Mundia Sikatana has an incredible spirit. This is the only foreign affairs minister in Africa who has openly condemned the human rights abuses of Robert Mugabe. To make his statement most official, he delivered it in the parliament of Zambia itself, amidst calls by other cowardly MPs for the Speaker to shut him up (for “security reasons”). But he was not intimidated and he did not mince his words. He explicitly condemned Robert Mugabe for what he was doing in Zimbabwe and called it by its name: human rights abuses.
President Levy Mwanawasa briefly imitated Sikatana by also condemning Robert Mugabe, albeit in much less explicit terms, when he described Zimbabwe as “a sinking titanic” in a speech. This was very impressive indeed and it instantly put Zambia on the map of the most civilized countries of the world. Western governments could not believe that this president and his foreign affairs minister could so boldly distinguish themselves from the usual politics of the rest of the continent.
Well, that was then. Levy Mwanawasa has since u-turned on his bold approach to the Zimbabwe crisis. He now says, rather shockingly, that the problems in Zimbabwe are just “exaggerated”. This is certainly a change of mind because “a sinking titanic” would be quite an exaggeration if the problems of Zimbabwe are not so bad as he now says!
And when Gordon Brown announced that he would boycott the EU-Africa summit if this Zimbabwean dictator was allowed there, Mwanawasa responded by a similar boycott threat in the event that his friend Mugabe was barred from the conference. His excuse was that Mugabe’s problems can only be solved by dialogue with him. How our president still believes that Robert Gabriel Mugabe can actually be reasoned with is something that beats the intellect.
Anyway, right after our president u-turned on the Mugabe issue, he fired his foreign affairs minister, for his “health problems”. Sikatana immediately held a press conference in which he demonstrated quite physically that his health was still very intact. Foreign newspapers speculated that he was fired for his continued condemnation of Robert Mugabe’s human rights record after his boss had changed his mind.
What most people don’t know about Mundia Sikatana is that he has always been a very decisive and independent man. At the time when the New Deal government of president Mwanawasa was praising first president Kenneth Kaunda and giving him all kinds of accolades, Mundia Sikatana was unimpressed. He personally refused to take part in this revision of Kaunda’s history. He maintained that Kaunda was a ruthless dictator and a devoted abuser of human rights during his long reign as president – something that we all knew back then but which many people have decided to forget.
Sikatana is not the type of man who does or says something just to please someone, even if that someone is his president. Unlike the other ministers who always support and echo whatever the president says, Sikatana did not pretend to the president that he was in support of honoring Kenneth Kaunda and forgetting his pathetic human rights record. He simply separated himself from this hypocrisy.
Later on of course, president Kaunda disappointed president Mwanawasa by backing an opposition leader, in spite of everything Levy had done for him. President Mwanawasa was totally heart-broken and he made it publicly known that he felt let down by Kaunda.
So, Levy Mwanawasa changed his mind on Kenneth Kaunda again, whereas Mundia Sikatana’s mind has remained consistent on the issue of this former dictator, just as it has remained consistent on the issue of the current dictator to the south of Zambia.
What one has to admire about Mundia Sikatana, therefore, is simply this intellectual honesty. He never takes a position for political convenience or expedience. He is one of those rare politicians who simply say what they believe and believe what they say. He will not say anything to please other people or just for the sake of so-called “peace”. When it comes to condemning evil, he will always condemn it in no equivocal terms, no matter where it is coming from and no matter whom it involves.
And that’s not even all. Sikatana’s honesty is not only intellectual, it is also practical. When the press last published the list of the personal wealth of ministers, it was reported that Sikatana had the least amount of wealth among them. This was after serving as a minister for quite a long time. Many people laughed at Sikatana for being so “poor”, compared to other ministers. In our “new culture” (invented by former corrupt president Frederick Chiluba), a person who remains poor after being in such high positions is always looked down upon. What people do not realize is that remaining poor after being a minister for so long is the highest mark of honor, the only source of true and untainted pride.
The man could have easily taken advantage of his position as Minister of Agriculture to become instantly rich. This was the man who was in charge of approving applications from rich Zimbabwean farmers who wanted to relocate to Zambia after being displaced by the insane Mugabe. How easy could it have been for Sikatana to just ask for a “commission” from them for helping them get land in Zambia? In fact, he did give a lot of them permission to start their farms in Zambia, but he did not (evidently) get any bribes from any of them, which is why he remained the poorest minister even after all these “opportunities” (not to mention his close interactions with the tobacco farmers themselves). What a soul!
The first time I saw Mister Sikatana was in the driveway of the Ministry of Agriculture. This was also the first time that I saw a full government minister in the republic of Zambia driving himself! He was not someone who got excited by the many luxurious trappings of government ministers. He was always conscious of the reality in his country and he did not want to concentrate on “enjoying” himself at a time when his government had not done much to alleviate the general poverty in the nation. Most of his colleagues, on the other hand, are so proud of having a personal driver, a big car, and the other heavenly advantages of ministerial positions – and they always want people to notice them, admire them, and just suck up to them (as they suck up to their boss). Sikatana remained totally down-to-earth and completely approachable during his many years as minister.
This man, in short, is not your average African politician, either intellectually or practically. He represents a breed of politicians that has never been promoted in Africa. In fact, the political culture of Africa is such that men of such high integrity and honesty can not easily find themselves in high political office. His own ascendancy to parliament and cabinet was simply by luck: he was just nominated to parliament by president Mwanawasa, he never rose through the corrupt ranks of party structures.
The way I have written this article sounds like Sikatana is dead (that’s the only time people say such things about you around here, it seems)! The man is still very much alive and he has publicly announced his intentions of becoming the president of the ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) and, by implication, president of the country.
But we all know, as well as he does, that his chances of becoming either of those are as slim as the man himself. Until Africa changes, until the political culture changes, such men can never find themselves in power. And the only people who can change such a culture are the presidents themselves. But for as long as we never have presidents in Africa who are totally honest, totally principled and (therefore) totally consistent, our political culture shall continue being backward. It is thus a vicious cycle, and it is the reason that one should not build too much hope that Africa is any time soon ready for becoming anything different from what it has always been. That’s the reality.