University dragged into African political mudslinging

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A prominent Zambian politician has faced substantial criticism in the Zambian press after giving a lecture at Oxford University.

Michael Sata, who has served as leader of the Patriotic Front – the main opposition party in the nation – since its inception in 2001, has been accused of faking his trip to speak at a workshop hosted by the University’s Politics Department in a bid to garner publicity.

Current President Rupiah Banda, who beat Mr Sata in the highly contested 2008 Presidential race, claimed that the opposition leader had “lied” about his invitation to speak at the day-long Democracy, Populism, and Opposition Politics in Africa Workshop on 2nd May.

Dr Nic Cheeseman, a fellow at Jesus who acted as one of the event’s organisers, commented: “The controversy surrounding Sata’s visit demonstrates the deep politicisation of the media in many African states.  On the one hand, the opposition media sent reporters and cameramen to cover the trip, and gave Sata’s talks prominent coverage, seeking to depict him as a responsible leader respected in the west.”

“Conversely, the rest of the print media, which is broadly aligned with the government, set out to spread rumours about the trip that were deliberately designed to smear Sata’s reputation.”

A Zambian non-governmental organization, which has in the past been highly supportive of the Banda administration, has also levelled claims that Mr Sata’s trip sought fundraising support from UK-based LGBT groups. Homosexuality is still a crime punishable under Zambia’s penal code.

Henry Mulenga, the Executive Director of The Gallant Youths of Zambia told the Zambian Watchdog: “We are very disappointed to hear that Mr Sata has travelled to London to seek money from gay activists for his political campaigns. This is very sad news for a Christian nation like Zambia.”

Dr Cheeseman, a University lecturer in African Politics, described efforts to criticise Mr Sata for supposed links to LGBT activists the “saddest” aspect of the criticism the Patriotic Front leader has faced following his appearance at a University event.

He went on to say: “In some ways it says less about Sata or Zambian politics and more about recent attempts by some media outlets and political leaders on the continent to manipulate local controversies over homosexuality for their own ends.”

A postgraduate student who attended the workshop commented: “I thought the organization of the Michael Sata event and the entire conference were superb.”

Although he confirmed that Sata was in fact present at the event, the student went on to add that his speech had been disappointing, saying: “Throughout the entire conference, he was heralded to be an Obama-like politician, someone who could change Zambian politics for the better. In person, however, he came off as brash, dismissive and condescending.”

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