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Wednesday, 23 September 2009

An Incentive for Posterity

Emmanuel Mwamba (Second Republican President Frederick Chiluba's Press Adviser) has written a somewhat diplomatic review of Amos Mapulenga's biograph of the Third Republican President Levy Mwanawasa. I have read the book, thanks to a good friend who managed to provide a copy. There are no plans to write a formal review, but the door is open to others to send across their own reviews or respond to Mr Mwamba's assessment :

Levy Patrick Mwanawasa - An Incentive for Posterity, Emmmanuel Mwamba, The Post, Commentary :

When I learnt that Amos Malupenga, managing editor of The Post, was granted a rare privilege to author President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa’s official biography, I personally congratulated him for the honour.

I felt Amos was qualified to write the biography owing to the relationship he enjoyed with the Mwanawasas (Levy and Maureen) at a professional and personal level. I also felt that probably president Mwanawasa could trust him with information and personal material that would help him write the book. This is a critical ingredient in a biography. The subject has to freely give personal and detailed account of his life, trusting that the information will not be abused or misused.

My feelings were further augmented by a quest by many that Zambians ought to pen their own history. A dangerous trend has emerged where everything about Zambia and her people is done by foreigners. It has become increasingly distasteful to see many foreigners branding themselves as ‘experts' on Zambia but who are clearly disconnected from the life and times of Zambia and its people.

The book

The book has 12 chapters. The foreword was written by President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, who had come to know president Mwanawasa through his official engagements and during the many talks they had over the Zimbabwean crisis.

The book traces Mwanawasa’s life from his early and formative days to his school life at Chiwala Secondary School and later his University of Zambia days. It also recounts his professional and political life concluding with his demise.

Amos had the misfortune of writing a biography that was cut short by the cold hand of death of the subject. He was forced to conclude the book under the circumstances. However, the book doesn’t read like an unfinished project.

Mwanawasa granted Amos with liberty, access to information and persons. He was only ‘warned’ to keep away from state secrets!

The book is an interesting piece to read owing to the simple and narrative manner and style Amos took. Most books are difficult to read as authors want to colour their writing styles with flowery or technical language. In fact, many experts state that ‘’to write simply is to write well.

I have read books by other Zambian writers and some books make terrible reading! There are few good local books that are written well. Authors such as John Mwanakatwe, Andrew Sardanis and Francis Kaunda can count in this fortunate category.

Amos’ book is not one you could flip through and hope to get the gist of the story. Some critical facts appear unannounced and without warning. The reader is therefore advised to take time and read everything!

The contributors

The book was enriched by several contributors. Contributors ranged from Dr Julius Sakala, who gave Mwanawasa his first job as an intern at Ndola City Council, to his nemesis Patriotic Front (PF) leader Michael Sata. Others are his former vice-presidents: Enoch Kavindele, Dr Nevers Mumba and now Republican President Mr. Rupiah Banda.

More contributors were Jack Kalala, Dr Simon Miti, Anderson Chibwa, Mutembo Nchito and Mark Chona.

Mwanawasa’s spouse, Maureen, and their children also gave valuable contributions.

Akashambatwa Mbikusita Lewanika gave his views that have become popular with the book. He also gave an ideological perspective of Mwanawasa’s rule.

Dr Simon Miti defended his and other doctors’ decision to declare Mwanawasa fit and proper to hold office even under the circumstances of his first stroke. Miti also talked about the difficult decision made to evacuate Sata after a serious heart attack he suffered in 2008.

Sata, who was a fierce critic of Mwanawasa at the time and a source of grievous pain to his family, also made his justifications about their political differences dating back to 1991.

Rona, Mwanawasa’s sister recounted how painful Sata’s utterances were and insists up to now, that Mwanawasa should not have reconciled with Sata. She refuses to ignore or forget Sata’s political attacks on her brother, especially the insensitive comments about Mama Myria Mokola’s death (Mwanawasa’s mother).

She insists that the reconciliation between Sata and her brother should be deemed as personal and did not extend to the Mwanawasa family.

Children Miriam, Matolo, Jackie (though a nephew, grew up in the Mwanawasa household); Chipo, Patrick, Lubona and Ntembe gave detailed personal account of the man and father they called ‘Tiger’.

Their comments are mostly jovial when they talk about the life they shared with Mwanawasa but painful and sorrowful when discussing his demise and absence. For example, Ntembe knew her father so well that she even remembers his favourite television programme - Isidingo!

Miriam, Mwanawasa’s eldest daughter, also gave a memorable account when she recalled her father’s social advice regarding men and how dishonest they can be. She recounts her personal experience with labour minister Austin Liato, the father of her first-born child, who showed affection and love when Mwanawasa was alive. This man in fact, even paid lobola for her but has since shunned her and her daughter after the death of Mwanawasa.

Liato is accused of abandoning even the care and child support of his own daughter and this makes Miriam recollect her father’s advice and caution that now rings loudly true.

She also recounts how her father saved her life when she suffered without suspicions, meningitis, while she was in the USA.

Maureen’s comments are however, guarded and reasoned through. She clearly was attempting to carefully typify and present an acceptable Mwanawasa.

She seems preoccupied with portraying Mwanawasa as a strong, principled and clean man who was so committed to the ideals of serving and saving a country even at his own expense and life. She comes out as Mwanawasa’s best cheer leader.

Yet Mwanawasa himself speaks candidly and with clear abandon. Mwanawasa did not seem to worry about the effect of his own words but he was intent to communicate his life and views in a frank manner. For example, Mwanawasa gave what would be regarded as unkind remarks about UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema, who he viewed as an opportunist, a cheat and one that was not truthful.

Mwanawasa regretted that Hichilema held so much promise but was not truthful and he felt that he missed a great opportunity to work with him.

The worst commentators were Dr Nevers Mumba and Enoch Kavindele whose own speeches after their fall-out with Mwanawasa were so strong but do not bear the resemblance of their new views they gave in the book. Their views are so muted and careful as if measuring and fearing unknown consequences if their true views and account about Mwanawasa. Remember, this book was written when Mwanawasa was alive and Amos refused to take new views after his death as he saw a shifty behaviour in some contributors.

Aka’s comment

It is for this reason that Akashambatwa Mbikusita Lewanika, popularly known as Aka, provided refreshing comments that are so welcome. He gave those strong views when Mwanawasa was alive but gave an account he could defend in private and in public.

Aka, for example, defines Mwanawasa as a professional who struggled to get out of the confines of his narrow legal perspective. He defines Mwanawasa’s law practice as a money-making venture that had most of the times ‘’nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with social programmes altogether.

He described Mwanawasa as a product of UNIP who was following its brand of nationalism. Further, he saw a conflicting Mwanawasa who sometimes sided with employers - a capitalist tendency. He however discloses that though Mwanawasa projected a tough and dictatorial image, he in fact loved debates and challenges, though most of his colleagues did not recognise this quality.

Aka has earlier in the book portrayed Mwanawasa as a conformist and not a revolutionary, a manager (a status quo leader) who was not keen to change anything but merely corrects or improves things. He showed a Mwanawasa who merely got a technical certificate of education (law) and refused to grow out of that box even when times and circumstances demanded for a leader who had a broader perspective and could deal with people and difficulties in a realistic manner.

Aka also comments about the formation of the MMD and Chiluba’s role. In his review of the 1990 Garden House meeting and the struggle for multiparty democracy, Aka portrays second Republican president, Dr Frederick Chiluba as a reluctant revolutionary who was not keen to take enough risks to bring about immediate change. He cites the case of invitation letters to the meeting that should have been done by Chiluba.

Chiluba is said to have relegated this duty to his secretary Newstead Zimba who consequently refused to use ZCTU letter heads and did not sign the letter at all. He portrays Chiluba as one who was concerned about government’s constant threat to stop workers’ contributions to ZCTU. He recounts how he proceeded to host the meeting after a heavy drink of brandy with Remmy Mushota and a night spent listening to recorded speeches of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jnr.

He remembers that Chiluba and Chitalu Sampa came to the meeting after 11:00hrs, when in his view, learning that the meeting was not disrupted nor where they arrested! (And he also mentions Chiluba’s maroon suit he was dressed in, with a tone of scorn).

Aka’s views, whether they are a reflection of the truth, are the most memorable and exciting ones as they portray a speaker determined to communicate his views even at the risk of losing friendships and relationships.

President Rupiah Banda describes a Mwanawasa who is moulded by his law practice. He stated that Mwanawasa demanded for evidence when you gave him a report about a matter or a person. These comments seem to summarise many people’s view that characterise Mwanawasa as being influenced heavily by his law practice and he dealt with matters like he was in a court of law.

Mwanawasa’s views about Chiluba and Zimbabwe

Mwanawasa’s interesting comments are about the two subjects that made him famous with the West. The Chiluba and Zimbabwe issues! He strongly parries allegations that he was doing and towing a donor’s agenda when he embarked on the two programmes.

He goes to a large extent to show how he loved Dr Chiluba. He stated that the fight against corruption had alienated him from Chiluba who he regarded as a dear friend who rescued during periods of his life.

His conflicting personality comes to the fore when he discusses and defends the reasons and circumstances that forced him to pursue Chiluba. He felt that he treated Chiluba better than (Chiluba) had treated Kaunda.

On Zimbabwe, Mwanawasa discusses with pain the difficulties he faced on the position he chose to pursue despite the clear stonewalling he faced from his colleagues. SADC heads of state chose to treat Mugabe with kid’s gloves under their policy of Silent Diplomacy.

The regional leaders refused to publicly condemn Mugabe’s undemocratic practices even when the principle of SADC demanded so. Mwanawasa appeared naive especially when he became SADC chair where he chose to issue unilateral and condemnatory statements against Mugabe even when the past record of his colleagues is well known on the matter.

Mwanawasa met the wrath of a well-orchestrated propaganda machinery of Mugabe when he chose to invite Morgan Tsvangirai and attempted to accord him access to the emergency Heads of State Summit in Lusaka. Whatever the case, this meeting was a summit of heads of states and Mwanawasa in his usual way fell back on his law practice, and tried to give ‘both sides’ a chance by inviting Tsvangirai so that he could state his position too!

Mwanawasa recounts how he felt betrayed by Thabo Mbeki when Mbeki ‘supported’ him on the phone but refused to restate the same position in the meeting.

Mwanawasa only received unequivocal support from Botswana’s President, Ian Khama who suffers similar constant accusations that he is an imperial pawn.

The book however descends to a level of patronising towards the end when it steeps into material only good for memorials. Maybe this can be forgiven as this is a section for the author’s epilogue and appendix.

Conclusion

When you strip away the prejudices against Amos and The Post, you realise that this is a good book and a worthy investment. This was Amos’ own initiative though it rides extensively on the infrastructure of The Post. The Post and Mwanawasa had an uncanny relationship where the paper formed part of Mwanawasa’s strong core of allies.

Amos’ narrative style has distinguished itself and the book makes good reading. It meets international packaging and presentation standards. Though the volume is small (296 pages), it was a serious attempt to do a good job.

Some people felt that The Post or Amos can only white-wash Mwanawasa’s legacy but the contents of book betrays those feelings and distinguishes itself as a scholarly piece.

Although it leaves out most of the criticisms Mwanawasa faced vis-a-viz, his 2001 election victory, the constitution-making process, his own corruption allegations, and the strong but invisible hand of Maureen in his presidency, the issues appear left out not deliberately but because the subject demised midstream.

Amos’ fair and objective approach of including and balancing Mwanawasa’s view with those affected gives you an impression that this was not a piece designed for propaganda but a book competing for worthy attention.

He bothered to get the views of Ms Ann Ziba (Mwanawasa’s first wife) and Michael Sata. Mwanawasa spoke strongly on the issues affecting these persons.

For example, on the subject of the fight against corruption and a matter that seems to be Mwanawasa’s notable legacy, Amos did not get Chiluba or his views in the book, but uses excerpts of Chiluba’s interview to M-net’s Carte Blanche, as a way to balance out Mwanawasa’s views. Although Amos did not get the co-operation of Chiluba on his book project, he should have spoken to or sought the views of Faustin Kabwe, Richard Sakala, Katele Kalumba, Stella Chibanda or any of the generals who suffered the brunt of this fight and are known victims of Mwanawasa’s central policy. This could also have countered those views spoken by Mwanawasa himself, Mutembo Nchito and Mark Chona.

The book is but pricy. Similar works of international standing such as biographies for Bill Clinton, Hillary, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki are cheaper in comparison. This a local book though printed in South Africa, therefore we are expected to obtain it fairly cheap. I might not be privy to the costs that were sunk in this project but many keen readers have commented about the high price.

Amos has dedicated this book to freedom of speech and expression. I hope my views will be respected!

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