opinionBy George Mwenya
America's 26th President Theodore Roosevelt once said, "to announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
The same can be said about Zambia and its Head of State. It is not a taboo to ask what is wrong with President Michael Sata or demand to know his whereabouts.
For six days now, Zambians are unaware as to the location of their Head of State. The first "official" statement came in the form of a lie from no other than PF chief propagandist Fred M'membe and his Post Newspaper. M'membe claimed that Sata was back in the country on Tuesday January 29, 2013.
It took online media to alert the Zambian public that, in fact, President Sata did not return home after the Africa Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He had proceeded to some unknown destination - most likely in the United Kingdom or India for medical treatment.
Thereafter, there was no word from the government to confirm or deny the emerging reports. They seemingly realized their propaganda plan to hoodwink Zambians into believing a false article had boomeranged.
From then on, Zambians started asking questions. Where is President Sata? What has happened to him? Is he well? And the big one dropped when a senior official at Emirates Airlines, oblivious of the oath of secrecy, blew the lid.
Jean Luc, Emirates' Senior Vice President of Commercial Operations for Africa, delivered the first official statement that President Sata was between the United Kingdom and India.
Jean Luc was marketing his airline and crediting it that even the first citizen in Zambia trusts Emirates Airlines. Little did he know that his revelation was vital to the Zambian public starved of information about President Sata's location.
After Jean Luc's statement, opposition MMD president Dr Nevers Mumba became the first high profile citizen to demand an explanation from the government on President Sata's location. People like Kabwata resident Brebnar Changala had also added their voices.
And this forced Kennedy Sakeni, the chief government spokesperson, to now officially say something. In essence, Sakeni said nothing but it was good enough to confirm President Sata was receiving treatment for whatever is chewing his him.
But why should President Sata's location be left to guess work? Agreed, President Sata has a right to privacy. No one is interested to know whether it is a chronic heart disease, full blown HIV or prostate cancer that is troubling the Head of State. Those are private details, a preserve of those mending him and some members of his family.
Yet Zambians deserve to know the whereabouts of President Sata. Whether in Outer Mongolia, Malta, Sinazeze, Chitulika or Haiti - Zambians must know.
If Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez can tell his people the location of his cancer treatment, what is so special about President Sata?
If President Sata is on leave, as Sakeni seems to suggest, why not tell the people? Yes, the President is in good hands but where and why when State House is on Independence Avenue?
President Sata was a stern critic of his predecessors and their illnesses. He graphically mocked the late president Levy Mwanawasa in this video link that after a trip to India for treatment, doctors had failed because "his [Mwanawasa's] brain and mouth don't co-ordinate."
Unlike President Sata, no one is asking him what is coordinating, or is not coordinating in his body, to warrant these frequent secret trips abroad fully funded by taxpayers. Like responsible citizens, Dr Mumba, Changala and others, have a right to know the location of their President.
When Rupiah Banda went to Cape Town in South Africa for a minor knee operation, Sata took an issue with then government spokesperson Lt Gen Ronnie Shikapwasha.
On June 13, 2009, President Sata was quoted questioning Banda's trip to South Africa after attending an economic forum in the same city.
President Sata, on behalf of Zambians, demanded the truth about Banda's health.
He said; "Why didn't Shikapwasha tell us about the illness? When did he (President Banda) become sick and for how long has he been sick? When I was sick, Shikapwasha mocked me. It was them (Shikapwasha) and RB (President Banda) who in their campaign were saying Michael Sata is sick."
If President Sata asked these questions, it is expected that he will be more honest, truthful and open enough to tell us the truth about his operations than the secrecy in which they are shrouded.
That is why before President Sata returns - whether this morning or any other day - Zambians must be told his whereabouts. His location, his entourage, his treatment - for whatever ailment it is - his transportation, and any cost incurred are wholly funded by the Zambian people. And surely, they deserve to know, not the details of the sickness, but atleast even the emergency room he is admitted to.
Therefore, it is not enough for that intelligence officer at the Ministry of Information to say; " he is safe and in good hands somewhere." What is somewhere?
President Sata is answerable to the Zambian people and his absence has the potential to cause instability in the country. It is for this reason that the peace loving Zambian demand to know what is happening to their President. What if he has been held hostage?
Zambians did not vote for President Sata to take clandestine leave days. What if speculations emerge that he is monitoring the printing of ballot papers in the UK in the hope of rigging the Livingstone and Mpongwe by-elections. Why should his trip to London for treatment coincide with the printing of ballot papers?
Mind you, no one can search the luggage of the Head of State in Zambia and it is possible that him and his entourage can sneak a few boxes of pre-marked ballot papers for Mpongwe and Livingstone by-elections to favour their candidates.
Are these the speculations Sakeni and Wynter Kabimba wants to rebuff? Such speculation has the potential to cause serious damage to the country and the reputation of its electoral system.
It is these actions of the PF government that will make us judge their actions. Make no mistake, Zambians know what is happening and at an opportune time, the truth will be laid bare. Get well soon President Sata.