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Friday, 21 August 2009


As the analysis in recent days has been of FTJ and LPM legacies, I couldn't escape an internal comparison of our four Presidents. Reducing our leaders to a few lines is an impossible task, but we value our freedom to try. So here is my take on how they compare. Would be interested to hear what others think :

Kenneth Kaunda is probably most important President we have ever had. History will certainly remember the Lumpa massacre among his other many dark machinations, as he effortless wielded the iron fist. Not to mention the massive debt accumulated on our behalf. But we cannot ignore the fact that as poor as his reign was, given the threats Zambia faced, he forged a unitary state, albeit through oppression and repression. More importantly he had the grace to step aside when Zambians said "enough was enough".

Frederick Chiluba stands as the most influential president of all the four. All lovers and haters of FTJ agree, no one has fundamentally altered the national apparatus than President Chiluba. His legacy, good or bad, will live on as long as Zambia's name is mentioned. Many of the freedoms we enjoy today are due to Chiluba. Equally much of the poverty is attributed to his policies. In short, FTJ in government and out of government was an activist. Constantly changing things, for better or for his own enrichment. As I write, he's busy moving the chess pieces from the dark shadows like Capablanca.

Levy Mwanawasa was the most lucky : If I had Levy's luck I would own planet Mars. No Zambian President enjoyed such luck as LPM. From the moment he was awaken from asleep to his twenty something percent victory in 2001, LPM was blessed. Under Mwanawasa copper even breached $8000 per tonne, Chinese came bearing gifts, even the Leader of the Opposition Sata smiled! Zambia will never again have such good luck as LPM had. But as every business man knows, in life you make your own luck and that is what LPM did. It is the LPM policies focused on broad based growth that has held us so well in recent difficult times. Unfortunately, within the midst of all this luck, corruption and nepotism was breeding and LPM's public rhetoric on both was not matched by real substance.

Rupiah Banda appears to be more forward looking. The current President has made a number of terrible mistakes , the most notable being : the reversal of mineral taxes; ineffective strategy on corruption; and, poor handling of the media. Some say he appears to lack a clear vision, but we must remember this is the first Government to be governed by what our resident contributor Kaela Mulenga calls the 3Es - a triad of economists at State House, Ministry of Finance and Bank of Zambia. If these three economists fail to turn Zambia around, it will be a while before we get another economic triad. RB's recognition of the Diaspora, prioritization of infrastructure and promotion of more liberal approach to ICT development stands as visionary examples shunned by his predecessors. It is too early to judge whether RB can sidestep the monkeys and deliver, but even his hardent critics probably have to concede that we are still headed in a positive direction since LPM died. The debate is whether we can move even faster!


  1. Tough, but I will take a stab at brevity:

    KK: Demonstrated to the modern world that a Zambian Leader could be strong.

    FTJ: Demonstrated that any Zambian could be a Leader.

    LPM: Demonstrated that any Leader was answerable to the Courts.

    RB: Demonstrating that the Courts are controlled by the Parties.

    RB2/???: Will demonstrate that the Parties are controlled by the People?

  2. To borrow a leaf from American history -
    I would think of super Ken as the great emancipator. He came in when Zambia was plagued with high levels of illiteracy, poor access to health,education, clean water and housing. he adopted polices meant uplift the most zambians out despondence but failed to make the transition to a sustainable policy framework.

    Then came our poor version of JFK, FTJ who roused the spirit of beat down Zambians with euphoric rhetoric. He threw out the baby with the bath water trusting a wholesome embrace of neo-liberal economics to be the answer to all of Zambia's ills. He ended up driving more Zambians in the abyss of poverty and economic dis empowerment.
    The came our Jimmy Carter, LPM the educated baptist ideology who followed the letter of the law and word. Promised to restore power to the people and the established institutions. His fiscal and rule of law adherence brought both economic glimmers and the trust of the people and the international community in Zambia rule of law and no rule of men premise.

    Then came the form of the decider( Bush) , RB ill served by bad advisers he set out on a crusade to stump the media, quash dissent and set the country on a path that will lead Zambia off the cliff by the time his done.

  3. Interesting!

    KK: I think he was also arguably the most determined to uplift Zambians out of poverty, notably due to the infrastructure he built and importance he attached to education. Yes it got us into debt, but how else were we to get the schools, hospitals and all there is today? All that infrastructure is now crumbling!

    FTJ: I'm not sure he'll be remembered as the most influential. His initial charisma and down to earth persona would make folks in Chibolya feel at ease with him, (hence could influence them), but that changed rather quickly. I agree and have argued before that his structural adjustment programme, however painful they felt at the time, turned out to be a 'blessing' for the lucky LPM.

    LPM: With all the luck he got, I think what's important is to get to the bottom of why he did what he did. Questions remain on why he prosecuted FTJ, why corruption and nepotism defied his rhetoric and so on. Answers to these will define LPM.

    RB: Well, opinions of him as "forward looking" and "lacking a clear vision" are clearly at odds. I thought the ICT liberalisation process was started by LPM? Recognition of the Diaspora is to be hailed. Signs of clinging onto excessive Executive powers and influencing the Judiciary are not good. Overall, if FTJ's tenure is anything to go by, then RB is too early to tell.

  4. We still havent found what we are looking for....

  5. Taking the comments in reverse....

    Frank, that would be correct...I would say what we are looking for is not actually a leader...but the correct framework or institutions in which they operate that constrains their choices in a way in which their personality becomes irrelevant. I think my greatest dissapointment with Mwanawasa is that he failed to recognise that a good legacy is leaving behind resilient institutions...

    Zedian, there's a good argument that can be made that KK did not do enough...certainly if you compare him to his contemporary in Botswana, who inherited 2 secondary schools...and no surface roads..I fully agree the LPM story remains largely unwritten...I hope modern historians have been looking to address why LPM did certain things...particularly how his early experiences as VP and subsequent exit shaped his presidency..the role of his wife also remains largely stuff of gossip...

    Kwaninikwanu, I would say I fully share your assessment that RB has poor advisers. His media advisers are particularly very poor. They have given an impression of a government FOLLOWING events, rather than CONTROLLING them. Although we all like to think we want a government that is led by public opinion, deep down I think we want a President that takes charge and is always 2 steps ahead of the rest. In that sense, probably I have given RB more credit than he deserves.

    Yakima, wonderful! But we must remember, there's as yet no PROOF that RB controlled the verdict. I always thought the Task Force were incompetent and a sheer waste of money. FTJ am sure committed many misdeeds, but unfortunately, he also strikes me as a very clever chap! Certainly too clever for the Task Force!

  6. its funny that out of those four, only LPM had no questionable citizenships...

  7. Cho,

    We desperately need historians and biographers in Zambia. We risk losing important records of history quite easily.

    Yes, KK's achievements could be found wanting in comparison to Botswana. But I think that KK's commitment to the front Line States took it's toll on the economy, while perhaps it can be argued that Botswana was not so committed to that effort.

    However, In comparison to other Zambian Presidents, my view is KK did the most in terms of infrastructure. KK had overstayed and eventually run out of ideas which also cost him. Had he served only a decade or so, I think we would have remembered him for the infrastructure he setup in that time, which included Tazara.

    Indeed FTJ is the crafty one. With all the misappropriation he did, his signature does not appear on any document to link him directly, as people already convicted have testified. He asked those people to do things for him. Task force has been outwitted.

  8. Thanks, Cho, for initiating a fascinating discussion.

    My comments are:

    KK was an autocrat with clear ideas.
    He united Zambia.
    He was a champion for African independence.
    He set an example of integrity.
    He built valuable infrastructure, especially in education.
    But his nationalization, state controls and ruinous inflation impoverished the country.

    FTJ made a great contribution by giving us back freedom of the economy and the press.
    But his self-seeking abuse of office did grave damage.

    LPM and RB both lacked KK's integrity and the vision of KK and FTJ. But that was not a bad thing. We need to get away from the great chief syndrome and to decentralize power.

    Zambia's greatest needs now are integrity in government and well run institutions independent of the executive.

  9. Murray,

    Indeed, how could we forget KK's ill-advised nationalisation? Good analysis.

    Personally, I find FTJ's tenure falling into two rather distinct parts. The first term was characterised by very positive changes aimed at dismantling KK's autocratic system of govt, introducing press freedoms as you alluded to, and setting up economic reforms. The goodwill from the general public was with him during that term. He also declared the Christian Nation. All very positive, in my view, and everyone quite happy, except UNIP, unsurprisingly.

    However, the 2nd term proved to be in stark contrast to the 1st. The independent press, which backed his rise to power, suddenly became his enemy no.1. The transparency he had preached, rather religiously, was turning quite opaque. Accountability, once a favourite catch-phrase, soon disappeared from his vocabulary. He also embarked on that ill-fated 3rd term bid, which in his usual craftiness, made it look like he had nothing to do with it.

    Well, I believe all things happen for a reason and hence like to find out the 'why' bit of events and I'd like people to chip in here on FTJ's apparent change of character.

    Did he suddenly realise or think the Zambian people were easy to manipulate so why not do it? Did he think he had too little time to 'get rich quickly', hence the 3rd term bid?

  10. Zedian, yes we are in need of biographers and contemporary historians. Who is documenting Zero Option and Black Mamba? Its fascinating hearing stories about this from those who were involved. But none of these are document. It seems to me we have nearly 20 years of MMD’s rule and no credible book has emerged beside One Zambia, Many Histories. Have you read it? As the book acknowledges, all we tend to have in Zambia are accounts written political players and no independent views. I think these are areas the Diaspora again should be taking the lead. Anyways, I suppose the history is now being written via blogs etc. In 10 – 20 years time, they would perusing through various blogs to understand political events etc. Unfortunately, even now we have very few political blogs! An history blog on Zambia would be fantastic.

    On KK’s legacy, I think he did well to put in place in infrastructure. My problem with KK and Chiluba is simple : VIOLENCE. I really think the litmus test for credible leadership is how one keeps the power they posses at bay. Chiluba used torture and so did KK. These really were cruel individuals! I think that just discounts everything they achieved for me! RB and Mwanawasa for all their failings have never tortured their opponents. Also economically, I think KK had too long period not to create infrastructure. He is also the only President to have inherited Zambia in a superior financial position.

    Murray, is correct about how KK united Zambia, but I would never regard him as a an “example of integrity”. He "united" Zambia though unnecessary repression. Where is the integrity in the deaths of Kapwepwe and others? Where is the integrity in the ambush of the Lumpa Church? Where is the integrity in many others imprisoned?

    I think we have to revisit how KK handed over power. I don’t believe the Jimmy Carter influence story, peddled by Collier and others, but I do think KK was caught by surprise and in a fun sort of way, he succumbed. The shock of the defeat was too much. Many autocrats who fail to handover power, did so because they anticipated defeat. KK didn’t!

  11. Cho,

    "Many autocrats who fail to handover power, did so because they anticipated defeat. KK didn’t!"

    Spot on! He failed to smell the winds of change sweeping from Easter Europe.

    While on the transition from KK to FTJ, if I were to sum it up I would say "Animal Farm."

    Beginning with security forces, FTJ as a Presidential candidate had at least sympathised with the public on their fears of 'terror' at the hands of elements in the secret service and paramilitary police. However, when he ascended to power he kept the status-quo. The only thing he did on security was dismantle the UNIP vigilantes. Remember them?? Yaba! KK's idea of putting a starving and anxious public in order, straight from Communist text-books!

    Yes, we need to document Zero Option and Black Mamba days. It's part of our history and people to deserve to know what happened, to learn lessons if anything.

    I haven't read "One Zambia, Many histories". Will look for it. If you have any leads, do point us to.

    You're right, the Diaspora could seriously put their heads together to look for solutions. Let's have a think about that.

    I'd encourage people to start blogging, anonymously or otherwise, and just pour out whatever they know in any form they wish; short stories, letters, etc.

    Did you see the info that recently emerged on QZ?

  12. Here's someone else's view:

  13. KK am reminded of liberation from colonization, running down of my father's land, poverty and bankrupt economy.
    chiluba- empowerment of the people and people driven entrepreneurship. arrogant president and blunt thievery.
    LMP- restoration of the zambian pride,aimed for good deed not marched with good and sensible plans.
    RB- zambia moving forward,SMEs growing reduction in size of government,relegation of gov to governance, not trustworthy,friend of thieves

  14. We seem to forget ALL the Presidents have not respected freedom of expression and the press. FTJ had no option but to allow liberalization (partial) of the media, but he was no champion of a free media.None of them have been.At best, they have tolerated.At worst they simply repressed.Same old monopoly of state media has continued. Public Service Media is a pipe dream in Zambia.What are they afraid of?
    Building infrastructure is easy, maintaining it is not.What good is it if it is crumbling?
    Please, let us analyse objectively. All we have seen are variants of UNIP through time. Our current president is an example. Our next one will very likely be an example of that too.Why do we have such short memories?
    When communism collapsed in Eastern and Central Europe, the communists returned in different suits and feathers.Changing a system does not necessarily change the political ethics and mindsets of those that take over. That is why we seem to be going over the same old ground with a lot of our politicians.

  15. Spot on Mundia! there has been more continuity than change. The change( In my humble opinion) has happened more by necessity than due to the conviction of the perceived reformers.
    Chiluba - the father of Castro, Miko et al introduced capitalism in Zambia -with Donald Chanda (Zambian Marxist) as Chaperone what irony!. LPM the ultimate beneficiary of Corruption- remember he was awaken at midnight to acquire the presidency- the champion of anti corruption!
    RB the economist now leading Zambia down a blind creek!
    Some day we are going to wake up!


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