Feb 6, 2012

Crash and Burn

Recent history has shown a recurring theme with prominent women politicians in Zambia – the brighter the flame, the more spectacular the proverbial fall from grace. The most recent example is our former minister of Education and chief government spokesperson, Dora Siliya. Up until September 20, you couldn’t avoid hearing something coming from her. Granted her position as chief mouthpiece put her out there, but her personality and swift ascent within the party ranks definitely added to whole package and you could not avoid her!

Ms Siliya had a very active Facebook account, which was constantly updated with news of her travels as MP and Minister, in addition to examples of how our government was working for the people. This invited all manner of debate with followers of her account, and quite frankly there was never a dull moment. Fellow blogger, Gershom Ndhlovu, did an interesting write up for Global Voices which brought even more attention to this “social media-savvy minister” to the outside world. See the article here.

Now, let’s fast forward a couple of months, and all is silent; there are no Facebook or Twitter updates. She’s currently under investigation for abuse of office on matters relating to the awarding of contracts during her tenure as Minister of Transport and Communications. There’s also a different matter of stolen property which led police to raid her home late last year and interrogate her twenty-something year old son. Needless to say, things aren’t looking good.

It’s not entirely clear at this time how these matters will play out and if a court case will result from the investigations. But regardless of which, it’s a dramatic shift in fortunes for someone at her level. I won’t speculate if her political career has totally crashed and burned, but I will say this much – if she can come back from this, I’ll be amazed.

I say this because she has been pilloried in public not only for the accusations of wrongdoing in her previous positions in govt but also because of her private life. There was a particularly nasty incident during the election campaign in which she addressed old rumours of her highly publicised failed marriage and proceeded to air dirty laundry in public. A mountain of scorn rained down on her, and this further ignited vicious talk about loose morals and so forth.

Dear reader, you don’t need me to talk about what happens to a woman publicly branded with the scarlet letter, do you?

I can’t help but wonder if she was used as a handy pit-bull by the party establishment to further their own ambitions. This wouldn’t be the first time – look at the MMD’s first National Chairperson for the Women's Affairs Committee, Princess Nakatindi Wina. In her heyday, she was also at the forefront publicly castigating opposing voices, including the National Women’s Lobby, and championing her party’s virtues despite evidence to the contrary. When she stumbled and fell out of favour, it didn’t take much for her to be closed out of the ranks and face serious charges in court. Today, she’s a mere shadow of the juggernaut she once was. Where others (read male politicians) have reinvented themselves, she is an example to young women such as me as to how treacherous politics can be when you’re sitting that close to the seat of power.

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