[By Dr Parkie Mbozi]
Three former Patriotic Front (PF) renegades and ‘heavy weights’ Wynter Kabimba, Chishimba Kambwili and Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba (GBM) are back in the party. Others may be ‘sitting on trees’ and watching (from the bird’s eye view’) and waiting for the right moment to land back and pounce.
The question is, what are these founder members and former internal rivals back for? 2021 election? Forget it. There should more to it. We can intelligently hypothesise or speculate that they are back for the take-over of whatever will remain of the PF after the August 2021 elections. It is wise to assert that it is the resumption of the succession battle for the stewardship of the PF. Therefore, I use the analogy of the vulture to argue my point. Remember that these fellows were involved in factional and succession wrangles even before the PF founder Michael Sata (RIP) was still alive and well.
In the 1969 James Hadley Chase, a renowned novelist and one of my favourites, published a widely read novel titled, ‘The vulture is a patient bird’. Chase titled his book around the vulture-like behaviour of the key character in the story. Vultures are described as scavengers, meaning ‘they eat dead animals’. One writer explained that, “The vulture is a patient bird because it can wait for days for an injured or sick animal to die. It would keep a safe distance but have a direct view of its prey and would only go to it when a swarm of flies signal the end of life for the animal. It’s willing to wait for five days for an animal to die”
The story of the vulture best characterises what is at stake in the PF. There are four reasons and commonalities among the three gentlemen with regard to the political journeys and characters. These factors make it plausible to assert that their return marks the re-launch and resumption of the succession battle for the control of the PF. The reasons are: Edgar Lungu’s end of tenure; ambition; failed self-ambitions; and, perceived leadership vacuum in PF.
To the first point, Lungu’s tenure at the helm of PF comes to end in five years, regardless of whether he wins the Republican presidency or not. In fact, if he and PF lose next month’s elections, calls for him to immediately step down and give chance to somebody else to steer the party and to try his/her luck in 2026 will be legitimate. Lungu is also unlikely to absorb the humiliation of being reduced to opposition leader after seven years as Head of State.
Therefore, anyone with ambitions of taking over the PF, as all the three gentlemen have openly expressed before, will see this as an opportunity to be found on the scene. In any case, the PF even if PF loses next month’s election, is likely to have strong representation in parliament and at local government level. That makes it an attractive party for these gentlemen, even whilst in opposition.
The second factor, which is related to the first, is the potential leadership vacuum, should Lungu lose this year’s election or at the end of his tenure, as PF and Republican president should he win this year’s election. Lungu has chosen Nkandu Luo as his running mate. However, that may not in itself mean she is the heir apparent. Looking at the reactions to her appointment, not all senior PF members see Luo as the possible leader of the PF. In any case, in a democracy every position is up for grabs in the event of abrupt departure of its leader, especially in the absence of succession planning. This was the case after the demise of Anderson Mazoka, the first leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND) and Michael Sata, first leader of the PF.
About Luo appointment as running mate to Lungu, Mwamba said, “We should all support and respect the decision of the President. Prof Luo has what it takes to work tirelessly to take this country to the next level.” His half-heated reaction was evident and he was among the few voices for Luo’s public support among the party’s heavyweights. The negative public and media narratives about Luo did not help matters.
Political ambition, which characterises all the three gentlemen, can be said to be the third factor for speculating that they are back for the PF ‘carcass’. For starters all three have been in politics for between 15 and 20 years, although where they launched their political careers is the difference. Kabimba has been on the political scene the longest. He started off his major political career in Ben Mwila’s Republican Party in the late 1990s. He abandoned his RP and joined Sata’s PF after the 2006 elections. In 2009, Kabimba became the third, if not second, most powerful person as Secretary General and as both SG and Minister of Justice after PF formed government in 2011. Kabimba’s limelight in the PF ended abruptly in 2014 when he was ‘fired’ amid Sata’s illness. I write ‘fired’ (in inverted commas) because we understand it wasn’t Sata who actually fired Kabimba; but that is a discussion for another day. In December 2014 Kabimba formed his own party, Rainbow Party, and contested but miserably lost the 2016 general election. Kabimba, as party SG, is credited for giving the PF some semblance of internal democracy and political decency ahead of the 2011 elections. In June 2021 he entered into a working partnership with PF and is currently actively campaigning for the party and Lungu. He may be counting on his reputation as mobiliser, organiser and disciplinarian as he ponders the next probable move in the PF. Unfortunately for him those believed to have drafted his dismissal letter and those who mocked that he couldn’t win an election even in his own ‘bedroom’ are still alive.
Kambwili has second longest career in politics, having first entered the political arena in 2006 as opposition party PF member of parliament for Roan constituency. He was re-elected in 2011 and immediately became a member of Sata’s cabinet at ministries of foreign affairs, labour and information respectively. Kambwili was retained at the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Services after the 2016 election until he was fired after falling out with Lungu within two months of the 2016 elections aftermath. He was to become Lungu’s nightmarish critic after forming his party the National Democratic Congress in 2016, until his return to PF in May 2021 and abandonment of his party.
Kambwili first manifested his ambitions for the leadership of the PF by contesting the presidency of the party in December 2015, following Sata’s demise in August 2014. He lost the first PF presidential race, which was controversially won by Lungu. With Lungu’s eminent departure from the helm of the PF, Kambwili could be seeing a silver lining hence his decision to return to back Lungu in this year’s election.
GBM first launched his political career as a candidate for Kabwata central on the MMD ticket during the 2006 election. He lost the election to Given Lubinda of the PF. He crossed floors to the PF in-between the 2006 and 2011 elections and was later known as one of Sata’s financial backers during this period. He stood and won the Kasama Central seat on the PF ticket in 2011 and became the first defence minister in the PF government. He resigned from his ministerial position after differences with Sata and Luo over their refusal to install Henry Kanyanta Sosala as the Chitimukulu of the Bemba speaking people. GBM first showed his ambitions to take over leadership of the PF through the fierce succession running battles with Kabimba, months before Sata’s death. He later contested but miserably lost the internal bye-election to replace Sata.
Former foes back for PF ‘carcass’: GBM (left) and Kabimba.
Just before the 2016 general election GBM crossed to the UPND in search of new political fortunes and was rewarded with the vice-presidency upon arrival and subsequently running mate in the 2016 election. It is widely believed that his departure from the UPND in 2020 is associated with his ambitions to take over the presidency of the party. He was alleged to have been secretly forming parallel structures in what he called his ‘bedroom’ ahead of the anticipated elective congress of the party. It is that ambition that makes his return to the PF seen in the trajectory of the succession race.
All the three gentlemen have tried and failed to organise their political careers elsewhere, including in parties they launched in the case of Kabimba and Kambwili. The PF ‘carcas’ seems an easier prey. We will wait and see how the battle goes.