opinionBy George Mwenya
The health of Republican President Michael Chilufya Sata has courted a wave of controversy ever since he assumed office in September 2011. For the past two years, President Sata's health has been a subject of debate from senior party members and other concerned citizens.
However, any slight attempt to demand the full disclosure of what is weighing down the President's health has attracted strong rebuff with master-servant like censure from government officials and party loyalists.
The continuous denial of the fact the President Sata is being inflicted by a disease of the body is in itself unrealistic and it cannot be covered for a long time. Zambians deserve to know the state of health of their President whom they voted in office and they have the right to demand for such. But what evidence points to the fact that the President is unwell?
Over the past two years, President Sata has made several foreign trips to seek medical attention in different countries without notifying the nation the purposes of such trips. The most notable one was the time he travelled to India for what was referred to as routine medical check-up.
During that time, the President went to a hospital that specializes in heart related ailments. Despite persistent government denials that President Sata was unwell, the Indian newspaper published a story that the Zambian leader underwent a minor operation for a heart problem.
This is the first time that Zambians started gaining interest in the state of health of their President. Then the most recent trip is when he flew from the international Summit in Japan and sneaked into London for a by-pass procedure that was conducted on his heart.
Despite people's demands to know where the President had gone, the government has kept giving vague responses. For now, it appears the President has secretly travelled thousands of kilometers on tax payer's money to globe trot seeking medical attention without even accounting for his trips to the tax payers.
Further, President Sata's decision to quarantine himself at State House or is it Nkwazi House, his official residence, has also raised the fears. On several occasions, people have asked whether the President was around in the country or not because of occasional disappearance from the public limelight.
This conduct is a sharp contradiction from the man-of-action that people have known for decades who basks in limelight and enjoys media attention. So, when it takes months for President Sata to appear in public as he executes the public functions, it becomes unusual in the mind of many Zambians.
This raises questions as to whether the President's health is taking a toll on his mandate to execute public functions or he is bedridden most of the time.
President Sata has also made attempts to personally dispel assertions that he is inflicted by a disease of the body when he said, "People say I'm sick but I am here to prove them wrong. The day I'll be sick even an ant will know." He said this in the recent past when he went to drum up support for then PF candidate Eddie Musonda in the Kapiri Mponshi by elections which he won.
President Sata told the people that he had decided to visit the province to let them see that he was not sick as suggested by the opposition political parties. However, even as he was assuring voters that he was fine; those that know him could see that his charisma that he was known for as a firebrand politician has unfortunately deserted him.
His speeches and actions now give credence to the English saying that 'talk is cheap or actions are louder than words.'
President Sata collapsing
Just this week, there were strong reports that the President collapsed while in State House. The reports of the President collapsing were strengthened by the heavy presence of armed military personnel around State House and the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC). The situation compelled government to react and down play it.
Acting government spokesperson Fackson Shamenda described as evil suggestions that President Sata allegedly collapsed at State House and remained unconscious for a period of forty five minutes before he was resuscitated by his wife, Dr. Christine Kaseba who is a medical doctor. Whether this is true or not, is something that needs to be taken seriously.
Wrangles in PF
Of late, President Sata's health has become a divisive factor which has now led to the formation of factions within the party. The long standing bad blood between justice minister and party secretary general Wynter Kabimba and defence minister Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba or otherwise GBM has rubbed in.
The latest statement by GBM that, "we are concerned that our members have already started campaigning two years into government... President Sata is still in power and has not started grooming his successor because he has long way to go."
This statement was regarded as a veiled jab aimed at his counterpart Kabimba who is reported to be mobilizing the grassroots for support as a possible successor to President Sata in the event that he dies in office.
GBM, who has pledged total loyalty to the President for as long as he lives, has since launched the 2016 campaign for President Sata. He has justified his decision to endorse President Sata arguing he is trying to save the party from riffraff.
This is in apparent reference to Kabimba and his camp whom he suspects want to stage a palace coup d'état. GBM has given the insight into the PF leadership when he seems to imply that some senior party members have resigned to the fact that President Sata will not finish his term because of poor health.
The need for medical board on Sata's health
Ever since the health of the President started surfacing, many stakeholders have restrained themselves from getting involved in the debate. But opposition MMD president Dr Nevers Mumba and his UPND counterpart Hakainde Hichilema have expressed their concerns at the manner the government is handling the health of President Sata.
On Friday this week, the UPND came up with suggestions to address this impasse and demanded that Cabinet should constitute a medical board to examine the health status of President Sata.
Addressing the media, UPND Mbabala member of parliament Ephraim Belemu said the matter of President Sata's health is now a matter of great concern.
"From what we read into this situation and this was confirmed by Defence Minister Geoffrey Mwamba, there are some people within PF that think President Sata will not make it to 2016. Constituting a medical board would help the nation know the extent of Mr. Sata's health," Mr. Belemu said.
Belemu said cabinet should invoke constitutional provisions and quickly set up a medical board that will examine President Sata's health status.
Sata's health cost implications
The move taken by the UPND is well founded if the country need to avoid the wastage of resources after learning from the previous experiences Zambia has had. The illness and subsequent death of late president Levy Mwanawasa on August 19, 2008 was a huge drain on the country's resources.
After going through such a patch in the country's democratic system, the country needs safety guards to prevent the repeat of the past. The government at the time spent colossal sums of money on late Mwanawasa's illness with the ultimate expenditure of about K3 million (K 3 billion old currency) on the construction of his mausoleum and grave.
As much as citizens cannot rejoice in seeing their President sick, certain things can be avoided to prevent wastage of national resources at the expense of an individual. In the Mwanawasa experience, the funeral expenses coupled with several medical trips abroad, the nation could have used up well over K6 million (K6 billion) and we might be heading that direction if the status of affairs is maintained.
Based on the activities surrounding President Sata's health, it is clear that the country is facing a huge challenge ahead. The situation is reminiscent of the late president Levy Mwanawasa.
The only difference is that with late President Mwanawasa, the nation was informed that he had stroke and everyone rallied together in prayers and messages of good will. But with the PF, the veil of secrecy on the President's deteriorating health might prove to be detrimental to the governance of the country and harm the right of survivorship for those aspiring for the top position as well as the PF itself. That is largely why President Sata's unfortunate failing health should no longer be a secret.