Rainbow Party leader Wynter Kabimba says he has no private political dealings with President Edgar Lungu that makes him speak good about him, but says if the ruling party respected his principles and asked him to go back, he would be willing to partner with them, just like he is also open to work with the opposition UPND.
The former minister of justice and secretary general of the Patriotic Front also revealed that late Michael Sata once directed that his wife Dr Christine Kaseba should be recognised third after him and the vice-president at State functions, but left the convention at protocol level without interfering with the constitutional structure of the government.
In this verbatim interview, Kabimba also explains why his party has not been winning by-elections despite him being a very popular elections strategist who helped put the Patriotic Front in power.
Q. We have heard a different kind of politics from you. Firstly, I would want to understand your relationship with the President. Most people are saying that your tone has changed. You don’t seem to be the Wynter Kabimba who will say things as they are. You seem to be so fond of the President and you are defending where others are criticising. What is going on?
A. I have not in any way changed from the Wynter that you have known and the Wynter that you know. What I have done is to remain what I am, a man who has always stood for the truth about any issue that arises or any issue that confronts me about anybody that I know and even those that I don’t know. My principle of life is that if what is true is good for my enemy, so be it because I can’t change the truth and if what is wrong is bad even for my friend or my brother, then that is wrong. That has been the bedrock of my character and my value.
Q. So in other words you are saying Edgar Lungu is not your enemy?
A. He is not my enemy. Edgar Lungu is my opponent in politics. He is not my enemy. Edgar has never wronged me personally as an individual and I think I have never wronged him personally as an individual.
Q. But you used to say the man is a drunk when he was a candidate when the PF was fronting him, you said ‘this guy can’t lead the country’.
A. Well, I can still tell you that yes, he drinks hard and I can say this even to his face. I have been with him in Parliament, I have travelled with him, I have seen the rate at which he drinks but that’s not what makes him my enemy. And I am sure that’s not what makes me an enemy to him. To describe a habit that he is steeped into. Yes, I said that he would be incompetent to run the country if he doesn’t manage his drinking habit. And I can still repeat that today.
Q. He has been in power more than two years now, do you think he has tried beyond your expectation?
A. I am sure he could have done better. I am disappointed with his performance so far and I have made this clear on many occasions. I have said for example that the Constitutional Amendment Act of 2016 has been a disaster and he is an architect of that Constitution. A Constitution which he wanted to use to give himself a third term and they failed in doing that in terms of drafting. And I have written a letter. I have personally written a letter to the Secretary General of the Patriotic Front which I wanted him to take to the President, which letter clearly sets out our position as Rainbow Party that he is not eligible under the articles of our Constitution as it exists now, to run in 2021. Is that a man that I am favouring? No. I am simply stating that this particular situation is against you and that letter, I copied it to LAZ.
Q. We heard you very strongly defending him on his nationality. You sounded very strong on defending that he is a Zambian as if you grew up together at childhood, did you know his parents?
A. No, I have never discussed Edgar Lungu’s nationality. If you look at all my statements, I have never attempted at any one time to vouch for Edgar as being Zambian or non Zambian. Instead, what I vouched him for is that the Edgar that I knew at the University of Zambia, in Law School, the Edgar that I attended class with, the Edgar that graduated in October of 1981, the same day that I graduated, is the same Edgar that is in State House today. So I have vouched for his identity and not his nationality. So if you asked me, is this the same Edgar you knew so many years ago? Yes, he is the same by appearance and by height and by name. He has never changed his name. He was Edgar Lungu at the University of Zambia, he is still Edgar Lungu today.
Q. Do you know some people who were in the same class as you who were alive and can speak the same language as you?
A. There are many of our class mates today. Honourable madam justice Hildah Chibomba, if you allowed me to mention their names, the president of the Constitutional Court was in the same class as Edgar. Professor Margaret Munalula, the former Dean of the School of Law and I think she is also one of the judges of the Constitutional Court was in the same class as Edgar Lungu. The retired judge honourable Mr Justice Thomas Njobvu who is still alive was in the same class as Edgar Lungu. Madam Ireen Kunda, the wife to the former vice-president George Kunda was in the same class as Edgar Lungu. Professor Hasungule was in the same class as Edgar Lungu. Honorable Mr Justice Timothy Katenekwa, the resident judge in Kabwe, was in the same class as Edgar Lungu. Professor Muna Ndulo, based in the US was a lecturer of Edgar Lungu or our class both at UNZA and at the Law Practice Institute. Aziz Ticklay, was our lecturer in International Law and he lectured Edgar Lungu in class. Mr Ng’andu, the former commissioner of the Electoral Commission of Zambia was our lecturer in international law at the University of Zambia. Professor Patrick Mvunga was our lecturer in land law at the University of Zambia. So there are many people, lecturers, professors, judges now and many others that can vouch or collaborate what I am saying. Am I doing the man a favour? No. Am I supporting him? No sir.
Q. But how close are you? We hear stories that you actually go to State House, meet him, and that’s why you are very compromised.
A. I have never stepped a foot in State House and I can swear this to the living Lord, since 2014 when I was fired from government and from the party by the late President [Michael] Sata, I have never stepped a foot and I want anybody who has evidence to that effect, starting from the security people at the gate and the staff inside State House, anybody with evidence of any single trip that I have made to go and meet Edgar Lungu to tell this country the day and time.
Q. Maybe you are sending someone to collect money for you. Maybe you don’t go there yourself physically but you have some sort of collaboration with the President.
A. You are right, but there is nobody. If there is anybody that has gone there in my name, please let them come out. The only incident, the only time when I have had contact, if you want to put it that way with State House, was when I raised the issue of the displacement of peasant farmers in Shibuyunji District from their camps along the Kafue River and I wrote a letter to President Lungu and I sent it to State House with my driver, not to go and meet President Lungu, but to go and give the people at the gate to bring this matter to his attention because I felt strongly about it; that it was wrong for Vice-President Inonge Wina and other groups of the elite people from Lusaka to go into our area and displace helpless villagers from their camps in a district where government has not put up a dam for their animals. I felt strongly about that matter.
Q. Do you talk with President Lungu? On phone or in person?
A. No. I don’t talk to him.
Q. If he extended an olive branch to you, as an architect of elections to say ‘can you come and help us’, what would be your reaction?
A. Look, I am now a member of the Rainbow Party. I resigned from the PF on the 14th of November 2014. And there is a reason why I resigned from PF. I didn’t like the post-Michael Sata kind of acrimony that I saw in the PF. I didn’t like the ground swell of hate being propagated by some of the people that have even left the PF today and are speaking against Edgar. People that spent so much money to turn the innocent members of the party against me because they thought that I would stand in their way of becoming leaders of the Patriotic Front and ultimately become president after Michael Sata’s demise. They didn’t benefit from that and I know how much injured they are. The likes of GBM, the likes of Kambwili, they spent a lot of money and I have got witnesses to that effect amongst members of the Patriotic Front, even today who they gave money to turn against me. So I am saying that I can speak to Edgar Lungu, I don’t have a problem, he is not my enemy.
Q. But is that a yes or no? My question is ‘if he extended a branch’, because you are a very key architect of elections and campaigns in Zambia. If he extended an olive branch to you to say ‘we would like somebody like you to help us, 2021 is going to be very difficult’ would you go?.
A. Look, this is no longer about me as an individual. I am a member of the Rainbow Party. It will have to be the decision of the Rainbow Party and we are open not only to one political party in the name of PF but we are open to UPND, we are open to FDD because politics is about talking to one another. I don’t believe in politics of hate. But those that know my principles and my values, if they wanted to invite me back to PF, they will have to take into account my principles and my values which have never changed over time. And they will probably not change for a long time to come because these are our values which have been cultivated for many years. I am predictable even to my own parents who brought me on earth, they know what I think, what I can do and what I can’t do. I have never been a hypocrite. If I say yes to you, it is a yes and I will never betray you. Those that want me will have to take my principles into account.
Q. Talking about principles and values, I remember before president Sata died, you were on an interview with SABC in South Africa and you were asked the question ‘do you have presidential ambitions?’ and you categorically said you were not interested in the presidency. But now, we have seen you form a party that you are standing on as a presidential candidate and you have shown a serious ambition to become president. What has changed?
A. What has changed is that if Michael Sata were still alive today, I would have no presidential ambitions. I was very loyal to him, he literally brought me up. I knew Michael Sata just when I was over 20 years old. When I left the University in 1981, he was a councillor at Lusaka City Council so when I referred [to] myself as a disciple of the man, I meant it. So I would never have any presidential ambitions over and above Michael Sata. But the situation now has changed, he is no more, he is out of the politics of the country and surely, if there is a role that I can play for the country, I can’t remain in that absolutism of saying I don’t have presidential ambitions and stick to that.
Q. You are highly respected because of the way you managed the 2011 elections for PF and as a journalist who has followed your politics, I can say that you were on the ground traversing the country to make sure that PF wins. Do you really think that the Wynter Kabimba who won the election for PF in 2011 is the same Wynter Kabimba that is running Rainbow? Would you agree with me if I put it to you that you have under-performed under Rainbow than you performed under PF in 2011?
A. Let me put it this way. Nothing that I achieved should be credited to me as an individual. I want to restate that whatever I achieved or is perceived as my achievement in PF was because of the teamwork that I enjoyed in PF. But you also can’t juxtapose that and say that ‘Rainbow is under-performing’. Because mind you, Rainbow is only three years old. In 2008 when the PF was eight years into its formation, there were many polling stations in this country where Mr Sata was still getting zero. Where nobody believed in him at a polling station and nobody ever heard of him at a polling station. So you have to take that into account as you are making this comparison. In the last elections in which we participated in local government elections, there was not even a single polling station where Rainbow got a zero three years after its formation. So you have to be careful in terms of the law of relativity that you are applying in comparing my role and performance in PF and my role and performance now in the Rainbow Party. What I know is that it takes a long time to build a political organisation.
Q. I still insist that you are a sleeping giant. Why? Because if you stood up today to go to any part of this country, you are known, people know you and because of that, we would expect you to be winning, not just getting more than zero but to actually win in some wards but how many of these wards or constituencies have you won in three years?
A. None. But I will tell you that being known, and this is the mistake that people make in politics, being known by members of the public is one thing. Converting people to believe in you is another thing. What you need to do in politics is to be known and also be able to convert people to believe in you with the correct message. Now, for them to get converted to a correct message takes a long time. Let me go back to the example of Michael Sata, the man who invested over 40 years of his life in politics. You saw what happened when he left MMD, there was a by-election in Mpika Central which was part of his village, he went and campaigned there with PF and lost lamentably to the MMD when Bwalya Chiti was voted to Parliament in his own village. He was known by everybody in Chituluka Village and I am sure even Mpike Central but they didn’t believe his message during that election. So you can see the difference between being known and converting people to believe in your message. So there are parallels that I have drawn and there are lessons that I have learnt from my association with icons like Michael Sata in Zambian politics. So to lose an election does not mean that people don’t know you, what it means is that you haven’t given the people a message in which they can believe.
Q. Let’s talk about the PF and the structure of government. We have seen the PF secretary general Davies Mwila saying that ‘I am number three in hierarchy and I can summon any minister to come and exculpate himself’ but he is not a member of Cabinet. I recall that in fact, this was the doing of Michael Sata and yourself when you formed government. You came up with a structure that recognised you as Secretary General of the party, third from the President, what did that entail? Did that mean that you were above Cabinet ministers?
A. Let me tell you what happened, these are very important questions so that we correct the record and the perception out there. When PF won the election and we formed government, if you recall I remained out of Cabinet as a member for one year. From September 2011, I only joined Cabinet on the 6th of September 2012. Before I became Cabinet minister, I interacted with my colleagues in government, mainly on party matters because I was secretary general of the party, I was chief administrator of the party. So, my interaction with Cabinet ministers was purely on matters of the party. How I should help them mobilise the party in their respective constituencies for those that had constituencies. That was my role. The idea, for that protocol came from President Sata and he said to me one day ‘I want you to draft a circular letter for me to the effect that the secretary general of the party in terms of protocol, shall be the third, after the president, the vice-president and then the secretary general’. And he said ‘when we are attending a function where my wife is present, the protocol shall be myself, the vice-president, my wife and then the secretary general’. [laughs]
Q. [laughs] Is that the socialist way of doing things?
A: I don’t know whether it was the Mpika way of doing things or the Socialist way of doing things but those were my instructions and I drafted the circular accordingly and the president signed. Now, that is not law, that was an administrative circular to design the administrative protocol. Whether President Lungu has adopted the same circular, I don’t know because for me, after President Michael Sata’s demise, it means that protocol expired so to say.
Q. But what’s your take on the PF secretary general’s statement that he can summon a minister to go and exculpate himself? Is that in order?
A. No, it is not in order. What we are seeing and hearing now is total confusion. Because the secretary general of the PF is not a member of government so his own relationship with Cabinet ministers is on party matters, not on government matters.
Q. But we heard State House defend that and also the government spokesperson Dora Siliya.
A. This is the problem when you have a group of blind men and women groping in the dark as if a mine has collapsed on them. This is the problem when you want to make pronouncements without reference to conventions. These are issues of conventions and practices. They are not just things that can be unique to a particular individual because you like them. They are about conventions. What Michael Sata did was to create a convention in terms of protocol. We haven’t seen either the law or the convention under PF. What we are hearing are just pronouncements which are totally misplaced and just end up confusing people.
Q. One of the values which most Zambians respect you for, including myself, is discipline. You are a serious disciplinarian and we haven’t heard much about Rainbow members engaging in violence during elections and campaigns. Would you say there is too much violence going between the PF and UPND that is not giving chance to parties like yours to get a fair share of the votes?
A. One of the things that I became very unpopular for in PF was the issue of insisting on discipline amongst members of the PF. I was against cadres collecting money from bus stops, which practice has come back now, I was against party cadres collecting illegal levies from marketeers, which practice has come back now, I was against party cadres invading people’s land, which had started here in Lusaka. What we have seen now is against the propaganda that those that wanted to succeed Michael Sata had wedged against me that I was the one dividing the party, I was the one in charge of pangas in the party etc, we haven’t seen any dispensation in this culture of violence. If anything, it has continued to surge.
Q. Do you think violence is helping PF win elections?
A. In a way yes. When the ruling party is perpetrating violence, intimidating and coercing people, there are two reactions you expect, either people will stay away from voting or they will go and vote because they have been intimidated. The unfortunate part about this culture of violence is that PF has found a partner in the UPND that also think that violence pays. So they have partnered, violence to violence. Both of them think that this is how they are going to win an election, both of them think that this is how to remain in power and this is how to get into power. And I want to tell you this incident which may not be recorded; in 2016, there was a meeting at Mulungushi International Conference Centre which was convened by ECZ of presidential candidates. HH was in that meeting and ECL was in that meeting. When my turn to speak came, I addressed both ECL and HH in full view of everybody and I said ‘you are both responsible for the election violence that we have seen in this country. You, President Lungu are desperate to remain in power, that’s why you are perpetrating this violence. And you, HH are also desperate to get in power, that’s why you are perpetrating this violence.
Q. Thank you very much for the interview unless you have something to add.
A. Well, there are a lot of issues that have been going on in the country especially the issue of how we should speak to one another as a generation of young politicians. Its not always in life that you must believe that the world revolves around you and not around others. So for me, if you want to get my view over something, then you should realise that you are taking a risk to hear even what you don’t want to hear. Whether you are my friend or my enemy. But I am also cautious of the fact that I could be wrong so I am open to hearing the other side or your version on what you think about what I have said. That is the society that we must create so I get disappointed when I listen to these vibes that if one tells the truth, and that truth seems to lean in favour of one side then you are a supporter of one side, if you insult one side, even if the insult is uncalled for, then that’s when you are a hero because you have not leaned on this side. I don’t think that I would like to be part of that and it doesn’t matter what it costs me in politics, I am prepared to pay the price.
Q. Thank you very much
A: You are welcome JM.