Mugabe funded Sata’s campaign!


President Robert Mugabe is reported to have lent some money to Michael Sata for his campaign for the Zambian presidency against Rupiah Banda following the death of Levy Mwanawasa, according to a Wikileaks cable dispatched from Lusaka on 6 October 2008.

Mugabe had just signed a Global Political Agreement with the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change paving the way for an inclusive government which only came into effect five months later.

The cable did not say how much was involved.

It is not clear how Mugabe got the money because the country was at the height of its economic collapse at the time.

Sata lost the elections.


Full cable:



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Reference ID





2008-10-06 13:04


Embassy Lusaka



DE RUEHLS #0986/01 2801304


R 061304Z OCT 08




C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 LUSAKA 000986




E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/2/2018






B. 2001 LUSAKA 3246

C. 1994 LUSAKA 751


Classified By: Charge d’Affaires Michael Koplovsky for reasons 1.4(b) a

nd (d)


1. (SBU) Summary. Although still a strong contender in the

October 30 by-election, presidential candidate Michael Sata

appears to have lost some of his momentum due to internal

party strife. The Patriotic Front leader excommunicated half

of his party’s parliamentarians in late 2007 over

disagreements regarding the National Constitutional

Conference (NCC), and one of them now appears bent on foiling

Sata’s presidential ambitions. Despite this setback, Sata is

determined to win the presidency and has begun targeting

rural areas in order to expand his electoral base beyond

discontented urban youth. Presumably for the same reason,

Sata has moderated his message by extolling foreign

investors–explicitly including the Chinese whom he

excoriated in the 2006 elections–for their contribution to

Zambian economic development. The 71-year old opposition

leader’s heart attack earlier this year has also raised

questions about his physical wellbeing and his suitability

for office. With marginal party support, questionable

physical fitness, and limited financing, Sata has many

challenges to overcome within the next four weeks. End




Who Is the King Cobra?



2. (SBU) Michael Chilufya Sata, also known (both

affectionately and derogatorily) as “King Cobra,” was born in

1937 in Mpika, a city in Northern Province. A former trade

unionist, he first distinguished himself within Kenneth

Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (UNIP) as a ward

chairman, member of parliament, and governor of Lusaka.

Correctly detecting the winds of change, Sata joined the

Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) in 1990. Following

MMD’s victory in the 1991 election, Sata became Minister for

Local Government (1991), Minister of Labor (1993), and

Minister of Health (1994) under Frederick Chiluba.

Supporters and detractors alike refer to Sata’s tenure at the

Health Ministry as an example of his pragmatic and effective

leadership style.


3. (C) Derisive and insubordinate to then-Vice President Levy

Mwanawasa, Sata played a major role in Mwanawasa’s departure

from government in 1994. Chiluba appointed Sata to be

Minister Without Portfolio in 1996 to allow him to magnify

his position as MMD Executive Secretary, a position he took

up in late 1995. Sata maintained a dominant role in MMD

politics over the next six years, earning a reputation for

his blustering, self-confident, and forceful style. What he

lacks in strategic thinking, he makes up for in political

cunning and force of character. Although seen as a “straight

talker,” the PF leader’s discourse is not burdened by an

unwavering commitment to accuracy or truth.


4. (SBU) Sata was one of the principal forces behind

Chiluba’s campaign to amend the constitution in order to run

for a third term. With well-known presidential ambitions,

Sata most likely anticipated a reward for his loyalty to the

erstwhile president. In the wake of Mwanawasa’s nomination

by the MMD’s National Executive Committee in 2001, the

crestfallen Sata was rumored to be planning the formation of

a new party, the Salvation Party, something he vehemently

denied in the press. Just two months before the general

election, Sata established the Patriotic Front (PF) party,

which played an immaterial role in the 2001 general

elections–Sata collected less than four percent of the vote,

and his party won only one seat in parliament.


5. (SBU) Despite his record as one of Zambia’s

longest-serving Ministers, by the 2006 presidential election

Sata succeeded in recasting himself as the

“anti-establishment” candidate and champion of the poor,

blaming the MMD party for the country’s woes. His populist

message resonated well with an electorate that had not

benefited from Zambian economic liberalization and

macroeconomic growth. Much of his popularity also resided

with young voters, who saw him as a political outsider,

capable of reversing the consequences of MMD’s poor

leadership and aware of the plight of most Zambians. Sata’s

criticism of foreign investors, particularly the Chinese, won

him popular appeal and international recognition. In one of

his only unique platforms, he called for the expulsion of

Chinese migrant workers and proposed diplomatic ties with

Taiwan. On election day 2006, he captured 29 percent of the

vote, dominating in Lusaka, Copperbelt, and Luapula


LUSAKA 00000986 002 OF 004



provinces, and won 43 parliamentary seats, making PF the

strongest opposition party in parliament.



Marginal Party Support



6. (SBU) Sata’s campaign abilities far exceed his ability to

manage an opposition party. Infighting among the Patriotic

Front began in late 2007 when Sata ordered party

parliamentarians to boycott the National Consitutional

Conference (NCC), insisting that it was biased in favor of

MMD. Twenty-six members of parliament (MPs) defied the order

and insisted on attending. In December, Sata threatened to

expel the dissidents, but a court injunction stopped him from

doing so. The tension continued into 2008, flaring up in

July when PF MP Violet Sampa-Bredt attacked Sata and the rest

of the party leadership as illegitimate and called for a

party convention to elect new leaders. Sata responded to her

and others’ criticisms by describing the “rebel MPs” as

“totally irrelevant to PF.”


7. (SBU) At a meeting in mid-August with Charge–to which

Sata invited several unannounced members of the press–Sata

insisted that the dissenting MPs could rejoin the party if

they renounced their participation in the NCC. Grandstanding

before television and print reporters, Sata reiterated his

stance that the NCC is an exercise in corruption, a scheme by

wayward politicians to receive lavish daily compensation

while the rest of the nation suffers. He denied that the NCC

had any democratic value, asserting that “95 percent of the

delegates are from the MMD” and that proceedings are biased

in the ruling party’s favor.


8. (C) Following President Mwanawasa’s death–and despite

strong impetus to unify the party–Sata cancelled his party

convention in order “to focus on the election.” PF MP

Saviour Chishimba (himself an atypical and slightly

off-center Zambian politician) lashed out publicly against

Sata and his “autocratic” rule and applied for a court

injunction to prohibit Sata from filing his presidential

nomination. A high court judge dismissed the case on the

grounds that the Electoral Commission does not have the legal

mandate to restrain Sata from filing his nomination and the

PF–as an unincorporated association–does not have the legal

capacity to be sued. The Solicitor General later conceded to

emboff that the case had merits but was dismissed on a

technicality. He admitted that a ruling in favor of

Chishimba would have resulted in social unrest. Chishimba’s

constituency office was later razed, allegedly by fervent PF

supporters. His October 2 press conference–to address among

other things the threats against him–was cut short when

several PF heavies carried him from the hotel conference room

and proceeded to beat him.



Questionable Physical Health



9. (U) During the campaign period, Sata will have to satisfy

voters that he has the health and stamina to hold the

nation’s highest office. The 71-year old veteran politician

suffered a heart attack in April and was rushed (at

government expense) to South Africa for treatment. When

asked in August whether his heart problem would affect his

presidential bid, Sata replied that he was ready for

nationwide campaigning. He attributed his illness to his

one-time smoking habit, and with his usual over-confidence

and liberal representation of the truth, he added “there is

no heart attack–which is cured in 20 minutes. I am walking

and fit.” He challenged his opponents to go for medical

testing for HIV/Aids, kaposi sarcoma (a herpes induced

tumor), and cardiovascular health.


10. (SBU) Although Sata’s health might not be an issue for

his core constituency, it might dissuade would-be voters and

prevent him from amassing popularity among an electorate

weary of the possibility of another by-election before 2011.

Remarkably, however, his age has not been the subject of much

public discussion, ostensibly due to the almost identical age

of his septuagenarian rival, MMD candidate Rupiah Banda.

Consequently, there have been few calls for the presidential

mantle to fall on younger shoulders–namely, United Party for

National Development leader Hakainde Hichilema–even in the

aftermath of President Mwanawasa’s death.



Limited Financing



11. (C) Sata’s lack of campaign financiers may be a decisive

factor in the present campaign, particularly in light of the


LUSAKA 00000986 003 OF 004



MMD government’s profuse use of state resources and programs

to its advantage in boosting Banda’s campaign. Banda’s

populist discretionary spending in the aftermath of the late

president’s hospitalization may be on par with Sata’s

populist rhetoric (Ref A). In contrast, Sata’s 2006 campaign

appeared flush with money, presumably from Chiluba, and

others indicted on corruption charges, as well as the

Taiwanese. According to a senior PF parliamentarian, Sata

fell out with Chiluba in 2007 over the NCC process.

Subsequently, the former president has not rallied for Sata

(as he did in 2006), and Sata has not repeated his 2006

pledge to disband the Task Force on Corruption that is

prosecuting the former president. At a September 27 rally in

Northern Province, Sata cautioned Chiluba (and former

President Kenneth Kaunda) to stay out of politics and to

refrain from issuing statements that align them with

presidential campaigns.


12. (C) A non-PF politician told Emboff that the Taiwanese

Government, which allegedly provided PF with campaign

financing in 2006, had been embarrassed by Sata’s erratic and

outspoken behavior and was unlikely to offer additional

support. Several PF representatives, including the Secretary

General, have asked Emboffs for USG campaign donations on the

grounds that the party does not have adequate resources for

campaigning, let alone the deployment of polling agents to

monitor the elections. They admitted to some sources of

outside funding, but refused to identify donors. They

related, however, that the Chinese Embassy had contacted

senior PF member Guy Scott, in the early stages of the 2006

vote count (when PF was leading) to request a meeting and

offer financial support. The PF reps did not say whether

this offer still applied in 2008. According to a judge with

strong ties to the PF party, Zimbabwean President Robert

Mugabe has lent some funds to Sata’s campaign.


13. (SBU) Sata’s praise of Indian businessman Rajan Mahtani,

the owner of Finance Bank who previously supported Finance

Minister Ng’andu Magande’s bid for the MMD nomination,

suggests that PF may now be receiving funding from Mahtani

and other prominent members of the business community.

Whether cash-strapped or not, PF appears to be operating on a

smaller budget than in 2006 and will be hard pressed to

conduct an effective campaign in rural regions, given the

cost and difficulties of travel within Zambia. Additionally,

the party will be less able to cultivate its public appeal

with the usual electoral offerings, such as food, beer, and




The Portable Populist



14. (SBU) Perhaps as part of his effort to overcome these

obstacles and to broaden his popularity with what some have

dubbed “the mini-bus constituency,” Sata has moderated his

message, replacing intolerant anti-investor vitriol with open

affection. The October 2 cover the Zambian daily independent

newspaper The Post showed Sata warmly embracing Chinese

laborers. On September 30, PF placed a full-page add in The

Post in which he paid tribute to Indian investors, who played

an important role in Zambia’s economic development and who

jointly suffered from British apartheid-like discriminatory

policies. The pop-eyed populist now speaks against

xenophobism, despite his 2006 platform that sparked fears of

backlash against foreign workers and investors.


15. (SBU) PF’s new manifesto, which party leaders described

to emboff as “the condensed version,” is a different version

altogether from earlier PF documents. In it, Sata explains

that the PF “values local and foreign investors equally.”

The manifesto, entitled “The Way Forward for Zambia,”

promises not only to protect investment, but to provide

incentives “across the board.” It also explains that “a PF

led government would encourage people with skills, which are

in short supply in Zambia, to live and work in our country.”

The document also calls for a strengthened anti-corruption



16. (C) A mining company executive confided to emboff that

his company is maintaining close ties to PF and that his

staff had written Sata’s recent public statements on

investment. He said that although it was difficult to

ascertain whether Sata’s volte-face on foreign investment is

sincere, it demonstrates pragmatism and political agility. A

senior PF parliamentarian told emboff that Sata has always

understood the importance of foreign investment and has never

intended–not even in 2006–to expel or marginalize foreign

business interests.


17. (SBU) Although Sata continues to espouse the causes of

the poor, much of his current campaign has been formed around


LUSAKA 00000986 004 OF 004



the notion that he is former president Mwanawasa’s natural

successor. Time and again, Sata refers to his reconciliation

with the Mwanawasa earlier in 2008 (which followed quickly on

the heels of Sata’s government-sponsored medevac to South

Africa in April), and their private discussions regarding

Zambia’s future. In August, after Mwanawasa’s death, Sata

declared that “only him and me know what we talked about and

none of you is going to know.” One of the few documents on

Sata’s website, labeled “Levy’s last speech,” contains

remarks delivered by the late president in June containing

reference to his “infamous reconciliation” with Sata.


18. (SBU) During the period of national mourning, Sata

followed Mwanawasa’s body from province to province

ostensibly to show his deep remorse, but in reality to

inhibit MMD’s attempt to capture of a windfall “sympathy

vote.” This gesture seemed out of place for many who

remember the cunning politician’s frequent ridicule of

Mwanawasa for his speech impediment caused by a car accident

in the early 1990s (in a 2006 presidential rally Sata ripped

apart a cabbage, which had become Sata’s prop for

characterizing Mwanawasa’s mental state). In the space of

several short months, Sata has endeavored to recast himself

to the Zambian electorate as the confidant of the late

President and the candidate most capable of continuing the

former President’s legacy.






19. (SBU) In a particularly telling move, Sata abandoned his

former website ( and created a new domain name

(, which most appropriately conveys the

true nature of his personality-driven party. Despite Sata’s

demagoguery, he is surrounded by many thoughtful politicians

who seem to believe in his cause and his political prospects

and are willing to overlook his eccentricities, shortcomings,

and frequent populist poppycock. In the event of a PF

victory, Sata will be authorized to appoint eight additional

MPs, several of whom are likely to assume cabinet positions.

These appointees, together with some other PF MPs, are apt to

continue to extend reasonable counsel and exert a moderating

influence. Although Banda’s victory is not a forgone

conclusion, Sata and his cadre of supporters will have to

work hard to gain back some of PF’s momentum and to be seen

as a credible party by a wider body of voters.




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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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