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Friday, 22 August 2008

Mwanawasa and the state of African leadership...

The Economist Magazine has a positive, but very poor review of the President's legacy. In typical Economist Magazine style, the article is written with Robert Mugabe in the background.

Why Africa needs more cabbage, The Economist, Commentary:

ON PAPER, Levy Mwanawasa should never have been president. He lacked charisma, wit or style—the sort of qualities that propel populists to high office in much of Africa. At rallies even his own supporters were fast bored by the former lawyer’s monotone drawl. His ill-health and slurred speech, the results of a car crash, led to nasty jibes about his mental capacity. When he narrowly won his first, disputed, presidential election in 2001, opponents dubbed him “the cabbage”, deriding him as a stooge for others more powerful.

But Mr Mwanawasa, who died this week in France after suffering in June the latest of several strokes, deserves to be remembered more fondly than the showmen who have beggared much of the continent. In the past seven years he made a serious effort to clean up Zambia’s pervasive corruption. At some political risk, he turned against his predecessor and one-time patron, the diminutive Frederick Chiluba, who was charged with 168 counts of theft. Mr Chiluba was convicted of graft in a civil court in London last year. It was a rare success: few African leaders have been held to such account.

Partly because of his anti-corruption drive, investors liked President Mwanawasa. In the past few years, capital has poured in. Zambia’s mineral-rich economy, like others in Africa, has soared and crashed according to the vagaries of world commodity prices. But its recent growth, at a perky 6% or so a year, driven by copper exports, has at least been married to decent policies that kept inflation lowish and helped spread some benefits to the poor. The economy was lifted, too, by tourists and white farmers diverted from Zimbabwe. Thanks to liberalisation and his own stolid efforts, Mr Mwanawasa got unusually large dollops of aid and debt relief.

In 1991 Zambia was among the first in Africa to bring back multiparty elections; it peacefully ditched its liberation leader, Kenneth Kaunda, after nearly three decades. That generally gracious transition (Mr Kaunda was later accused of skulduggery) was followed by Mr Chiluba’s decisionto step down reluctantly in 2002 after the two terms limited by the constitution.

Zambia’s plodding progress could hardly be in greater contrast to the mess next door in Zimbabwe—once Southern Rhodesia to Zambia’s Northern Rhodesia. In the old days, Zambians flocked to Zimbabwe to seek work; now it is vice versa. Robert Mugabe, reliant on his army’s muscle, seems bent on staying on, having smashed his economy. He returned himself to office in June after a violent one-man run-off election. Though he has been holding power-sharing talks with the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who won the first round of the presidential poll in March, he is loth to lose executive power.

Zimbabwe’s crisis may well have been resolved by now if regional leaders had dared to stand up together against the repressive Mr Mugabe. On August 16th, at an annual meeting in Johannesburg of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the 14-country club’s leaders, most of whom also head liberation-movements-turned-ruling-parties, muted their public disquiet at the presence of the 84-year-old despot.

An exception was Botswana’s new president, Ian Khama, who boycotted the event. Mr Mwanawasa, aged 59, was also a rare voice among Africa’s leaders who damned Mr Mugabe’s misrule. Last year he likened Zimbabwe to a “sinking Titanic” and called for the region to demand a change of course. Had he been well, he would have sought to toughen SADC’s stance against Mr Mugabe. Mr Tsvangirai was among the first publicly to lament the Zambian leader’s death.

A new leader, possibly the vice-president, Rupiah Banda, should be elected within 90 days. Afro-optimists hope that Zambia, certainly not Zimbabwe, proves to be a bellwether for the continent. In one respect it is. Though not an oil-producer, Zambia is one of Africa’s biggest recipients of Chinese investment, as the resource-hungry Asian giant pours capital into mining and agriculture. China’s president, Hu Jintao, inaugurated a massive mining-investment zone in the north of Zambia last year. However, among ordinary Zambians anti-Chinese feeling has been growing.

Mr Mwanawasa crowed last year that Zambia, and Africa as a whole, was increasingly taking advantage of Asian interest and investment and called on the West to match it. Seven years of Mr Mwanawasa’s rule has seen some change for the better in Zambia. It is remarkable what a dull diet of cabbage can do.


  1. " I think Rupiah Banda has no new ideas to transform Zambia.

We really should now look to fresh leaders who can raise the bar beyond what Mwanawasa provide...and in truth the Mwanawasa bar is not too high for someone serious to now jump....

Also I think the team is more important than the we need someone who can assemble a good team not just fill it with relatives...if I have any criticism of the late, it was his tendency for nepotism....yes he tackled corruption but failed miserably on nepotism...

Also we can do with someone more bipartisan...

So the question is, what sort of team do we want, and who in Zambia is a uniter rather than a divider?? "

    While I agree with many of Cho's comments above, my question is how feasible is it to get someone better than Mwanawasa? Considering that corruption is a major problem not only in Africa, but in other continents as well, eradicating corruption should be the main priority. Then comes the question of what the role of government is. Should they come up with new ideas to transform Zambia, or leave that to society while providing a conducive background? For a poor country, it takes about 30 years to enter middle income status, South Korea ten years after the end of the Korean war was still poor, however 30 years later it was well on its way to a developed country. Government and the economy can improve over time, in Zambia's case it is still too early to expect major improvements for its population's income, for those expecting much more in a relatively short period of time.

  2. Above Cho's comment taken from "The People's President"

  3. Kafue001,

    I think would probably disagree with the premise of your assessment. I don't think corruption is our greatest enemy, poor institutions are. Basically corruption is just a symptom of many institutional problems. This is why it is actually difficult to find positive correlations between weak growth and corruption.

    As we have discussed many times on this blog (See the many articles list under the corruption "tag cloud"), not all corruption is the same. That is why some countries with high corruption like China and India are performing well.

    By the way even on corruption, Levy's record is not that brilliant. As I have argued many times on this blog, his approach to the Press has not been helpful. If Levy wanted Zambia to be free from corruption he should have widened press freedom e.g. make ZNBC more independent, sold the daily papers and so forth...

    Anyways, I advise you to read the all the posts listed under corruption tag cloud, and you'll get a sense of why I think he's legacy in this area while better than his predecessors remains modest.

    Now in terms of who should succeed Levy, my view is that it is actually better probably to have a miniority that I mean a non-MMD government...wouldn't it be fantastic to have the MMD controll Parliament and another party control the Executive?? Now that would be something new for Zambia.

    Whats your view?

  4. "Now in terms of who should succeed Levy, my view is that it is actually better probably to have a miniority that I mean a non-MMD government...wouldn't it be fantastic to have the MMD controll Parliament and another party control the Executive?? Now that would be something new for Zambia."

    That is a hard one to answer. It could end up like Malawi with deadlock between Parliament and the Executive resulting in delays passing the budget and threatening international aid contributions:

    Developed countries with strong institutions are better able to survive deadlock, I am not sure about poor countries.

  5. I have kept quiet on president Mwanawasa's legacy, out of respect.

    However, what I thought about his legacy is well documented.

    He was not the worst, but there are a lot of things that could have been done that weren't.

    However, The Economist is not one to analyze leadership in Africa, when the companies they claim to report on are not only complicit in corruption, but are the main instruments of corruption in Africa.

    They prop up dictatorships, reward democratically elected governments with instituting policies that at directly detrimental to their own populations such as Structural Adjustment and the Development Agreements.

    More elsewhere...


    "Although Mwanawasa did not want to commit himself to supporting a successor, he had pointed out that he was already grooming one and would choose one at an appointed time "because leaving this task to the democratic forces to choose one was too risky for the country". He died before he could make a final announcement."

    I wonder who he was grooming as a successor.

  7. This seems to be the way things are done with what are essentially one man parties.

    We have seen the same thing when Anderson Mazoka died and the UPND went through it's crisis. Now the MMD, and we'll see the same thing if anything happened to Michael Sata.

    There are practical reasons why leaders don't want to have a clear successor, because during their rule, their leadership becomes open to challenge, which looks like weakness, breakaways follow, etc.

    However, it is an institutional weakness not to have a smooth transition of power.

    There should be an arrangement that leaves the leader of the party very secure in her/his position, but that leaves no room for questioning who the successor will be in case of calamity.

    In other words, the possibility of a smooth transition of power should not be allowed to be used as a threat while the party leader is in office.

    And I think that has not been solved yet - in any party.

  8. And another thing about "The Economist"'s article.

    Can anyone count the number of insults that are being hurled at their own darling in this article?

    Just a thought.

  9. "And another thing about "The Economist"'s article.
    Can anyone count the number of insults that are being hurled at their own darling in this article?"

    They are making fun of those people who insulted Mwanawasa, not Mwanawasa himself. It is satire, a concept not too well understood outside the West, nor in fact within the West itself sometimes.

  10. Kafue001,

    They are making fun of those people who insulted Mwanawasa, not Mwanawasa himself.

    Oh yes they are. Not that I really care, but if this is how they treat their neoliberal darling...

    And I am very well familiar with the concept of satire, which is why I know this is not an example of it, thank you very much.

  11. One thing the MMD must understand is that, Levy told his family that he was grooming the current foreign affairs minister, Kabinga Pande to take over from him. Pande is one fellow who is sober-minded and Levy was sharing a lot with him. Can someone please allow this man chance to realise Levy's dream? Certainly not Rupiah Banda.

  12. Anonymous,

    For 2011 presumably, not 2008?

    I think that is the tricky thing. The person LPM may have had in mind, may not be ready!


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