KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
HOW many attempts should it take before someone says it is enough? It is a question Michael Sata answered by his way to State House in 2011.
After three previous attempts at the presidency, two in which he thought he was somewhat robbed, he managed to get it at the fourth time of asking the voters.
That pretty well defines the political life of Mr Sata. From an outsider in the congested general elections of 2001 which had 12 presidential candidates, he emerged as the main opponent in the three elections that followed thereafter.
Those that first him in the presidential elections never had it easy, not even those who won and went to become President. Levy Mwanawasa and Rupiah Banda can attest to that.
In terms of providing checks and balances to the government, as an opposition leader, Mr Sata was very good at that.
By the time he was making a bid on the presidency, Mr Sata had honed his political skills in the 20 years that he was actively involved in politics. He had earned the moniker of King Cobra because of the combative way he approached politics and dealt with his opponents, both within the party and government ranks as well as those outside. He could actually fight fellow Cabinet ministers.
But one thing he never lost was his touch with the grassroots. In fact, they are the ones who largely propelled him to the presidency in the 2011. Having started his political career as a councillor in Lusaka in 1980, he knew just how crucial the grassroots are in politics.
He did this effectively well when he climbed ladder even in the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD) where he rose to the position of national secretary, effectively becoming the chief executive officer of the party.
When he lost the general elections in 2001, where he only had campaigned for 59 days after leaving the MMD to form the Patriotic Front (PF), he never rested, but continued touring the country campaigning despite boasting of only one Member of Parliament and 12 councillors. It never went well with his opponents, who argued that election time and therefore it was wrong to be on a campaign trail.
It is perhaps not surprising that it was during that time that he faced what his supporters thought was political persecution.
On December 27, 2001, President Mwanawasa ordered police to arrest the King Cobra on a charge of theft by motor vehicle, a non-bailable offence. On April 17, 2002, he was charged with theft of a motor vehicle, and remained in prison for 25 days before he was acquitted.
And on July 23, 2005, Mr Mwanawasa announced that he had directed police to arrest Mr Sata, and in the early hours of July 24, police duly picked him at his house and detained him for three days. He was charged with sedition, but later changed to espionage, which offence is also unbailable. He remained in custody for 15 days but on July 29, he applied for bail in the High Court, which was granted on August 8.
Further, on February 24, he was arrested on a charge of forgery, which was later substituted with defamation of the President while on December 5, 2006, he was arrested and charged with making a false declaration of assets and liabilities to the Chief Justice during the filing in of presidential nomination papers. But the charge was quashed in court. If convicted, he would not have been eligible to hold public office. Also on March 15, 2007, he was deported from Malawi, where he had gone to meet the business community with the Malawian government offering no explanation.
All those setbacks never proved enough to compel him to throw-in the towel.
Enough, his popularity seemed to only grow.
The message to the electorate was simple â€“ lower taxes, more money in the pockets and more jobs. Coupled with that, were the anti-Chinese campaigns. And with that, everyone was ready to jump on the boat.
By the time he was making a fourth attempt at the presidency, the electorate was ready to do a donchi Kubeba on the MMD which had been in power for two decades.
It was a long road to Plot One for the King cobra.
He joined full-time politics in 1980 when he was elected as councillor in Lusaka before being elected Kabwata MP three years later under UNIP. Two years later, he was appointed District Governor, Lusaka Urban District Council where he made his mark as a man of action with a hands-on approach, cleaning-up the streets, patching roadways and building bridges. In 1988, then President Kenneth Kaunda appointed him Minister of State for Decentralisation in the Ministry of Local Government but resigned two years later, both from his ministerial appointment and also as a member of UNIP to join the newly formed MMD, after the country returned to multi-party politics in 1990.
After joining the MMD, he was voted MP for Kabwata, the third time he was serving the area having been first elected in 1983.
Following the elections of 1991, President Frederick Chiluba in 1992 appointed him Minister of Local Government and Housing for two years before moving him to the Ministry of Labour and Social Services for eight months. Thereafter, he was appointed Minister of Health, where his reforms brought sanity to the health system. From there, he was appointed Minister without Portfolio where he developed the National Gender Policy. In the 1996 general elections, he moved from Kabwata to stand as MP in his birthplace Mpika.
His resignation from the MMD, as MP for Mpika and Minister without Portfolio and subsequent formation of the PF followed President Chilubaâ€™s nomination of Levy Mwanawasa as the partyâ€™s presidential candidate in the 2001 elections.
In the 2006 general elections, initial results gave Mr Sata the lead, but further results put Levy Mwanawasa in first place and pushed Sata into third place. Interim results released after votes from 120 of the 150 constituencies were counted put Mr Mwanawasa on just over 42 percent of the vote; opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) candidate Hakainde Hichilema at 28 percent while Mr Sata had slipped to 27 percent. When his supporters heard that he had slipped from first to third place, riots erupted in Lusaka as they believed that the election victory was stolen from him. Eventually, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) announced that Levy Mwanawasa had officially won the election with final results putting Mr Sata in second place with about 29 percent of the vote.
Following Mr Mwanawasaâ€™s death in office in August 2008, a presidential by-election was called. Mr Sata was unanimously chosen as the PFâ€™s candidate in the election by the partyâ€™s Central Committee on August 30, 2008. Accepting the nomination, he expressed the need â€œto scrub this country and wash it.â€
In the vote count, he held the lead over MMDâ€™s Rupiah Banda in early vote counting, reflecting his strong support in urban areas. However, his lead grew smaller as votes from rural areas were counted. In the end, Mr Banda overtook Sata, and final results showed him with 40 percent of the vote against 38 percent for Mr Sata. The results were, however, believed to be highly fraudulent by his supporters. In the 2011 general elections, he beat Mr Banda in the presidential election with a plurality of the vote.
Born in July 6, 1937, Mr Sata, who had studied Political Economy and Strategies at Lomosonov State University in Russia and Political Economic Planning at the London School of Economics as well as attending the London School of Journalism, Writing for Children (Manchester Press Syndicate), worked in many jobs before entering politics.
Having obtained a General Certificate of Education in 1963, he worked as a police officer, railway man and trade unionist during colonial rule and afterwards as a porter at Victoria railway station in London after independence.
After coming back to Zambia, and before entering politics, he was the principal shareholder of Avondale Housing Project Ltd, which developed close to 780 medium and high-cost housing units in Lusaka, before the government nationalised the company.
He certainly built his career pretty well.
KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka