|CHILUBA END OF AN AMBITIOUS ERA.
Updated: 26 December 2001
by By Kondwani Chirambo in LUSAKA
In his book, the "Democracy: the Challenge of Change" published at the dawn of a boisterous new era of multiparty politics, Frederick Chiluba forecast the advent of liberal democracy as a precursor for Africa's economic and social advancement. "It may be the most risky form of government for the politicians, because of its competitive character. The irony is that this is what makes it the most viable. The costs involved for the politicians may be high initially but the final gains for society outweigh the costs," Chiluba wrote, a year into the presidency in 1992.
As the curtains close on his ten-year era December 27, 2001, Zambians will no doubt reflect on his insights and determine whether Zambia's second president made significant political and economic gains or not. They will scour the archives for practical evidence of the fulfillment of some of the ideals he professes to believe in, including adherence to human rights.
Many of his opponents doubt that he was comfortable with the competitive nature of multiparty democracy from the manner in which he instigated the persecution of his predecessor, Kenneth Kaunda and other opposition leaders. Neutrals might consider that the media environment was liberalized under his reign, opening portals for further expression of free will by the people. Detractors will not however, forget that it was during his era that the private media, which he so graciously embraced in 1991, was under the most intense legal attack from his establishment.
His supporters will look positively at some of his liberal approaches to development as indicative of potential gains that could only be measured with time. Some credit him for instilling "a sense of commerce" in this country of 11 million people. Conversely, they are those who vilify him for turning Zambia into a 'a nation of traders.' The government's own Poverty Reduction Strategy paper released this year acknowledges that today 80 percent of Zambians live in income poverty and suffer from other deprivations such as little access and poor quality social services.
"Poverty is more prevalent in rural areas compared to the urban areas (83 percent and 56 percent respectively) but it has risen faster in urban areas lately due to failing industries and rising unemployment. Most of the rural poor are small scale farmers followed by medium scale farmers. Low productivity, which provides bare subsistence, largely explains their poverty," the report says.
Chiluba undertook a swift privatization exercise of the country's massive Parastatal sector, including the huge mining industry -following IMF doses to the letter-in the hope of a revival that would serve new jobs and economic fortunes. Kaunda's command economy based on prolonged government subsidies was dismantled over-night. The Cooperative marketing system, which so effectively mobilized agricultural outputs under the one-party era of Kaunda and his United National Independence Party (UNIP), was shunted aside for a free-wheeling arrangement, which eventually left the sector in disarray.
Privatization and liberalization were the mainstay of Chiluba's Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). While few actually disagree with the principles, many felt that the process was done hastily and gave the citizens of the country no real opportunity to participate and own the debunked firms. Others still advise that he should first have consolidated his own manufacturing sector instead of allowing cheap imports to decimate his industry and cause mass job losses, estimated in excess of 200, 000. The incidence of corruption or at least the perception of it, tainted the sale of some of the entities, particularly that of a mining unit on the Copperbelt town of Luanshya: It was sold to Indian investors with little experience in mining instead of a seasoned western firm widely thought to have won the bid.
Anglo-American Corporation which bought the largest units of Zambia's mines, have sweeping provisions in their agreements with government: former cabinet ministers who defected to form a new party called the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) claim Anglo will not pay tax for the next 20 years! In terms of ownership, the economic landscape is now largely foreign. Foreign bidders were the ones with the money, MMD argues.
Opposition politicians, such as Dr Kamoyo Mwale of UNIP, bemoan the transformation of the country into "a neo-colonial state." The MMD government saw the privatization of the mines as key to the revival of copper exports. The Chiluba administration held that a nation with a small population and high poverty rates would benefit from export-led growth. In turn, this would increase domestic purchasing power and goods and services "primarily for the domestic consumers who could then have a growing market," the government's strategy says.
The richest African economy at independence from Britain in 1964, Zambia has been primarily copper dependent. Founding president Kaunda made good of the country's riches investing heavily in education, health and key infrastructure in the first 10-15 years. In human resource, Zambia was an exemplar of development. The country began to decline in the 1970s after sharp fall in copper prices, compounded by rises in costs of oil. To remedy the situation, the government borrowed from foreign sources to minimize the decline in living standards. MMD's economic experts say the previous government of Kaunda acted late in making policy adjustment. Diversification has over the years met with little success causing export volumes to graduate downwards.
Between1980 to 1990, the country's economic growth was the second lowest in the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) after Mozambique. When Chiluba took over in 1991, his ten-year tenure saw the country go below the Sub-Saharan growth rate of 2.4 percent and record the least annual growth rate in the SADC region at one percent. Potentials in tourism and agriculture remained largely unexploited. Government experts admit that the country has recorded further swift decline but provide no concrete explanations for the failure of the fastest economic reform program in the nation's history. Gross Domestic Product(GDP) per capita continued to decline in the 1990s despite fundamental policy shifts initiated by Chiluba.
".it was $ 650 in 1980, dropped to $449 in 1990, dipped further to $370 in 1995 and stood at $322 in 1999.It is obvious that the intermittent adjustments of the 1980s were devastating and certainly the 1990s economic adjustment has equally been devastating" says a respected economic analyst. Saddled with an unsustainable, inherited debt at US dollars 6.5 million, Chiluba's government laboured-some say not hard enough- to reverse the country's fortunes. In recognition of its efforts to reform the economy-last December, the country accessed the enhanced Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) facility under which some US dollars 3.8 million would be written off, with completion expected by 2003.
The out-going President often points to the reduction of inflation from 300 percent to 18 percent; stabilization of the economy and a rise in investment as positive indicators, even though the quality of investment is to be questioned.
Government's Poverty Reduction Strategy acknowledges this fact: "Our experience with some poor quality investment in the post-privatisation period is a reminder that it is the quality of the investor, foreign or local, that is critical.Zambia will therefore strive hard to attract credible foreign investments so as to augment her savings." Perhaps the fortunes of privatization will materialize with time but the immediate result was mass unemployment. Formal employment fell from 527,000 in 1980 to 478,000 in 1999; life expectancy from 46 to 40 during the same period. Some areas such as transport however improved tremendously as duty on public service vehicles was reduced but education, agriculture and health suffered from inadequate attention.
De-campaigned by emergent parties on the heavy negatives recorded, Chiluba is resolute in defense of his policies: " we inherited a ravaged country.there were shortages all over.now there are goods everywhere..shortages are no more", he told the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre(SARDC).
Certainly, the shops in this country of 11 million people are full of imported goods-largely South African. Some complain they cannot afford them. Politically, Chiluba's life is strangely inter-twined with Kaunda's. As Chairman-general of the powerful Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) for 17 years, he was the sole credible and viable option to a one-party system that invested too much in the realm of a single individual. He courageously spoke for the workers and the voiceless majority in matters of national interest and laboured to remain neutral of the all-pervading ruling party edifice that subordinated all else.
Detained and released in the 1980s over a suspected coup attempt, Chiluba continued on a revolutionary path and found refuge in the emergent post-cold war discourse for change. The MMD was conceived by intellectuals. In consolidating their quest for the return to plural politics, the founders of MMD extended an invitation for support to all former and serving politicians-and the most popular person outside politics, Chiluba.
His ascendancy to party power ahead of several fine candidates in the likes of the late Arthur Wina who became Chairman of MMD and lawyer Edward Shamwana, was more than meteoric. He won an openly democratic party election process and challenged Kaunda as head of a vibrant MMD in 1991. Facing high expectations from the public, Chiluba's first years were characterized by some serious effort to fulfill the MMD agenda, before personal differences with his ministers slowly etched away at his leadership. Over ten years, he had lost, through resignations and sackings, virtually all of his original cabinet and national executive committee members.
His disdain for Kaunda's legacy hovered over his politics perpetually. He frustrated Kaunda's attempted return to politics with constitutional changes that barred the founding president on account of his parentage. Kaunda's parents were missionaries from present-day Malawi and had migrated to Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) early in the 1900s.
The new law restricted the presidency to second generation Zambians. Later, rulings from the Supreme Court established that the amendment was ill conceived and could not really have barred first generation citizens of presidential age (35), given that the Republic known as Zambia was itself only 32 years old (in 1996). In short, there was no second generation Zambian of mature presidential age.
Kaunda was likely to offer a credible challenge to a landscape that was devoid of oppositional grit. But faced with the challenge of liberal democracy that he so voraciously espoused in his book, Chiluba decided to act as just another politician. The Kaunda legacy haunted the Chiluba presidency. In one inexplicable moment of political miscalculation, he revealed a complex network of tunnels under State House to demonstrate the financial recklessness of the Kaunda government.
The tunnels, it turned out, had assisted a number of top liberation movement leaders escape annihilation by Rhodesian and Apartheid South African forces. The move back-fired badly, leading to demonstrations by university students who were incensed with the revelation of state secrets. The man he replaced had cultivated a huge international persona as a champion of liberation and a dedicated Pan-Africanist.
Any actions against him attracted much international outcry and media flak, denuding Chiluba's own possible potentials for emulating him. The apparent desire by Chiluba to exorcise the Kaunda demon, warped the country's vision in foreign policy, causing friction with some of its historically endeared neighbours as South Africa. Meanwhile Kaunda, detained for five months over alleged prior knowledge of a bungled coup by junior army officers in 1997, began to re-think his ill advised return to political life.
A particularly persistent citizenship case, (Chiluba survived a similar petition on his citizenship by opposition earlier) hemmed him in against a background of intra-party conflict within his party UNIP. Kaunda's case was settled in his favour and that concided with his final withdrawal from active politics in 2000. Focus shifted to the international front: For a one-year spell, Chiluba assumed the all-important role of chief negotiator in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) peace process.
The signing of the ceasefire agreement in the Zambian capital Lusaka not only raised his profile in the region but also received accolades from some of his perennial critics in political and media circles. That moment expired when a permanent Facilitator in former Botswana President Sir ketumile Masire, was appointed.
Back home, the strategy of Chiluba's government to whittle the strengths of the opposition through detentions and tax inquisitions began to assume different dimensions amongst the more fore-sighted members of his party and neutrals. The actions were interpreted as a purge to pave way for an unopposed third term bid. He sacked half his cabinet, including his vice president Christon Tembo, ostensibly for publicly opposing MMD's nation-wide campaign to amend the constitution and extend Chiluba's rule.
He, however, reckoned without the determination of the church and civil society, which opposed him across the country until he relented. Zambian civil society had under-gone rapid transformation in the post one party era, turning into a nation highly consciousness of democratic tenets and pious in its defense of them. Chiluba and his supporters will obviously claim credit for opening space for civil society to develop. Critics will counter it vehemently: they had to fight for every inch of their freedom.
Whatever the case maybe Zambia exhibits all the signs of a vibrant democracy: eleven presidential hopefuls and as many political parties contested the 2001 elections without recourse to violence. After his failed bid for longer rule, Chiluba became pre-occupied with personal matters-and his successor.
The choice of Levy Mwanawasa, a respected Lawyer in his day, for president angered old guards like Michael Sata, former Minister Without Portfolio who quit and divided MMD further. As Zambia approached its third multiparty elections in December 2001, Chiluba had divorced his wife of many years, Vera, in a highly publicized fall-out. They would spend the remaining parts of their lives apart. They had nine children together.
Chiluba had professed to dedicate his life after politics to an institute for democracy, which is still under construction next to the University of Zambia Lusaka Campus. Kaunda before him had set up a children's foundations for aids orphans in Africa. Both former Presidents are sending an indelible signal to those who follow: there is life beyond the presidency. It's a realization that took the power of the people for both men to appreciate.
Lately, Kaunda's rating in public has risen. Most people speak of him glowingly and recall the huge investment he made in educating millions of Zambians on the state's account. Time they say, heals old wounds. For Chiluba in particular, the decision to observe the country's two-term limit on presidential tenure may hold him in good stead with history. That all-important move may have set a tone not only for his country but also for a region that is negatively pre-disposed to the 'life presidency syndrome.' (SARDC).
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