Zambia: A President's Joke Gone Too Far?

It was meant to be light-hearted banter between President Michael Sata and visiting former American President George W. Bush, or so Zambians were made to believe in a statement issued by State House when the host reminded his guest of his country’s colonial and slavery past. Many Zambians online have condemned the undiplomatic view of the US relationship with Zambia.

During an open meeting with George W. Bush, President Sata said:

The most interesting thing, previously there used to be four great countries: United States of America, United Kingdom, Russia and France. And you have all drifted away; you have abandoned Africa after taking all our raw commodities, our raw materials and build your cities. I mean, as far as you are concerned Africa doesn’t exist. And when we have a former colonialist like you coming back to pay back what you took out of this country we are grateful.

Bush replied:

Mr. President, I don’t want to be argumentative, but America was never a colonial nation. We broke free like you broke free from those who wanted to colonise us. France might have been a colonial nation, Britain might have been a colonial nation, but not the United States of America.

As the story of the gaffe by the Zambian president whose apparent lack of diplomatic etiquette is being noted at most functions involving foreign dignitaries and Zambians abroad went international, past president Rupiah Banda issued a direct apology to President Bush on behalf of Zambians.

Following the direct apologyto President Bush, the State House responded:

President Sata welcoming former American President George Bush to State House in Lusaka

President Sata welcoming former American President George Bush to State House in Lusaka. Picture via State House website.

…my light-hearted conversation with former president Bush should not be an
occasion for cheap political scoring by Mr. Banda. As a matter of fact, this is not the first time that I was hosting former president and Mrs. Bush. And I am very grateful that they chose to pay us two visits in a space of six months, which clearly indicates the cordial relations between the two countries and former president Bush’s personal commitment to our country.

On a Zambian Watchdog story, “Sata Warns RB”, one reader calling himself Unza Dizzy, had this to say:

It’s confirmed. He was just joking. HE CNP [Chimbwi No Plan or Clueless Hyena, a reference that has stuck on the president after an opposition leader called him that] is supposed to be running Lusaka play house and not the county. As the head of state how could he always be joking in the midst of wide spread poverty in the country?

Another reader, Ulemu Niwabwino, wrote:

Oh LOrd save our souls! How can Sata tell RB to behave as a mature adult when his behaviour keeps causing embarrasment to most of us? That behaviour with Bush if it was a joke was ill-timed and uncultured. It was a coarse joke (jesting) which is not befitting for a president. This is bad sense of humour please twapapata [we beg you]. Learn to censor your jokes. Finally threatening RB is uncalled for as the many of us who feel disappointed will speak through the ballot come 2016.

In comments under the link of a UK Daily Telegraph story posted on Zambian Voice Facebook page, Comrade Daaram Simakungwe wrote:

I think someone must remind our president that in his new job as kateka [head of state], his words carry so much weight..He must be reminded that “Jokes” are for off camera talks and not mu [in] public…Every week, there is a blunder involving HE Sata. He is not the first president of Zambia and he is not the last. He must conduct himself like a Diplomat..

George Bush painting a clinic used to screen and treat cancer in Kabwe, Zambia. Photo courtesy of

In another comment on the same thread, Comrade Daaram Simakungwe, wrote:

How can you joke that USA is giving back to Africa through a small Clinic in Kabwe? USAID has been the pillar of so many projects in Zambia and Health and Education Depts.. Just because China is giving money doesnt mean we should belittle our other sponsors..Even a big chunk of our National Budget is stil foreign sponsored.

One tweep was not lost on the catastrophe of putting two gaffe-prone leaders, Michael Sata and George Bush in one room:

@NicoleJohnston: Bush and Sata in one place at the same time? Surely puts planet at risk of dangerous stupidity overload? @snkowani …

Another tweep writes:

‏@steadydivine: I really Hope our President doesn’t Land us In trouble with His Mouth, he makes Personal statements, But they…

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