Chishimba Kambwili never ceases to amaze. A deeply polarising figure, he is a person of varying contradictions – making it even more difficult to pin down his real persona. Such is his character trait that one can easily publish a book of encyclopedic proportions about his inconsistencies yet still struggle to put a marker on his ethos.
Other than his determination to fulfilling a self-driven prophecy that he will one day rule Zambia, what does he really stand for? Remarkably, Kambwili holds a very distinct but dubious record which is – he got hounded out of a corrupt government by a corrupt government and then got charged by the same corrupt government for corrupt practices. How low can it get?
Embittered and thrown into political wilderness and seeking relevance, he then accused a sitting President of cozying up to this other unsavory character alleging among other things that the said individual was in fact the President’s financial blesser. How far true this is, only he could prove but anybody that knows a bit about this politician would agree that Kambwili’s tongue is not only deficient in saliva but is rich in bile too.
He is a street-smart strategist that prefers to wrestle in mud compared to boxing smart – a mini version of Micheal Sata (MHSRIP). Ask MMD, he barely loses a fight. Most important, he knows exactly when and how to throw red meat at his base – especially those in the Copperbelt. He assimilates easily with the grassroot and can speak the language of the common man including Jerabos – if he is still not one. This is where it becomes dangerous. Political change in Zambia has always been driven by the grassroot because this is where the crucial numbers come from. In other ways, what ba Kopala want, Zambia gets, ichi chena chishinka.
As we leant in the recent elections and from PF rallies, numbers without strategy counts for nothing and this much he knows. For purposes of context, why is Kambwili the subject of this discussion and why should his character trait matter to Zambians at large? It is simple, he is the front runner expected to assume leadership of Zambia’s largest parliamentary opposition party, the Patriotic Front (PF). As it stands, this hung parliament is the only buffer to sustaining Zambia’s plural politics and therefore leadership qualities of the next PF President do matter.
And PF has a choice. It can can either choose to elect a sober leader who can provide critical but sensible checks and balances to the UPND government much to the betterment of Zambia’s democracy and service delivery or an obstructionist with a self-serving agenda. Obstructionism is destructive and has no record of success be it in the US or United Kingdom or any global political stage for that matter. Look at Chuck Schumer – the democrat’s majority leader in the US Senate, all that his cunning Republican rival Mich McConnell does every day is throw hand grenades in the way of the Biden administration’s agenda.
In the Zambian context, hindsight is the only vindication to the UPND’s hostility to PF’s governance. That the PF as a government was ideologically and morally bankrupt is telling in the high levels of poverty considering the unfolding revelations about their looting spree. You could well argue that UPND had inside information about PF’s looting agenda hence the reluctance to validate PF’s rule by serving as a noble opposition to a corrupt regime. Forget about PF stealing the two Presidential elections which the UPND purports to have won, pillaging state coffers was small change to the PF – this nonchalance by UPND pretty much surmised its attitude to PF.
Back to Kambwili. He is certainly not Edgar Lungu’s preferred candidate for the PF Presidency, but does it matter that Lungu is looking to anoint Given Lubinda to his throne? Maybe not. The former President became irrelevant to Zambian politics and by extention to the PF the moment he lost elections. He no longer has financial means to sustain his networks of patronage which is why his stranglehold on his party has loosened. Lest we be fooled by Kambwili and even GBM’s recent endorsement of his candidature in elections which he lost, this should in no way be misconstrued as a show of Lungu’s strength in PF. Their endorsement was purely transactional politics in play.
And PF’s state of paralysis provides the best opportunity for imbwili to strike. Barring any last-minute hurdles, he is in fact within touching distance of the PF throne and all that his party faithful are awaiting is his coronation. If it pans out this way, could his coronation be the mortal blow that effectively accelerates PF’s journey to Chingwere? Not sure, but what else can one expect from a political party founded on grievance politics and led by a reckless politician?
Even more worrying, the last 3 years of this political nomad’s journey provides a worrying glimpse into PF’s future. Kicked out of the party, he founded the National Democratic Congress (NDC), a platform he used to rebrand himself. With his political standing in ruins following a highly publicised incarceration, he was released.
Soon after his release, he threw an apology in the way of the former President just so he could cement his bromance with the then number one. With his apology accepted and his PF membership restored, it was his turn to return a favour to the former President. He embarked on a dog whistling campaign disparaging the candidature of the incumbent President with allegations that the then opposition leader was a tribalist that could not be trusted with the Presidency. This gambit only failed because Zambians were just too hungry to feed on his bile.
With his preferred candidate trounced at the polls, Kambwili briefly retreated out of the limelight only to emerge at the doorsteps of a Lusaka court to comment on his acquittal from corruption charges. Addressing a throng of supporters, he strangely accused the PF – a party that he now wants to lead and had vigorously campaigned for a few weeks prior – of concocting bogus charges against him.
It’s what he said next that is baffling. Quoted verbatim, “I would like to thank President Hakainde Hichilema for allowing the Judiciary to work without interference.” Really? Does this riddle imply that HH had a hand in his acquittal or what? How convenient, using your moment of triumph to thank a person whom only a few weeks ago was unworthy of your praise. But this was vintage Kambwili landing a few body blows to the PF while ingratiating himself to HH.
Unless PF decides to stage manage another show of hands disguised as a convention, Za yellow stands no chance in a pool of mud with imbwili. Unfortunately, Zambian politics desperately need Kambwili’s ilk to keep the governing UPND on its toes.
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