Even if President Lungu were to turn water into wine, there is just no way the Zambezi provinces (Northwestern, Barotse and Southern) would vote for him and his ruling Patriotic Front. Not now and not in 2021. Without the Zambezi provinces, President Lungu and the Patriotic Front remain hugely dependent on at least two big constituencies: Bemba provinces and the urban areas (Lusaka and Copperbelt). If there is any indication of the lost steam of the Patriotic Front, it should be seen with how it will perform and is performing in urban areas and in Bemba provinces. More than ever before, the Patriotic Front faces a serious threat within itself because of shifting support that is beginning to take place in urban areas and in Bemba speaking areas.
It is this background that brings the renegade Chishimba Kambwili into focus. Corruption charges aside, Dr. Kambwili matters for the PF not because he is a mover and a shaker on his own, but rather that his political treatment or maltreatment within the PF comes at a time when the PF needs to present a more unified stance to stave off any challenge to its Bemba and urban hegemony. Dr. Kambwili’s current status in the PF is the symptom rather than the disease that will seriously challenge the viability of the Patriotic Front. Here is why.
Urban areas are becoming increasingly discontented with the Patriotic Front. The people of Lusaka are close enough to see how many times the President is flying around the world globetrotting at tax-payer expense. The people of the Copperbelt have no jobs and employments are just nowhere to be found. With this urban dissatisfaction, President Lungu’s firewall is very likely to collapse in the next few years, if not months. The persecution or the so called disciplining of Chishimba Kambwili coincides with this urban discontentment unfortunately, and if it continues, Kambwili could rebrand himself as the champion of urbanites on the line of the Michael Sata populism. If that happened, President Lungu will face a very serious test of his leadership and his status.
That President Lungu survived without any serious difficulties in Bemba provinces came as a huge surprise in 2016. The strength of the PF, however, will be greatly challenged going forward. The Patriotic Front’s treatment of its Bemba-speaking politicians is concerning in several circles. Added to the list of sidelined influential Bemba-speaking politicians will be Dr. Kambwili. His sidelining will continue feeding this perception that President Lungu does not treat influential Bemba politicians fairly. Beginning from GBM, to Kambwili, to Emmanuel Mwamba, there is a lot to argue that President Lungu will not take kindly to influential Bemba politicians. Of course, he has tried to embrace less influential ones like Defence Minister Chama and perhaps Father Frank Bwalya. But beyond that, there is some perception out there, that the Patriotic Front’s lack of patriotism to its Bemba strongholds will not end very well and Chishimba Kambwili becomes just the next casualty.
From history, politicians like Dr. Kambwili who have had a fallout with a president do not last long in the ruling party. So, it is almost a foregone conclusion that Dr. Kambwili will likely be suspended or eventually expelled from the PF. However, if he taps into urban populism, he will be chipping away support not from the United Party for National Development (UPND), but rather from ruling Patriotic Front. Regardless, of what or where Dr. Kambwili decides to make his next political home, the loser will be the Patriotic Front and President Lungu. If he goes with the UPND, he could be the one that finally grants the UPND an urban seat in parliament. If on the other hand he decides to form a political party, that party will most likely be very competitive in the urban areas among the disgruntled forces of the ruling Patriotic Front. With little to no support in the Zambezi provinces and a shaking urban constituency, President Lungu will have depend heavily upon the Bemba-speaking provinces, another constituency that is not guaranteed to the Patriotic Front, come 2021.
Now that President Lungu is somewhat confident that the Constitution allows him to stand in 2021, there will be several in the ruling PF that will fight him on it. Unfortunately, President Lungu has very little to work with to maintain the little support from urban areas and his Bemba stronghold. With the current political doldrums facing Dr. Kambwili, this tempestuous honorary doctor could as well be the embodiment of urban and Bemba discontentment that finally topples the Patriotic Front’s hegemony. Or is it too early to tell?
E. Munshya, LLM, MBA, M.DIV.