Tuesday 24 July 2012

Why Sata Poaches MMD MPs Only

By Paul Shalala

In the past two months, the Zambian media has been dominated by the debate on whether President Michael Sata has the moral right to appoint opposition Members of Parliament to serve in his government as Deputy Ministers.

On Monday, one MMD MP who was serving as a Deputy Minister resigned from his ministerial position after pressure from his party. The following day, President Sata appointed two more MMD MPs to serve in his government and on Wednesday, the MMD’s National Executive Committee is set to meet and decide the fate of all its MPs who are serving in the PF government, possibly expelling them.

Legally, the 1991 Zambian constitution as amended in 1996 allows the head of state to appoint MPs from within the legislature. The constitution does however not state from which party the president can appoint making it easy for Mr Sata to appoint across the board. Therefore, the president does not break any law by appointing opposition MPs.

But why is Mr Sata targeting MMD MPs only? Below are some of the points which could be behind the president’s continuous appointments from within the MMD.

The ruling Patriotic Front does not have the numbers to pass laws on its own. The opposition actually has the power to bring a deadlock in the house, they have the numbers. The PF has less than the two thirds majority (106 MPs) which is needed to control parliament without any problem from backbenchers. It is this lack of the two thirds majority which somehow is pushing the PF to continuously court MMD MPs. 

Once these opposition MPs are appointed as Ministers, they shift seats to the right of the Speaker and subsequently change their pattern of voting in parliament, giving an advantage to the PF which has few seats. Therefore, its all sweet for Dr Guy Scott, leader of government business in the house, when an opposition MP shifts camp in Parliament.

The other reason why MMD MPs are easily appointed by President Sata is the fact that the head of state is seen as a product of the MMD, a party he led as National Secretary before ditched it and formed the Patriotic Front. This realization makes it easy for MMD MPs to become loyal to the President than UPND MPs who would not accept such an offer. Loyalty to the system makes it easy for the PF to have it easy in the house.

By appointing opposition MPs into his government, President Sata is ensuring PF’s dominancy over the political scene. Dominancy for the PF is necessary as every ruling party needs it to suppress the opposition. But in cases where it’s a coalition government, this dominancy is not counted as an opposition party fully agrees to join government. By having opposition MPs within his ranks, President Sata will continue to dominate politics both nationally and within the party.

Divisions in MMD
President Sata seems to be appointing only MMD MPs after realizing that the MMD seems to be the most divided opposition political party in the country. The UPND with its 29 MPs seems united against any of its MPs serving in the PF government, it has actually made it clear it would not tolerate such a move and would instantly expel any of its MPs who would ‘go to bed’ with the ruling party. But the MMD, the major opposition party in the house, is divided on this matter.

Some sections of this former ruling party agree to their MPs sharing power with the ruling PF due to the party’s own legacy which stems from the Levy Mwanawasa era. However, another section of MMD is publicly opposed to those MPs who are serving in government. It is this YES and NO situation in MMD which to some extent has convinced the president to use MMD as a leverage for his control of Manda Hill.

As long as the Zambian constitution allows ministers to be appointed from within parliament, this horse trading will continue. Ruling parties will continue dominating the opposition in a bid to control the house and pass critical laws. However, with the new draft constitution suggesting the appointment of ministers from outside parliament, this culture of ‘poaching’ opposition MPs is likely to end as only technocrats will be serving in ministerial portfolios.

Saturday 7 July 2012

My Ugandan Experience

By Paul Shalala

Attending a Thomson Reuters Foundation training course was one of those things I had always wished to do in the past four years I have been practicing journalism in Zambia.

In a space of 2 years, i had applied at least four times to attend the trainings but to no avail. To make matters worse, my colleagues from the same media institution were being successful in having their applications accepted and the more I lost out the more I got more determination to try again.

I sent my last application for a Reuters training in Economic and Financial Reporting in May 2012 and it turned out to be success which became an eye opener for me to international standards of business journalism. The training was to be held in Uganda, a country that describes itself as the ‘pearl of Africa.’

When the big day Sunday 24 June, 2012 came, the day I was supposed to leave Lusaka the city of my birth, my mind was bombarded with imaginations of how the training will be, how the Ugandan capital Kampala looks like and what kind of people I will interact with at the training.

With wild imaginations of Uganda, a country portrayed by the media as the former base for rebel LRA’s Joseph Kony and a former home for the late dictator Idi Amin, I was excited to see the beauty of the resort city of Entebbe from the air as we were landing at its airport which is located a few meters away from the world famous Lake Victoria. 

Driving from the airport in Entebbe to Kampala brought me fond memories of the usual traffic I had seen in the Kenyan capital though the scale of the traffic congestion was half that of Nairobi. I was fascinated with the size of Kampala and the good infrastructure it has which was completely contrally to my own imaginations. I had in mind a small and poorly organized city but to my surprise, I found Kampala to be a live city which never goes to sleep as business goes on day and night.

The following day, our five day training which attracted 14 business reporters from six African countries got under way. To be precise, the course ran from 25-29 June 2012 at the African Center for Media Excellence in Kampala, Uganda.

David White, a TRF trainer with more than four decades experience in the media, conducted the intense training which aroused a lot of interest, debates and smiles among participants. In some sessions, David brought up thought provoking situations to help the trainees think wider and understand the business concepts. David was joined by Teddy Nannozi, a Ugandan journalist who co-facilitated the course.
Of all the topics under discussion, reporting on stock markets seemed the most interesting to the African journalists as it kept them busy asking questions on the process and activities related to stocks trading in markets.

To me, the most interesting part of the training was on Wednesday when we were split into four groups making up ‘news agencies’ and we were bombarded with press statements, press briefings and news updates which we were supposed to be report simultaneously in real time.

This exercise, which lasted an hour, kept all participants under pressure from the ‘news editors’ who kept demanding for news stories every five minutes. In this way, participants were kept on their toes as they moved from one ‘news event’ to the other, asking questions, taking notes from speeches given by ‘sources’ and later writing the stories. 

On Tuesday, the group visited the World Bank offices in Kampala where it met the country manager Moustapha Ndiaye who gave a 30 minutes presentation on the economic situation in Uganda as well as an assessment of the situation in East Africa. Journalists being usual inquisitive human beings, asked Mousstapha a lot of questions which he answered without hesitation.

On Thursday, Nairobi-based Dr Dereje Alemayehu gave a presentation on capital flight. Dr Alemayehu, who is chairman of the Tax Justice Network Africa, revealed how billions of dollars are being lost in Africa due to the existence of tax havens in the world. And participants were surprised to learn that most tax havens are islands belonging to developed countries which champion transparency around the world but allow their territories to syphon such large amounts of money from developing countries.

Our stay in Kampala would not have been complete without ‘sampling’ the city. A bus full of participants toured the city and spent most of their time at the Vision Media Group where they saw how some of the leading newspapers, radio stations, magazines and TV stations in Uganda are run. To me who comes from a country (Zambia) where the law does not allow a citizen or a company to own various media institutions by one owner, I was surprised to see a vibrant multimedia company which owned a spectrum of media all housed in one place. This visit showed me how liberal, plural and free the Ugandan media is to operate.

During the five day training, participants expressed happiness at the capacity building they had received through the Thomson Reuters Foundation. To some of us, this was the first time we were getting specialized journalism training in business reporting, despite having been reporting on business for more than four years.

The end of every training programme is always exciting because participants receive certification and in Kampala, 14 African journalists were excited to be certified by Reuters, a world class media institution whose credentials are worth being attached to. This certification also meant that the participants automatically became alumni of the Thomson Reuters Foundation which keeps in touch with its former trainees and keeps track of their progress in their career.

Thereafter, David took the participants to a hotel located a stone throw away from the iconic Lake Victoria for dinner. The event was meant to be a farewell one and participants took advantage of the dinner to watch the lake and take memorable pictures. The most exciting part of the dinner was a mini ‘parliament’ which participants formed. Each participant, including trainers, represented their respective countries as a members of parliament and Julius Sakala from Zambia acted as the Speaker and he had tough time moderating proceedings of the ‘legislature’ which at some point became uncontrollable as MPs’ debates became heated.

On Saturday 30 June, 2012 as I flew out of Entebbe airport, leaving behind the hospitable Ugandan people, I reminded myself of two things which I would forever miss in the land of the Buganda. Firstly, bodabodas (motorcycle taxis) were a complete new phenomenon to me as we don’t have them in Zambia. Their numerous numbers, speed on the roads and the drivers’ skills in meandering through the usual heavy traffic made my stay in Uganda the most memorable. I happily left Kampala having boarded a bodaboda for only a hundred meters as I was too scared to go on a long distance due to over speeding by the drivers.

Secondly, matooke (cooked bananas) was another new experience to me. If you ever visit Uganda and don’t taste matooke, then you would have not tasted the best of ‘the pearl of Africa.’ For any visitor to Kampala, matooke is readily available in markets, shops and even in five star hotels. As the saying goes, ‘when you go to Rome, do what the Romans do,’ I made sure I ate matooke on a daily basis. Really, my experience in Uganda was one of fascination and capacity building.  

I will miss Kampala, I will miss my colleagues from across the continent but I will ensure I up my game in business reporting. 

That’s my Ugandan experience, the 'Pearl of Africa.'