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Monday, 13 October 2008

Re-evaluating Mwanawasa's legacy, 3rd Edition

Malama Katulwende returns with more examination of Levy's legacy following on from his previous controversial piece . This seems to have the "critics" in mind.

Re-inventing ‘Levi’: Mwanawasa as a memory site, Malama Katulwende, UK Zambians, Commentary:

It is not so long ago when I debated David Gordon’s concept of how societies remember. Citing the case of the Lunda aristocrats of Mwata Kazembe in pre-colonial north-eastern Zambia, I argued that individuals who control the material conditions of life also control the official version of what society ought to remember. The status quo, together with other dominant power groups who coerce people into conformity, submission, collective identity and nation-states, construct and appropriate social memories across space and time for their legitimation. They subject alternative social narratives and discourses of the citizenry to silence and oblivion. In the present disputation, then, I propose to look at the most interesting criticism of my article, “Measure for measure: Levy’s ‘legacy’ on trial” in terms of memory sites. Which memories need we construct to constitute a ‘past’ from which to draw our ideologies, cultural and social constructs, identities and ethnicity? Should we rely on heresy, advertisements, state radio, television and newspapers, or should we place our confidence in what politicians, party-cadres and all kinds of demagogues tell us? How are we to reconstruct and re-invent Mwanawasa as a site of memory? Is what we are told about his ‘legacy’ a correct reflection of what our history has been?

A number of people have been critical of my previous article. Geremy, for example, has actually accused me of being an immature, disenchanted idiot with a secret ambition of running for political office, an accusation I regard as farfetched. Others have suggested that for all its pretensions, my work was equally fallacious in asserting that Mwanawasa did nothing for Zambia. They argued that the article was one-sided, subjective and lacking in accurate statistics to support my assertions.

Now the article in question did not (in whole or part), assert categorically that the late Republican President of Zambia, Dr. Levy Patrick Mwanawasa had absolutely done nothing for the country. The core of my argument was to demonstrate the hypocrisy and lack of sincerity of some Zambians in appraising Levy’s legacy. I was merely disputing popular rhetoric with material facts as I saw and understood them. I did not have to manufacture the points I was disputing since these were already given and therefore self-evident.

Yet as everyone will recall, the ‘legacy’ of Mwanawasa’s past - which has now extended beyond sentiments of nationalism and ethnicity - found expression in a profusion of titles such as were to transform the potentate into a national monument and memory site overnight.

Almost at once - as in a concert of national guilt and irrational frenzy - Zambians described the late president as ‘a greater fighter against corruption’, ‘a democrat’, ‘a great son of Africa’, ‘a great visionary who transformed the economic and political fortunes of Zambia,’ ‘a great leader who upheld the rule of law and united the nation’, and some such drivel. Plagued by anguish and complete disbelief, they poured out a deluge of hypocrisy and psychical wishes that they had forgotten to say when Mwanawasa was alive. Their silence suddenly transformed into ‘truth.’

The real question, however, is not whether such sentiments might not have been expressed at all but whether affirmations of this sort have some basis in fact. To what extent can it be said - with a straight countenance - that every praise and title uttered about Levy is historically correct?

In logical analysis a given proposition or theorem is rendered uncertain if some particular instances can be demonstrated to be inconsistent with the premises. For example, given that a circle is a set of points whose distance from the centre is constant, then any point p which does not lie on the circumference of the circle is not defined by the property of circularity. It is excluded in the definition.

To take yet another practical example; Laplace’s doctrine that everything in nature could be accurately measured and predicted was proved false when Heisenberg demonstrated that in a given fluid system such as heat emissions of particles, the more accurately one tried to measure the position of a particle, the less accurately one could measure its speed, and vice versa. This is the uncertainty principle which led to the reformulation of Newtonian mechanics in terms of quantum mechanics. In a word: there is an unavoidable element of randomness or unpredictability in nature.

Now let us suppose that the late president was a sum of all these titles and praises. If this is indeed the case, then it follows that we need to justify why, for example, the majority of the Zambian electorate rejected Mwanawasa in two previous elections. How could they have cast their vote for opposition leaders unless they had understood that the incumbent leader had failed to address electoral issues around economic performance, good governance and raising the standards of living for the majority of the citizenry? Can it be argued that the voters did not understand their circumstances in life and therefore voted wrongly?

On the 11th January 2004 the Post newspaper quoted Mwanawasa as saying: “When I took over office, there were a lot of attacks on me. Some said I was a cabbage…I was unhealthy…I will die in three months after taking over power. Am I dead? What you are seeing is a healthy specimen of humanity.”

These “attacks” were certainly not without justification. Mwanawasa was indeed a ‘cabbage’ - in the sense of someone who was very sick - or a ‘spent force’ as Dr. Nevers Mumba once described him. His reign, I am afraid, was not as productive as some want us to believe.

In February, 2004, for instance, the Oasis Forum (which represented the Law Association of Zambia, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, the Zambia Episcopal Conference, the NGOCC and the Christian Council of Zambia, respectively), stated categorically that they would not accept the government roadmap over the constitution. Drawing on the failure by former governments to act on previous constitutional review commissions, the Oasis Forum observed that the only way to protect the content of the constitution was to adopt it through a Constituent Assembly.

But rather than create consensus over the constitutional making process, Mwanawasa denounced the Oasis Forum, clergy, civil society, students and ordinary citizens with threats of treason and persecution. It is incredible that a ‘democrat’ could have straddled the entire process and wasted taxpayers’ money and time. Should it have taken nearly eight years to revise a constitution, and were the critics of the late president’s roadmap on the constitution all wrong?

Let us now take the case of the economy, which some presume to be Levy’s legacy. Between 1990 and 1995, Zambia recorded negative growth rates. From 1996 onwards - except 1998 - the country registered positive GDP under the Chiluba regime. It should also be said that although Mwanawasa has been credited with qualifying the country for significant debt relief under the World Bank's Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) debt relief initiative which provided a stimulus for sustainable economic growth in 2005, Dr. Frederick Chiluba started the process of engaging the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. It was Chiluba who first brought some stability to the exchange rate volatility to about 20% in 2001, currency depreciation, high inflation and interest rates. These things were not started off by Mwanawasa overnight. Mwanawasa's New Deal in economic terms was built around what his predecessor had begun. Furthermore, increased foreign exchange availability and inflows from resurgence of copper mining production and exports - which stabilised the kwacha - were not influenced directly by Mwanawasa's regime: it was because of increasing demand of copper from industrialising and emerging markets of China and India.

However, looking at the composition of the country's GDP of 2007, for example, one discovers that it is dominated by wholesale and retail trade - and not the industrial production of finished products for exports. Therefore, I'd like to ask: what 'legacy' has Mwanawasa left in terms of exporting products such as computers, cars, and other kinds of machines? Did he set in motion the wheels of real industrialisation? The answer is "No". Zambia is just some backyard where every country dumps their products. We are just consumers and not producers. We are just some foolish country whose youths are taught Uk based accounts, human resource management, and law. How could a country like this ever develop without emphasis on science and mathematics?

On the 14th of May 2008, the New Nation newspaper reported that Mwanawasa had threatened to fire Zambia Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) president, Leonard Hikaumba should the unions go on strike on account of government’s failure to consult on the New Labour Relations Amendment Bill. Challenging the president on what legacy he would leave for workers, Hikaumba said: “At the end of your term we want to look behind and see what you left for us, we don’t want you to be a mere statistic that left nothing for the workers.”

These words were not spoken by someone who had no idea about the plight of workers. As president of ZCTU, Hikaumba understood exactly the working conditions of Zambians - both in the formal and informal sectors. In spite of ‘sound fiscal management of the economy by His Excellency Dr. Levy Patrick Mwanawasa’, as some MMD party-cadres liked to say, over 70% of ordinary Zambians still live below $1 per day. These high incidences of poverty are captured in censuses by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and in monthly updates by the Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR), respectively. In short, Mwanawasa did not eliminate poverty, after all, despite ‘official statistics’.

I would also want to argue that just like his predecessor, Dr. Frederick Chiluba had been arrogant and irresponsible in disposing of public assets, so had Mwanawasa. In January 2004 the president concluded a ‘deal’ in which Baluba mine was ‘sold’ to J&W for $7.5 million. The company was in receivership and previously run by Binani Group Roan Antelope Mining Corporation (RAMCOZ).

Reacting to the sale, Zambia Alliance for Progress (ZAP) president Dean Mung’omba described the purchase as a mere gift. He argued that it was a joke for a responsible government to sell the mine for that amount when its copper and cobalt deposits exceeded $500 million in value terms. He was correct.

Yet Mwanawasa did not stop there. In very controversial circumstances the Government of the Republic of Zambia (GRZ) partially ‘sold’ 49% stake in the Zambia National Commercial Bank (Zanaco) to Rabobank from the Netherlands in April 2007 for some undisclosed amount. Under the privatisation sale and purchase agreement entered into by Rabobank and GRZ, it was understood that the foreign bank would provide management and technical support to Zanaco in addition to holding an equity interest of 49%. The government holds about 25% share holding interest in the bank through the Ministry of Finance and National Planning, but has now instructed the Zambia Privatisation Trust Fund (ZPTF) to offload and sell 25% shares to Zambian citizens and eligible institutions.

The million kwacha question is: how much was Zanaco sold for? To the best of my knowledge the purchase price has never been agreed upon nor has the bank been ‘sold’ to Rabobank - in the full sense of the word. It has perhaps been given as another gift to a foreign bank. Everything is shrouded in secrecy. Yet in so far asZanaco was a public asset the citizens of this country have a right to know the truth.

Unfortunately, however, there are strong rumours that the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) might sell off other public assets regarded as ‘liabilities’. On this list are Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) and Zambia Telecommunications Company (ZAMTEL), respectively. Ever since theMMD
came into power in 1991 and embarked on the privatisation program, the party has sold off public assets and utilities in the most controversial and irresponsible manner. Mwanawasa’s New Deal government was not an exception.

Now the late president’s legacy has also been said to consist in good governance and the upholding of the rule of law. By ‘good governance’ I understand the act of presiding over affairs of the state in accordance with the law and the tenet of justice for the sole purpose of promoting the public good and happiness for all. By ‘the rule of law’ I understand adherence to the legal statues as provided for in the constitution in the governance of the state. Yet it is not true that the Mwanawasa practised good governance and the rule of law all the time. Let us give two specific examples.

In January 2004 the Post columnist, Roy Clarke wrote a satirical article titled “Mfuwe” in which he laughed at the foibles of an animal king. Upon reading the said article the Home Affairs Minister, Ronnie Shikapwasha issued a deportation order but the High Court Judge, Philip Musonda, granted the writer the stay of execution. As events unfolded, however, MMD party cadres became furious and demonstrated in support of the immediate deportation of the impenitent Roy Clarke. In the process, the cadres severely assaulted Clarke’s supporters in the presence of the state police officers at the High Court. Shocked and stunned, Zambians waited for president Mwanawasa to denounce the violence and order the police to lock up the MMD assailants - but there was silence.

On 7th of January the Post wrote an editorial comment titled, “Rule of law on test” in which the paper was sceptical of the behaviour of the party cadres and the slow wheels of justice. Other writers such as Fr. Joe Komakoma in “Jungle Law” criticised the MMD ruffians and called for action from the police and asked the government to leave Clarke alone. In “Prophet Roy Clarke”, Simon Kabanda argued that what Clarke had been writing about was true.

“Our comrade was merely bringing out the gloomy situation we are in as Zambians. For example, the future is bleak for the majority of children and youths because they drop out of school in all grades and for various reasons…” He bemoaned the depressed salaries of workers and conditions of service.

Another columnist, Neo Simutanyi said in his “Deportation and the rule of law”: “There has simply been no change in the MMD with the coming of Levy. It is still the old MMD with all its baggage bequeathed to it by Frederick Titus Chiluba…”

By the 28th January Levy Mwanawasa was still tight-lipped. This prompted Catholic Archbishop of Lusaka Medardo Mazombwe to ask the president to demand that the thugs be prosecuted. The Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC) general secretary Fr. Ignatius Mwebe also expressed concern with Levy’s continued silence over the matter. Yet it should be admitted that Mwanawasa was not a democrat: he was a lawyer, all right, but certainly not someone who believed in justice. If this were the case, he would surely have been repulsed by the hooliganism of the MMD cadres and demanded justice. Yet he wanted Roy Clarke to be deported because he regarded everyone who was critical of his government as an enemy. On the other hand, the deportation order demonstrated the fact that the MMD government under Mwanawasa was intolerant of ideas and the free expression of one’s opinions. Or is this what Levy's democracy means?

The case of the former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mukelebai Mukelebai is a typical example of Mwanawasa’s disregard for the law. In January 2004 the president fired the DPP and put him on forced leave on suspicions of being compromised…that he had failed to prosecute his former head of state, Dr. Frederick T. Chiluba. Yet according to Article 58 of the Constitution, the president was only empowered to remove Mukelebai from office after receipt of the report of a tribunal appointed for the purpose of confirming that he was incompetent or he was unable to perform the functions of his office by reason of infirmity of body or mind or misbehaviour. This position was articulated by George Kunda, Levy’s Minister of Justice and opposition leader, Brigadier General Miyanda. The latter said in the Post: “The consolation is that Kunda’s position on the DPP is the correct one and Mr. Mwanawasa is totally wrong. Instead of Kunda resigning, perhaps Mr. Mwanawasa should step down because not only has he disappointed Kunda but also his own assistant who issued the first statement on the DPP. He must learn to treat anonymous, unverified reports and desist from acting on impulse…”

This position was supported by the Law Association of Zambia, who said Mukelebai was still DPP unless or until he was removed in accordance with the mandatory constitutional provisions confirmed in Article 58 of the Republican Constitution.

The editorial comment in the Post was titled, “DPP’s challenge to Mwanawasa” read: "President Mwanawasa's leadership or lack of it, is causing us a lot of concern. The inability to resolve any issue of a national character has become endemic. There is a total failure to rise above petty, partisan personal interests on serious matters of the state. This state of affairs is endangering the very existence of this nation and may drive some of our people into anarchy. Between Kunda and President Mwanawasa, they have enough arrogance to alienate the whole country and run serious government programs as if they were personal matters. The country is till reeling from the disturbance of their failure to handle the constitutional review process in a mature fashion. President Mwanawasa's right hand man, Kunda, has alienated all the active stakeholders for this process. This behaviour is now something of a character trait. We cannot accept to be led by people who cannot create consensus even on the simplest matters. If they can't lead, let them go...".

After yielding to pressure from all sections of society, Mwanawasa conceded defeat and allowed for the setting up of a tribunal composed of three eminent judges. Mukelebai was not was not found guilt of interfering in the prosecution of Dr. Chiluba and other suspected of having plundered national resources. He was, however, relieved of his duties and paid full benefits.

There...I can therefore argue that contrary to what popular opinion is suggesting, there are indeed forces that want to rewrite history by attributing fictitious 'great wonders' of work to Mwanawasa. They have named Chembe Bridge in Luapula Province after him as though he had produced money from his pockets to fund it - without regard to the cultural heritage of the area. They have glossed over Levy's inefficiencies and dictatorial tendencies to create a memory site that they want the entire population to venerate. They want voices of dissent to be silent!

It is true that Levy Mwanawasa did a bit for Zambia - for which we should be eternally grateful - yet he was certainly not a 'great leader' , both in praxis and range of thought. He had lived among us and left memories but I am afraid these memories cannot be said to be the attributes of greatness. I am sorry, Zambians, I have very little to recommend him because our country deserves better. I am not content with small changes when we can create greater leaps forward.


  1. This is a detailed analysis that many people have shied away from. Finally someone tells us the truth. Please publish this in the Post Newspaper so that people judge from a more objective angle. I thought i was the only one but like the Americans we need to have 'Change We Can Believe In.' I think RB also has very little to offer and between him and LPM - my vote (went) adn goes to neither. Its time for Zambia to see change.

  2. In our democracy he could only do so much in the time he was in power, he was a humble guy who was connected to big time players, however he never feared them and he governed on priciple and respect for the law as it is written in our constitution don't blame him for what he was blessed with.MHSRIP.

  3. Criticism is all that Zambians are good for. They will not appreciate anything no mattere waht. This is the mindset that we must come out of. If you want alot of Zambians to contribute to a discussion just bring something negative my God you will have a lively debate the whole day. Commend somebody for doing a little good and you have a lot of negative comments. If Levy was a PResident of neighbouring country you have people like the author of the above piece telling the Zambian leaders to emulate him. I am fully aware of Levy's weaknesses but I happy that I can travel around the world and hear positive commments about my country. For this I will be always greatful to Levy. Yes the man had his weaknesses like most of us including armchair critics. For me I am still mourning my President. I wwill strive to remember the good things he did. I thank God that I am Different from the rest of my countryman. I was taught to be positive and focus on a person's strengths. LEVY MYSRIP

  4. I'm sorry, but I take offense to your (anonymously posted) broadside against the people of an entire country.

    As far as Levy Mwanawasa is concerned, people have criticized his neoliberal policies as long as they existed.

    It is a little difficult to say people are just criticizing the policies he put forward, when we are seeing the disastrous effect of neoliberalism worldwide. It turns out that most economists don't believe in trickle down economics at all, no matter how many 'jobs they bring'.

    The writer of the article concludes: I am not content with small changes when we can create greater leaps forward.

    I would agree completely. We have seen the biggest boom in copper prices in history, and yet Zambia, a major worl exporter of copper, has barely benefited from it. And all those gains will erode over the coming months and years, because the government in office failed to capitalize on this economic windfall. And they did so, because they listened to the IMF and their Utopian economic theories.


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