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Sata and Zambia: Robert Rotberg Disappoints and Confounds

A response to Robert Rotberg's article on President Sata’s rule in Zambia.
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A view of Lusaka, Zambia. Photograph by Shaun Metcalfe.

On July 16, Robert Rotberg, President Emeritus of the World Peace Foundation and an American professor in governance and foreign affairs, published here on Think Africa Press an article entitled ‘Zambia: King Cobra Disappoints and Confounds’. The overriding argument of Rotberg’s piece was that “President Sata's many promises in 2011 have so far amounted to little but disappointment”. His commentary, however, is misleading and lacking in evidence.

Hasty judgments

The most serious flaw of Rotberg’s piece is its lack of context. Rotberg presents his narrative as though Sata and his Patriotic Front (PF) party have been in power for a very long time or even a full year. He contends, for instance, that Sata and the Zambian government have not dealt at all with the suspected failings of Chinese investment in the country, created jobs or improved the provision of social services. Rotberg remarks: “When President Michael Sata was elected in late 2011 by a clear majority of Zambians fed-up with the 20-year rule of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) and thirsty for change, no-one expected him to underwhelm, disappoint, and confound as much as he has.”

What the professor does not emphasise is that Sata and the PF have been in power for only about ten months. There are certainly many challenges with foreign investment – both from China and the West – but to expect Sata to have dealt conclusively with such a major global player as China in such a short period of time is expecting too much.

The challenge of job creation is undoubtedly real too but, like the Chinese question, it should also be contextualised and understood as a result of unsuccessful free market economic policies pursued by previous MMD governments that led to job losses over its two-decade reign. US President Barack Obama who has been in power for almost four years now is still grappling with the issue of unemployment. Rotberg judges Sata as though he too is nearing the end of his first term.

It is true that Sata and the PF have not achieved many of the things they promised the electorate. But to present them as though they have done nothing at all, or in the words of Rotberg, to have “underwhelmed, disappointed, and confounded” is an aversion to reason and neutrality. His view passes a definitive verdict on Sata and the PF’s ability to deliver on their campaign promises, unmindful of the fact that theirs is a five-year mandate. A realistic and comprehensive assessment of their performance can only really be given towards the year 2016. It is simplistic expect Sata to deliver on all his post-election promises in less than a year.

Fair and balanced?

In his piece, Rotberg cites a Human Rights Watch report which found Chinese investors in Zambia wanting. But this report was discredited and had many shortcomings. Instead of going to the tourist towns of Livingstone and Mfuwe, it would have been better for Rotberg’s research to visit the Copperbelt towns where most of the Chinese investment is concentrated, and to engage with those working on some of the Chinese enterprises by asking them whether they have noticed changes or improvements since Sata took office in September last year.

Later in the article, Rotberg criticises the government’s regulation that all transactions within Zambia have to be in the local currency, the kwacha. He places Sata at the centre of this move and even interviewed the president on the issue. However, Rotberg stopped short of talking to the Bank of Zambia, Ministry of Finance or any other important officials and actors who also played a crucial role in the decision to ban the trade in foreign currencies.

Misleading but influential

Concluding with his criticism of Sata’s relationship with Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, Rotberg says: “President Sata justified his close relationship with Mugabe by explaining that it is easier to influence Zimbabwe by being ‘constructively engaged’ with the president. Mugabe might be more likely to listen to criticism from a friend than a hostile enemy, although there is little evidence this approach has been working so far.”

Rotberg’s views on Zimbabwe are well-known and this is not the place to repeat them. However, his dismissal of constructive engagement as a useful and mature method of dealing with Harare unfortunately parallels the broader Western approach to Zimbabwe. Furthermore, it invites the question: is the current power-sharing government in Zimbabwe between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) not a product of constructive engagement?

Perhaps Rotberg is suggesting that Sata and the Zambian government should be used as instruments for helping to oust Mugabe, an objective that Rotberg has pursued for a long time. As Andrew Mlangeni told him when Rotberg advocated military intervention on humanitarian grounds to oust Mugabe, “the job of changing governments is the responsibility of the people concerned”.

Finally, some of Rotberg’s comments in making his case are simply misleading. For instance, Rotberg says many Zambians cannot understand why Sata often visits Mugabe. While it is true that Sata and Mugabe have met on a number of occasions since Sata's inauguration, it is worth pointing out that Sata has only been on an official visit to Zimbabwe once.

All this leads up to the question of whether Rotberg’s recent visit to Zambia was for tourism or research. Did his views arise from what he observed and learnt as a passer-by rather than a researcher? Was his trip taken simply to legitimate and confirm, rather than challenge, his previously held views on most matters such as Chinese investment and Zimbabwe?

Rotberg is entitled to his point of view. However, if he was writing as a journalist rather than a researcher, he should have said so because his views are extremely influential in Western establishments and they help shape the foreign policies of many governments.

Editorial note - further reading:

Robert Rotberg's article "Zambia: King Cobra Disappoints and Confounds".

Think Africa Press' analysis of Sata's first 90 days in government as the PF leader had claimed on the campaign trail that he would change the country within 90 days of his election.

Think Africa Press welcomes inquiries regarding the republication of its articles. If you would like to republish this or any other article for re-print, syndication or educational purposes, please contact: editor@thinkafricapress.com

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Comments

10 months after assuming power, Mr. Sata shows no sign of understanding exactly what he was voted for. His promises of change within 90 days have not materialised. At the rate he is going, even years will not be enough. He continues playing musical chairs with government ministries and ministers. Chopping and changing before they even settle into their jobs. It’s not the mark of a leader who plans forward but rather of one who makes decisions at a whim. Almost a year into his election, the government has still not settled.
Worst of all, his promises of constitutional change, including press freedoms have been forgotten and replaced by a perverse paranoia in which government owned media is not the chief instrument. Corruption has simply changed players from the previous government.
 
The list goes on Mr. Sishuwa. I would suggest that you use your time at Oxford better than defending a man with such a record.

First of all you are hiding behind a fake you think you are spending your time well? Why don't you check what the other guy wrote instead of dwelling at the pace Sata is operating? You are one of those prophets of Doom that just dwell on the worse in people!

I absolutely agree with Sishuwa's views and think Pat's parting shot is below the belt. It's only 10 months since Sata and the PF got into power!

Mr. Rotberg should also use his time well at the peace foundation instead of promoting American and Westen imperial interests. Well done Mr Sishuwa! 

Prof Rotberg has been caught with his hands in a cookie jar. His very biased analysis has been laid bare, and he should hang his head in shame. Typical western racist reporting.

Prof Rotbergs analysis is accurate, granted it has only been ten months since the king Cobra took office, but there are more faults, which vould have been avoided had the president just held on for a second to think of the repurcussions of his statements before uttering them.It is unfair to call Rotsberg a racist just because his views do not praise Sata or Africa as a whole. 

Mr Rotberg's article sounds like it was written by one of Zambia's opposition leaders. Totally biased. And you call him an expert on Zambia??

Well done Sishuwa..The fake Prof. is spreading cheap fake propaganda is the west whereby they was think that they are the best thinkers anytime anywhere. Prof. Robert should have taken time to visit Zambia and prove to the world that President Sata's popularity rather than being in our tourist capital where the PF's popularity is not strong. The Prof. Robert you are wrong on this one. The just ended by-elections in livingstone proved that PF is gaining popularity in the tourist capital where it came second. President Sata has done tremendous work ever since he came to power, therefore, pointing out only his shortcaoming is not fair. I would like the Professor not only to dwell much on Sata's promises that he has fulfilled but also outline what Sata has achieved as well!!! Sishuwa you have done a good job..Once more, we have proved to the world that africa has thinkers. Sishuwa has proved Prof. Robert to be a BIG LIAR!!!!Long live Sata, Long live PF...Lukonde L. Chaibela

To be a successful leader, one needs more that the venom and spit of a king cobra.  Michael Sata is just a comedian devoid of the spine of a leader.  The peter principle is coming true here: "everyone rises to their level of incompetence".  Michael Sata reached the epic of his comptence when he was governor of Lusaka.  Beyond that, he is only a comedian and a   time waster.  The Zambians have themselves to blame for trusting that he can deliver.

He who asks for the riddle becomes a riddle himself.  Sishuwa is himself just as biased for the PF government as Rotberg is against it.  The fact of the matter is that the substance of what Rotberg has written cannot be dismissed without sounding oblivious to the situation on the ground in Zambia.  One need not go to the Copperbelt to establish these facts.  Choosing Michael Sata as their president is turning out to be a costly affair indeed for the Zambians.