On 2 January 2018, Minister of Foreign Affairs Harry Kalaba resigned his Cabinet position in protest against the ‘swelling levels of greed and corruption’ under President Edgar Lungu’s watch. Kalaba, 41, also criticised the government’s preference for outsiders over Zambians in relation to business opportunities and the growing marginalisation of the country’s youth and the poor – two electoral constituencies central to the Patriotic Front (PF)’s rise to power. ‘My conscious [sic] and everything I am have directed me to choose the country over my individual comfort’. Now that the euphoria prompted by Kalaba’s resignation has subsided, it is timely to examine the actual circumstances and possible consequences of his resignation more closely. Opposition to corruption surely forms a part of the story, but it is not the whole story. Beyond Kalaba’s own statement about his disgust with Lungu’s greed and corruption lie motivations around succession politics in the PF.
Kalaba’s disquiet with Lungu dates back much further than his recent discovery of corruption in the government. He is a key member of a faction within the PF comprising mainly Bemba-speaking political figures such as Chishimba Kambwili and Kalaba himself, who were close to the late President Michael Sata and who, following Sata’s death in 2014, supported Lungu as a transitional candidate on the basis of two assumptions. The first was that Lungu would only stand for one full term, leaving the way open for a member of this faction to become president in 2021. The second was that Lungu would appoint a member of this faction, possibly Kalaba himself, as his running mate ahead of the 2016 elections, as an acknowledgement of the crucial support that he received in Bemba-speaking areas in the 2015 poll. Both assumptions proved incorrect. In addition to systematically marginalising loyalists of Sata in preference to former Movement for Multiparty Democracy figures close to ex-president Rupiah Banda, Lungu chose Inonge Wina, a Lozi politician without much political clout in Western Province, as his running mate. More significantly, Lungu has declared himself wiling and eligible to stand in 2021. Lungu’s actions have frustrated the ambitions of the Bemba faction in the PF. It is this frustration, in my view, that helps explain Kalaba’s resignation, his belated discovery of Lungu’s greed and corruption, and why his conscience, which has lain strangely dormant for several years, has suddenly leaped into life.
The factional succession battle at the heart of Kalaba’s resignation is primarily driven or motivated by narrow ethnic and business agendas, the fight for the control of the PF and the consequent desire to accumulate or share the spoils of public office. The Lungu-Banda faction, predominantly Chewa/Nyanja speakers allied with sections of the judiciary and the corporate media, is eager to retain power within its ranks at all costs including by way of persuading Lungu to extend his time in office. Those in the opposing Bemba-interest faction feel increasingly marginalised under Lungu and are consequently seeking to reclaim the PF leadership for purposes of occupying prominent positions within the party and government. Lungu appears to have underestimated the strength of this latter faction. It enjoys a wide base of support within the party and has sought to use this to challenge his status as a possible presidential candidate at the 2020 elective congress. Lungu initially acted by expelling Kambwili first from Cabinet and then from the party. Kambwili was the most outspoken member of this faction and has since become a frequent public critic of Lungu, but he was not the only one. Close observers would have noted the subtle criticisms made by Kalaba of Lungu’s actions during 2017 through parables and proverbs posted on social media.
Kalaba is an ambitious man and probably realised that serving Lungu, whose vision appears to extend no further than self-enrichment and whose kleptomaniacal and authoritarian behaviour is now so exposed, extreme and unpopular that the PF has no hope of re-election under his leadership, does not enhance his long-term political interests. His claimed moral abhorrence of corruption was a calculated strategy meant to distinguish himself from Lungu, to present himself as a principled politician and to conceal his own presidential ambitions, which he hopes his resignation would enhance. To suggest that factional power struggles were responsible for Kalaba’s resignation is not to downplay the ruthless and relentless pilfering of public resources under Lungu’s watch; it is simply to place Kalaba’s resignation in context.
Is Kalaba going to expose the severity and prevalence of corruption? Is he going to reveal all the details and put his evidence and accusations against particular individuals before the public or the Anti Corruption Commission? Is he going to expose the involvement of the President in corruption and call for his impeachment in public and in Parliament? Or was Kalaba himself such an active participant and beneficiary of the government corruption that he has to keep his mouth shut on the subject? We shall wait and see. What is certain for now is that we have not heard the last of Kalaba. If he is not expelled, he may opt to challenge Lungu for the PF leadership at the party’s forthcoming elective conference in 2020. Alternatively, Kalaba may tilt towards a narrow ethnic agenda by joining forces with Kambwili and Mwenya Musenge in rocking the PF boat.
The ongoing power struggle in the PF will end very badly, especially for Lungu if he does not change. If Lungu is not careful, he risks being left with a small cohort of incompetent and despised sycophants. In this scenario, the party will implode not only thanks to its own lack of competence and popularity, but also the increasing strength of the opposition as they admit into their ranks those ejected or fleeing from the PF, who will bring with them huge constituencies of voters, mainly from the ruling party strongholds. In this way Lungu will be left with rump of political support in Eastern Province, and may even be faced with MPs who cross the floor in Parliament to support opposition parties, therefore increasing the danger of an impeachment motion. Lungu, like his predecessors, appears to be totally incapable of seeing that the political disaster that will engulf him originates from himself and has been fuelled by his own actions. He is the architect of his own political demise.
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