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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Unequal to the Task? By Elias C. Chipimo Jr (A Review)

By Marja Hinfelaar

‘Even if we are not actively negligent, greedy or corrupt, in so far as we turn a blind eye to the manifestation of these ills in our midst, we become a part of the self-defeating mediocrity that has become woven into the fabric of our national character’
(Elias C. Chipimo Jr.)

Unequal to the TaskIn recent years, an impressive number of biographical works have appeared on the Zambian market. Though very different from one another, all of these works – written by the likes of John Mwanakatwe, Andrew Sardanis, Simon Zukas, Valentine Musakanya, Robinson Nabulyato, and others – are partly animated by the ambition to provide insights into the origins of the economic and social decline that characterized Zambian history from the early 1970s onwards. The theme of ‘what went wrong with Zambia’ is also taken up by Elias Chipimo Jr. However, unlike the above-mentioned authors, Chipimo has an open political agenda. For in Unequal to the Task? the discussion of the country’s (and the author’s own) troubled past serves as a prelude to – and justification for – the launch of a new political party, the evocatively named National Restoration Party.

As he explains in the book, Chipimo’s literary and political engagement was sparked by life-changing, dramatic personal circumstances. In particular, it was the author’s mother’s death and the hospitalization of his father in the UTH following a car accident near Mpika in 2008 that brought home to him the realization that ‘we have accepted abnormal things as being normal until finally, mediocrity and neglect have become widely and comprehensively accepted, whilst corruption and greed have been endorsed as the basis on which we should conduct our public and private lives.’

Born in September 1965, Elias, the third boy in a family of seven, grew up in Lusaka, but also lived in the United Kingdom, where his father served as a diplomat in the late 1960s. Of particular interest to historians of post-colonial Zambia will be Chipimo’s account of his father’s confrontation with the leadership of UNIP in 1980. Kaunda’s furious reaction to the criticisms implicit in Chipimo Sr.’s speech to the Law Association of Zambia had a lasting impact on the family’s standing and fortunes. Indeed, ‘falling out of favour with a head of state in a nation where political leaders are central to many careers can generate an incredible sense of loneliness and despondency.’ While admiring early nationalist leaders for what he describes as their commitment and sacrifice - an attribute that forms part of the moral and political ‘restoration’ that he advocates – Chipimo is no apologist for UNIP. On the contrary, he presents the introduction of the One Party state in 1972-73 as coinciding with the end of ‘independent’ thinking and the beginning of a culture of loyalty politics.

A large section of the autobiography seems primarily intended to demonstrate the author’s credentials for leadership, including the lessons he admits to have learned from past failures. Chipimo thus describes his educational background in some detail. After completing a law degree at UNZA, Elias got a Rhodes scholarship to study Civil Law at Oxford University. This section is followed by a description of his professional career. On his return to Zambia in 1992, he landed a job at Cavmont Bank and, together with Lucy Sichone, set up the Zambia Civic Education Association with the aim of ‘to help everyone remember who the masters [the people] were supposed to be and who the servants [the politicians] really were.’ In 1995, Chipimo inaugurated his own corporate law firm, Corpus Globe. He had realized there would be ample opportunities to provide legal advice to multinational companies which had entered – or were entering – Zambia as a result of the liberalization of the economy under the MMD.

The kernel – and, in all probability, the principal raison d’être – of the book is to be found in the last section: ‘State of the Nation and the challenges ahead’. After examining the record of the MMD regime and its privatisation programme, Chipimo concludes that ‘we were unequal to the task of building the nation beyond the infrastructure developments achieved in the early Kaunda days.’ In Chipimo’s analysis, five key factors have hindered progress in Zambia: ‘poor time keeping, lack of commitment to one’s word, limited vision and insufficient planning, emotion-driven rather than fact-based decision making and a strong sense of dependency.’ ‘Vision 3:3:8’ is Chipimo’s formula to rebuild the Zambian political system. This cryptic slogan alludes to 3 desirable outcomes (Zambia as an energy superpower, the continental centre for major agricultural production and the leading inland infrastructure and logistics hub), built upon 3 pillars (governance, energy independence and modernization) supported by 8 core values (excellence, integrity, responsibility, service, equity, humility, commitment and a sense of community). These ideas form the backcloth against which to judge the launch of the National Restoration Party on 2 March 2010, a party which, in the words of its main animator, seeks to (re)introduce an ‘era of service and sacrifice.’

Chipomo’s book, well-written and filled with fine analogies, reads like motivational literature, and a good one at that. This biographical work is clearly informed by the author’s profound desire to explain his current actions and to inspire others to follow. Like any autobiography, it suffers from a number of omissions; this reviewer, for instance, would have hoped to gain more specific insights into his experience as a corporate lawyer in the 1990s. Political scientists such as van de Walle have pondered over the popularity of autobiographies and Curriculum Vitae as campaign tools. The account of a given leader’s personal achievements – they explain – may well serve to disguise programmatic uncertainties or the absence of clear ideological foundations. The future will tell us whether these characterizations also apply to Chipimo and the NAREP.


  1. This is a very well written review. I would like to read the book. How much does it cost?

  2. The unfortunate part of the 338 Agenda is that the reviewers concluding comments are more to the point.

    Chipimo jnr has failed as yet to connect with the masses,he is an intellectual and a cold one at that.His ubuntu is limited by the template of his parents and his compassion is limited to the Chipimo nuclear family.He has been prodded by his father like Bush jnr to finish what Bush snr failed to accomplish.

    Objective investigations into Chipimo jnr's family affairs would reveal that his party's slogan and so called value system is a farce.He is on record in the files of the zambian government as not being transparent or that honest in conducting affairs of business (was in court with former partner - now cabinet minister)or positions of grave responsibility within family circles.

    At the end of the day the proof is in the pudding and character and not intellect will drive real change in Zambia.Charity begins at home!

  3. These are writings of a future historian..History shall absorb him..

  4. Historians have been known to err in their
    secretarial duties and abilities.The superlative shall apply here.A great historian is one that accurately reads history and extrapolates principles and lessons that are hopefully ingrained in the author as a reflection of society hence the inspiration and traction of the text.He lives what he speaks and writes.There are many authors,tomorrow another
    bright young thing will deliver a more precise and true to form appraisal of our society.It is now application of theory and time will tell to what degree this futuristic historian will make contemporary impact !

  5. Mumbuna Mutelo Ngenda12 October 2011 at 15:53

    The elections have passed and we saw Mr Chipimo fare not too badly.The ground intelligence is speaking of popular and engaging persona,however voting someone into state house is a very serious issue.We know that in the main Sata is a disciplinarian and is very paternalistic.Chipimo junior will have to undergo further scrutiny and if by accurate reports from the current administration the former lawyer is facing legal suits from his own close relatives over the estate of SDP president Gwendoline Chomba Konie together with Clive Shamwana of Eight Reedbuck who is entangled in a web of conflict of interest and dubious interpretation of the lates Will where Shamwana though not a lawyer finds himself running his late fathers clients work !Chipimo in this affair has not appeared for summons by the Ministry of Justice and five letters in total have been served on him and Clive Shamwana this is contempt of court.The zambian public deserve to know who Chipimo really is behind his suave front.As a reporter having seen certain documents Mr Chipimo is in for graduation to the real world and real values that he so professes.Smacks of hypocrasy very disappointing.

  6. Mr. Chipimo reminds me of the combination of HH and N. Mumba when they began their political career. We all know what happened there. If Mr. Chipimo's career is going to soar above his many adversaries, present and future, he should let us know who's side he's on.So Mr. Chipimo, are you a Christian?

  7. Execellent work Mr Chipimo, you inspire a great deal of us youths.......

  8. Yes Chipimo tell us more about your personal successes and pitfalls in your career that shape your character and not looking elsewhere for impetus to your political ambition.

    His ubuntu that is limited to his mother and father's situation was glaring when he came to give us a talk in london. So detached and yet seeking empathy for thse that can afford a helicopter to a hospital.

    Excellent review Prof. Hinfelaar


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