Zambia Reports (Lusaka)

19 January 2013

Zambia: The Toxic State House Call

opinion

Often times, civil society activists appear to be brave when advocating for issues that affect many people, particularly the masses, whose enjoyment of fundamental rights are infringed on.

It is difficult to envisage any weakness that can make them bow until the ultimate test.

In many cases the tests are in form of a promise for a job in government or a promise of financial gain to u-turn and abandon a campaign for social issues that threaten the political survival of a party in power.

The situation is reminiscent of a young Zambian activist Sunday Chilufya Chanda. Chanda is a losing parliamentary candidate for Kanchibiya constituency under the MMD in the 2011 general elections.

After losing an election, Chanda briefly remained in the party then resigned and formed an organisation known as Open Society Foundation.

Chanda's youth vigour and high energy levels enabled him to outline an agenda that was attractive to woo donor support and keep the PF government accountable on the promises it made during the election campaigns.

His organisation managed to galvanize support and launched a campaign that intended to constantly remind the PF government to deliver employment opportunities for young people.

In February last year, Chanda vowed that he would never give the PF government sleep until they delivered on their promise of creating employment opportunities for youths.

The Red Card Campaign, not too different from that of erstwhile priest Father Frank Bwalya, was scheduled for an initial span of 30 days of intense lobbying and advocacy for more jobs to be given to young people.

The campaign also sought to press government to find a permanent solution to street vending.

"It is immoral that hard-working youths who cannot be afforded space to trade from should be pushed and chased from one street to the next. In the next 30 days, we will be reminding the PF government not to pay a deaf ear to the majority youths who voted for it. They have a moral obligation to deliver to this constituency," Chanda said.

Chanda also planned to press the government to ensure that a Jobs Bill is taken to Parliament and that mechanisms should be put in place to show in quantifiable terms how they hope to reward the youth vote.

It appeared that Chanda underestimated the sensitivity of the problem to the PF government especially that they had promised to create jobs for youths within 90 days after the elections.

The Red Card Campaign raised the red flag at Plot One and President Michael Sata appeared to be unsettled. Due to contestant reverberation of the need for more employment opportunities for young people, which the PF government was incapable to deliver, President Sata had to intervene.

The President in the midst of his tight schedule picked up a phone and dialed Chanda's number on his mobile. When Chanda heard the voice on the other end of the line, he couldn't believe it.

He froze. For a moment, he was startled. He didn't what to say or do. But he hang on in anticipation of what turned out to be not so "juicy" an offer. First, a tongue lashing and then the compromise.

Sources that heard of the call say, President Sata first castigated Chanda for a good number of minutes and urged him to abandon the Red Card Campaign for employment as he did not understand the problem he was creating for himself.

"The President asked Chanda whether he understood what he was doing by causing more trouble for government. He asked him whether he knew how difficult it is to create a job opportunity and whether he can do that himself. He shouted at him like a little boy. The President told him to abandon the campaign or else he will be sorted out. From that time, we started observing the changes in the way Chanda was issuing statements until he completely abandoned his campaign," the source who was aware of the call said.

But asked to confirm the phone call that sucked the vigour out of the Red Card Campaign to a Gregory Chifire in another form, Chanda hesitated to respond then decided to plead ignorance.

"I don't know about that call from the President and it has never come through. It is the first time I am hearing about that," he claimed.

Asked why he has suddenly become a cheerleader for the PF government and a hired gun for its critics, he responded, "Of course there has been change in terms of activism.

We have opted to give a proposition of alternative ideas and maybe that is the misunderstanding that is there now."

When quizzed further on why he abandoned the warmly received Red Card Campaign, Chanda said government has engaged a consultant to study the extent of youth unemployment and that his organization is now playing a role of monitoring the study and its outcome before re-engaging government.

As to why he has been playing a role of a cheerleader for the PF government, Chanda said he only commended government on issues that lean towards creating young employment opportunities. However, the truth in black and white is that Chanda's stance in keeping government accountable has taken a complete u-turn.

As his close associates say, this was after receiving a call from State house.

Since then, he has been a permanent feature in the government controlled media commending government on anything and countering any criticism from the opposition or some civil society organizations. He is also one of the PF paid agents to destabilize the MMD after vigorously campaigning for Felix Mutati in a failed bid to control the leadership of the biggest opposition party.

So why is President Sata is scared of checks and balances? As a constable in the colonial police, he should understand that he needs his critics to keep him focused in achieving his objectives.

President Sata might dangle some carrots under the nose of a few opponents. Obviously he expects some hungry characters like Chanda to fall for the carrots. But is he going to weaken all the institutions that are mandated to provide checks and balances to the government? For now, Chanda is in the armpits of State House but there are a lot more vibrant youths waiting for the right moment. That's what President Sata should know.

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