September 4, 2007

Mwanawasa fires foreign minister Sikatana

President Mwanawasa has with immediate effect relieved Foreign Affairs Minister, Mundia Sikatana of his duties. Tourism Minister, Kabinga Pande has since been appointed new Foreign Affairs Minister, Kapoche Member of Parliament, Fashion Phiri, as Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister. The President gave the official reason that the former foreign minister's health was failing. Sikatana challenged the official reason for his dismissal, saying he was very fit. "I am what you call fitness itself. I am fitness personified," the former foreign minister told journalists, even flexing his muscles to prove his point. "Let your attention be on Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans are flocking looking for food in the region," Sikatana said, addressing Mwanawasa.
Accoding to government sources, Mwanawasa really took issue with his foreign minister over the political crisis in Zimbabwe because Sitakana insisted that Zambia should take a hard-line stance against Harare. The Zimbabwean government was unhappy with Sitakana for publicly criticising Robert Mugabe's policies and condemning human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Sikatana turned down an offer to become an appointed member of parliament and declared he would be standing against Mwanawasa for the leadership of the MMD. Sikatana vowed to challenge his position, due to his increasingly public support of the Mugabe regime.
According to Nawa Sibongo, the acting Chairman of Zambia's United Party for National Development and a confidant of Sikatana, Mwanawasa's sudden change of policy at last month's Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) conference struck the wrong chord with the former secretary. The Zambian received much international commendation in March after equating the Zimbabwean crisis to "a sinking Titanic". Mwanawasa however appeared to be rescinding back into the fold of African leaders, buttressing Mugabe at August's SADC conference he hosted in Lusaka.
Sibongo said: "Mwanawasa's stance has surprised a lot of people and he seems to be flip flopping when he was about to win the support of some people with regard to the situation in Zimbabwe. He seems to be very much in awe of Mugabe along the African traditions of respecting the elders. He doesn't seem to know which direction he wants to take any more. As regards to the policy differences, it has been known for a while that Sikatana has been actively looking for a resolution to the Zimbabwean crisis across the region. That Mwanawasa has fired him on health grounds has actually surprised most of us because the President himself has suffered a number of strokes during his time in office." (SW Radio Africa, London / ZNBC, Zambia)

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