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Thursday, 11 September 2008

Re-evaluating Mwanawasa's legacy....

Malama Katulwende puts Levy's legacy on trial, arguing controversially (and fearlessly) "that the untimely death of the third Zambian Republican President, has not only brought profound sadness, grief, guilt, shock and confusion to the first family and the people of this country but also inspired a deluge of hypocrisy and irrationalism over his supposed legacy and estimate". This is the first post Levy burial article that tries to offer a more independent assessment of Levy's legacy and is bound to spark critical assessment from many sides (Hat tip : The Panel on Zed). Excerpt:

Levy Mwanawasa has been hailed as a fighter against corruption. This is correct to some extent. However, let us recall that Mwanawasa himself, prior to his election of 2001 was corruptly imposed on the MMD. Chiluba abused public resources to assist Mwanawasa win the elections. This contention was echoed by all political parties who petitioned the results of the 2001 presidential and parliamentary elections. Moreover, although Mwanawasa's government set up a 'task force' to prosecute persons who had allegedly plundered public resources, the institution had only been targeted at some selected individuals such as the former republican president, Dr. Frederick Chiluba, former Intelligence chief, Xavier Chungu, Former Access Financial Services Ltd (AFSL) Director Faustine Kabwe and former AFSL deputy director Aaron Chungu, and so on, and with very few convictions. The Task Force had no legal framework from any act of parliament either. It was illegal.

On the other hand, Mwanawasa has also been corrupt. For example, the then Director of Public Prosecutions, George Kunda with Mwanawasa's full knowledge entered a nolle prosequi in a case in which former ministry of health permanent secretary, Kashiwa Bulaya defrauded the ministry of billions of kwacha. The Post newspaper blew this story and the entire nation – the Law Association of Zambia, Civil Society, Churches, Student Unions, etc – heavily criticised Mwanawasa's New Deal Government. Ironically, Bulaya was found guilty by the courts and is currently in prison.

To take another example, the country will also remember that Katanga Governor, Moses Katumbi was reported to have swindled the Government of the Republic of Zambia of millions of dollars together with Dr. Frederick Chiluba. This case was in the hands of the Task Force. Surprisingly, however, all the allegations against Katumbi were dropped whereas his fellow accomplice, Chiluba - if Chiluba had indeed committed these crimes - is facing the same charges in the courts of law. Critics have therefore argued that Mwanawasa's crusade against corruption is a farce. It was selective and discriminatory. To this day, Mwanawasa's government has not disclosed why Moses Katumbi has not been prosecuted.

Towards the end of his tenure in office, Levi Mwanawasa became disillusioned with the Task Force and wanted to disband it. There were few convictions or none, he argued, and members of this institution were only interested in the allowances. At a state briefing the president even said that the Nchito brothers had been paid about US $5 million by the state. The Post picked this up and wrote an editorial comment titled, "Was the US $ 5 million paid to the Nchito brothers?" in which they challenged the president to disclose what had been paid to the state prosecutors. Yet their argument was beside the point. Mwanawasa was simply saying that the fight against corruption, in terms of the cost to the government and given the very few or no convictions of alleged plunderers, was unjustifiable. He was frustrated.

It may also been recalled that Zambians have protested against Mwanawasa's 'family tree'. As soon as the man became president, Levi Patrick Mwanawasa systematically appointed his Lenje relatives in key government ministries and embassies abroad. Some names that pop up are Lesley Mbula, a retired civil servant and Mwanawasa's uncle, who became Ambassador to South Africa. His deputy was Mwanawasa's niece, Litana.

Rone Shikapwasha, Maureen Mwanawasa's uncle, who at one time belonged to General Godfrey Miyanda's Heritage Party, was appointed Home Affairs minister after he joined the ruling MMD party. Others are Dora Siliya, Brian Chituwo, George Mpombo, Zambia's High Commissioner in London, the Mapushis, and the truant, Jonas Shakafuswa.

Earlier this year, Jonas Shakafuswa, Mwanawasa's nephew and deputy finance minister, was involved in an ugly brawl at Parliament Motel with a UPND party member of Parliament who bemoaned the high levels of immorality among parliamentarians. The opposition leader debated in the House the issue of 'parliament motel being turned into a brothel.' Shakafuswa threatened to beat up the named UPND leader for disclosing what went on at the motel. He also said that if the opposition leader did not have money to 'slaughter women' he should just shut up. These words infuriated all the women movement in Zambia who demanded Shakafuswa's resignation. Shockingly, however, Mwanawasa did not fire him nor did the Speaker of the National Assembly publish the findings of what happened. The NGOCC and other civil society bodies were stunned.

As a keen reader of Zambia's post independence history, I find this assessment particularly interesting. Not so much for the accuracy (that can always be disputed), but Katuledwe's fearless quest to define Levy's legacy. Levy is certainly interesting because in the past Zambian leaders on all levels have tended to define their legacy for us. They tended to write many books for us, telling us how much they accomplished. The examples are many KK, Sardinis, Zukas, Chiluba, etc . All have penned large unobjective volumes meant to tell us their side of the coin. Levy's legacy probably provides the only real testing ground, in the internet age, for an independent and well researched assessment of what he accomplished. We have a scenario where the President never penned his own story after office. It has been left to those around to debate his real legacy and tell his story.

For too long the intellectual space in Zambia has been occupied by aforementioned 'ego-documents', or in the worst cases, and to use Giacomo Macola's polemical turn of phrase, 'dehumanised and monolithic commemorative monuments' . These books are rarely attempts at objective assessment of what has taken place in the past. We can't for example expect those who support MMD to admit that Levy may have encouraged nepotism, anymore than we can expect members of the Chiluba cabinet to admit to corruption. We therefore need more independent assessment of our history and for modern Zambian historians to take real interest in examining the real legacy of Mwanasawa. If Malama's controversial article sparks interest in independent and critical assessment of our history, then it would have achieved a lot.


  1. My sister attended the mwanawasa funeral at state house and she told me that she found it so shocking that the main players were all familty members i:e the majority of diplomats and ministers not to mention all the unkown local leaders and shoking too that the first lady had an argument in public over the house she was hoping to buy in paris, now in the age of phone cameras etc its a shame that we have to see these things.
    mwanawasa was a good man but he failed to control hes own wife.mwanawasa said zambians forget very easily true, the clans are falling terribly and in two years time it will be a sad story.
    we were told not too long ago how zambia airways was a gold winner of great companies in zambia and now it was just a pack of lies.
    atleast someone is honest.

  2. I have been keeping quiet since the funeral, but let's state the obvious.

    Levy Mwanawasa did not make significant strides in reducing corruption.

    His hiring of family members into positions is legendary. The fact that his daughter was a beneficiary of corruption at he ministry of lands is also a matter of record.

  3. even the bible says no man is perfect. mwanawasa left in his WILL to nation a message appologising for his mistakes and i appreciate the fact that you acknowledge the fact that as much as he was great he had his mistakes to. but lets get our facts right!

    are you going to say all the bemba's in chiluba's government were related to him? your argument is very weak if you are trying to accuse president mwanawasa of despotism. i advise you to get your facts right on things such as Lesly Mbula who is not lenje but lamba. Mbula who had been working for the government years before mwanawasa came in and calling him back to help the nation is not a bad thing considering he is qualified and has experience. why didnt you mention Mutati as a bemba under mwanawasa's government? the easterners, peter daka and cifire? the southerner, magande, others from all over the country such as namugala! mwanawasa's governement has been one of the widespread out of the 3. the increased number of lenjes in poilitics has been seen because they had mwanawasa who was lenje at the top. in terms of relations, the tribe is not as big as the others... i as a lenje (if you wonder how i know so much) can tell you that it is 80% probable that a lenje man who marries a lenje woman is most likely to be related to them in one way or another... or just the mere fact that their great grand fathers shared a village therefore they are assumed to be cousins. this is Africa, please dont display your ignorance or issues that may seem small but very significant.

    as for his daughter mr k. the girl was 31 in that year. a grown up woman who deals with her own issues and business. the fact that she got herself in the mess she was charged and the press covered it. mwanawasa's response was yes she is my daughter but she is old enough to make her own discions. you can only teach a child so much.... and note mwanawasa and his daughter carry the same name but are two different people. just like i would assume you and your parents may have slightly different attitudes and values on some issue. do more research on his daughter and you will see what i mean.

    ladies and gentlemen lets not mislead people and get our facts right.

  4. I see no productive reason to examine the personal life or motivations of deceased politicians, other than for historical curiosity and contention by academics. President Mwanawasa has earned his place in history, and is not available for comment. Unfortunately for the historians he will not be able to provide insight into the notoriously opaque (from a public perspective in real-time) decision-making process of heads of state.

    Many of us have family members we would rather not be publicly associated with, or have been embarrassed by their reactions at weddings or funerals. Be that as it may, the circumstance in Zambia and the world in general is not one which affords us the luxury of replacing pleasantness for truth. President Mwanawasa was a democratically elected official, first among equals, no better in life or death than the rest of us constitutionally. As such, while we can mourn and praise the man without restraint, the Presidency he embodied must be subject to scrutiny else democracy be turned to cult of personality.

    Here I am in complete agreement with the previous anonymous posting, let us not mislead people, and let us get our facts right. Here on the Zambian Economist, Cho has been leading a continuing examination of both the efforts to measure and combat government corruption, and to be frank, long before his unfortunate demise, the President's legacy on the subject was muddied at best.


    Those who would seek to encase him in a tomb of unqualified praise dishonor the society he sought to serve. President Mwanawasa deserves the epitaph of all democratic leaders, to be endlessly doubted, second guessed, and misquoted. Only then can he hope for the immortality of a Lincoln, or Jefferson, or Bolivar, or Lumumba.


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