The Dirty Politics of Africa: The Case of Zambia

(Part One)

By Theodore T. Hodge

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

January 24, 2003

Many of us observers of the African political scene were shocked to learn that Dr. Kenneth Kaunda had been banned from running for his country's presidency. Banned because he was not considered a Zambian citizen. Not a citizen of the country whose founding father and head of state he had become since its inception? Not a citizen of the country whose president he had once been for over thirty years? How could such a preposterous notion be taken seriously? Well, to the casual reader, let me let you in on a secret: This is Africa, where the most preposterous notions are commonplace in the name of politics. It has been demonstrated time and again that when some of these ruffians and ragamuffins taste power, they'll go to the most extreme to keep it - that's the rule!

So was the case with Mr. Frederick Chiluba who became Zambia's second president. You see, after Dr. Kaunda became the first president, he reasoned that the country did not have the political maturity to become a multi-party state; he essentially turned his country into a one-party state. This move guaranteed his re-election to successive terms. Eventually, a constitutional fight ensued in the Zambian parliament. Dr. Kaunda and his allies lost. Zambia had finally become a multi-party state.

In the ensuing elections, Dr. "K", as he is affectionately known, lost to a tireless political activist and trade unionist, Mr. Frederick Chiluba, who although standing only about five-feet in height now perceived himself as Zambia's new giant. However, it was only after serving one term that the citizens of Zambia soon became disillusioned with their new president whose administration was neck-deep in massive corruption.

President Chiluba himself was said to be the personal orchestrator of gigantic and corrupt deals, which robbed the Zambian people and its national treasury and enriched him beyond belief. The Zambian people, as another election approached, considered voting him out of office. But he wouldn't have it.

Kaunda, the man who Chiluba had beaten at the polls seemed like a safe and acceptable alternative this time around. He announced his candidacy to contest the elections. Mr. Chiluba countered by announcing that a plot to overthrow his government had been uncovered. Behind the plot, he claimed, was Dr. Kaunda, the nation's founding father!

Dr. "K" was immediately placed under house arrest with his wife Betty, and allowed visits by his children and grand children once a week. As if that wasn't enough, the most ludicrous scheme was hatched. It was announced that Dr. "K" was banned from running for the presidency because, it was discovered, he wasn't even a citizen of Zambia! It was realized that Dr. Kaunda's parents had originally come from Malawi. The constitution was manipulated to stipulate that unless once parents were both born Zambian, one couldn't be considered a Zambian citizen.

Chiluba went on to serve two terms before he hit a constitutional roadblock. The newly amended national constitution, which now allowed a multi-party democracy, did not allow a three-term bid for the presidency. But despite widespread and vociferous opposition to his third-term bid, including from members of his own cabinet, Chiluba won an initial victory. At a controversial convention, the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) party voted to change its constitution to allow for a third term.

Chiluba, we are told, seemed to be taking the upper hand when, two days after the convention, he permanently expelled nine cabinet ministers - including the country's Vice President, Christon Tembo - for opposing the third-term bid. In all, according to reports, twenty-two of Chiluba's opponents in the party had been expelled from the convention!

But the former vice president did not take his former boss' bullying lying down. He fought back by organizing a new political party and contesting the elections from which Mr. Chiluba had finally withdrawn. But Mr. Chiluba had already handpicked a successor, his new vice president, to succeed him. There were reported widespread electoral irregularities; in the end, Zambia's new president was now Mr. Levy Mwanawasa, according to Mr. Chiluba's wishes.

But like they say, what goes around comes around. Chiluba was finally out of the presidency and had to face accusations that his father had originally come from Zaire, meaning he, too, wasn't a Zambian. Before leaving the presidency, Chiluba threw his wife, with whom he fathered nine children, out of the State House after accusing her of having an affair with a prominent businessman of Indian descent. A bitter divorce ensued before settling and paying her millions of dollars - the people's money, I might add.

The people had sent him from the State House to the doghouse. That's where he belongs with his illegally obtained wealth, in my opinion. One thing to his credit, though, he had the decency not to start a civil war just to hold on to power. Meanwhile, the affable Dr. "K" remains an honorable man respected worldwide while Chiluba's legacy seems closely linked with corruption. He is seen as the man who left State House much richer than he had gone in, but left his country much, much poorer.

It may interest some of readers to know that before President Chiluba finally left office, being the mastermind that he is, he managed to manipulate the Zambian parliament one more time. He convinced them to pass a resolution granting him immunity from prosecution. A legal battle, however, ensued in the aftermath to examine the merits of the so-called immunity. At one point he was placed under house arrest to prevent him from fleeing the country and to protect him from becoming a victim of vigilantism.

NOTE: This is intended to be a four-part series chronicling some of the tyrannizing abuses of power in present-day Africa. Zambia is a south central African country. Our next example will highlight the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) in west-central Africa under the leadership of dictator President Dennis Sassou-Nguesso. We will next examine the genesis of the present crises of the Ivory Coast in West Africa before ending with Liberia, a neighboring country under the dictatorship of King Charles Taylor.