sata was abroad in Israel receiving medical treatment. The President’s son, Mulenga Sata, began raising his profile as a potential successor with the support of Chikwanda and other cabinet members from Northern Province who want to ensure that the next president is a Bemba.
Shortly thereafter, Vice President Guy Scott attacked Mulenga Sata on behalf of the cartel, arguing that he couldn’t stand for president under the parentage clause.
The cartel’s campaign to remove the Finance Minister began with the leaking of a classified government earlier this week which purported to accuse Chikwanda of violating rules by refunding value added tax (VAT) to mining exporters. This was followed by a number of “calls for resignation” from quasi-independent figures with known links to the cartel, such as Fr. Richard Luonde, Bishop John Mambo, and Edith Nawakwi.
The source says Finance Bank Chairman Rajan Mahtani who is a key financier of the cartel has also been involved, instructing his employee Bishop Mambo to join the attack against Chikwanda. Bishop Mambo was co-opted by Mahtani earlier this year and given a well paid position on the board of Zambezi Portland Cement – a company whose original owners say was stolen from them by Mahtani.
On behalf of his charity Chikondi Foundation, which usually focuses on childrens’ issues, Bishop Mambo attacked the Finance Minister over the VAT refund issue, remarking, “Chikwanda has clearly been exposed and he must step down.”
Then only two days after Bishop Mambo’s attack against Chikwanda, Mahtani attempted to distance himself from his proxy, publishing a notice on his website Zambian Intelligence News saying that he would “castigate” Bishop Mambo for his actions and that he had “respect” for the Honourable Minister Chikwanda. At the time of publishing, there was no indication that Bishop Mambo had been removed from his position at Zambezi Portland Cement.
“Mahtani is trying to play it both ways because he has so much to lose,” a source close to the Mahtani Group of companies tells Zambia Reports. “He needs the cartel to seize power, because any other government might revisit his illegal shareholding in Finance Bank and reopen the money launring and forgery cases that were set aside by Nchito.”
In response to the attacks over the VAT issue, Chikwanda has issued statements defending himself, but appears not to be worried as he is counting on the support of state media outlets such as the Times of Zambia and Zambian Daily Mail.
Speaking in an interview with the Daily Nation, People’s Party President Mike Mulongoti slammed Fr Luonde and Bishop Mambo for their uninformed comments: “It would appear that there is a war of attrition in the PF either as a result of the struggle for political power, contracts or succession and the clique that has launched the hate and slander campaign against Mr Chikwanda is in fact fighting President Sata.
There is a government in this country under the administration of the PF and it is our expectation that those aspiring for power should have respect for the Sata administration. I am also wondering whose interests Fr Luonde and Bishop Mambo are serving in all this because that is not their jurisdiction.”
As for M’membe and Nchito, there is a strong interest to install Kabimba as president in order to avoid paying a K14 million that the two men owe to the Development Bank of Zambia (DBZ) following the bankruptcy of Zambian Airways. The issue of the unpaid DBZ debt has been one of the most controversial legal issues in the country, as the cartel has succeeded in forming a special judicial review commission with the power to fire judges who ruled against them on the matter.