By Scoop Reporter
SCORES of Zambians will tomorrow troop to the Embassy Park, the official burial site for former Republican Presidents, in memory of one of the country’s outstanding leaders, Frederick Chiluba.
Dr. Chiluba rescued the Zambian economy from the shackles desolation at the hands of the United National Independence Party (UNIP) and it was his transformation agenda which saw the liberalization the economy and privatization of state run enterprises which had become white elephants.
He was born on April 30, 1943 to Jacob Titus Chiluba Nkonde and Diana Kaimba and grew up in Kitwe and did his secondary education at Kawambwa Secondary School in Kawambwa, where he was expelled in the second year for political activities.
He became a bus conductor, and later a politician due to his charismatic personality. He worked as city councilor before becoming an accounts assistant at Atlas Copco, and rose in his rankings and joined the National Union of Building.
As the common adage goes, epic things start with small humble steps, Dr. Chiluba went on to win the chairmanship of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and due to his unstoppable crowd-pulling and appealing personality flavoured with irresistible oration, Dr. Chiluba and his compatriots plunged the country into a wildcat strike.
They were all detained in 1981 by then President Kenneth Kaunda for calling a wildcat strike which pushed the economy to the blink of collapse. He and his colleagues were released after a judge ruled their detention as unconstitutional.
Until late 1980s, food shortages in Zambia sparked riots across the country where irate but hungry citizens ransacked Government buildings, looted shops, and burned cars as police backed by paramilitary units fought to restore order in the towns of Kitwe and Ndola.
In 1990, soon after UNIP gave up its monopoly on power, Dr. Chiluba helped form the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), and consequently became its presidential candidate when the snap 1991 election called as part of the deal that ended one-party rule.
Dr. Chiluba defeated Kaunda in a massive landslide, taking 75 percent of the vote to Kaunda’s 25 percent–the second-biggest margin of victory for a contested election in Zambian history. He took office on November 2, 1991.
On December 29, 1991, he declared Zambia a Christian nation. This declaration was included in the 2016 Constitutional Amendment Bill which is part of the current Constitution of the Republic of Zambia.
Dr. Chiluba’s first term of office was marked by increasing conflict within the loose coalition that formed the ruling party, and between MMD and the opposition UNIP. In late 1991 members of UNIP were accused by the Government of conspiring to kill members of the Government, but were cleared by an independent investigation.
Dissenters in the ruling party formed the Caucus for National Unity (CNU) which criticized the lack of ethnic inclusiveness in public appointments, sought a constitutional review to curtail the power of the presidency, and criticized the way structural adjustments were undertaken in view of the hardships they unleashed. In 1992 they registered as a political party.
In July 1992 a breakaway group formed the United Democratic Party (UDP), unhappy with the failure of the Government to deal with corruption in its ranks. In 1993 a brief state of emergency was declared and 15 members of UNIP were arrested for conspiring to overthrow the Government.
Further accusations of corruption against senior party and Government members in 1993 were supplemented with charges of drug trafficking, leading to a new breakaway of senior members to form the National Party.
Corruption allegations and conflict in the Government led to the resignation of several ministers and then Vice-President, Levy Mwanawasa from the Government and accusations of ethnic favouritism resurfaced within the MMD.
Meanwhile the Government continued to harass Dr. Kaunda, placing him under surveillance and alleging that he was inciting revolt, while he in turn urged a campaign of civil disobedience against the Government.
In 1996 a controversial amendment was passed designed to exclude Dr. Kaunda and his deputy from standing for election later that year. Donors responded by reducing aid, while the elections were boycotted by UNIP and five other parties that had allied with it over the previous five years.
On a poll of 58.6 percent and in an election fraught with administrative problems and allegations of abuse of the state media by the MMD, the MMD won 131 of the seats, independents 10 and the remaining 9 went to three small parties. Dr. Chiluba easily retained the presidency with 72.5 percent of the vote.
The campaign of civil disobedience launched by the opposition in protest at the 1976 elections continued throughout 1997. That year also exposed a growing rift between the Government and the trade unions over wage rises for public servants which escalated into a general strike in March 1998.
A coup attempt in October 27, 1997 masterminded by Captain Steven Lungu popularly known as Captain Solo, was blamed by the Government on UNIP and a second state of emergency was declared, while Dr. Kaunda was accused of being an accessory. He was arrested in December but charges against him were dropped in July 1998.
The economic achievements of the Chiluba presidency were uneven.
Efforts at attracting foreign donor funds were hampered by the failure to deal firmly with state corruption, the lengthy process of mining privatization (to which much donor aid was tied) and donor displeasure at the conduct of the 1996 elections.
The modest foreign investment which began with Dr. Chiluba’s economic reforms declined in the wake of the 1996 elections and only accelerated again after 1998.
Despite limited debt relief, fiscal austerity and wide ranging privatization, Zambia carried a huge debt burden at the end of the millennium, and the percentage of GDP spent on debt servicing doubled between 1990 and 1999.
In 2000, Zambia was classified as a Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) and became eligible for a two-thirds reduction in debt if it implemented a poverty reduction strategy.
In the period of Chiluba’s presidency a number of new political parties emerged as split-offs from the MMD, but the most significant of these proved to be the United Party for National Development (UPND) under Anderson Mazoka which was formed in 1998; through by-election victories, it came to be the main opposition in Parliament.
In 2000 the suggestion was made within the MMD that the Constitution should be amended to permit Dr. Chiluba to stand for a third term in the 2001 elections, unleashing a bitter and divisive debate within the party which led to the demotion or expulsion of members opposing the amendment.
Outside, the party civil society bodies including trade unions, churches and the Zambian Law Society rejected tampering with the two term limit. Further factions broke with the MMD and formed new parties, the most important of which was the Forum for Democracy Development (FDD) under Christon Tembo.
In the end Chiluba bowed to pressure from within and without the MMD and Levy Mwanawasa, who had resigned the Vice-Presidency in 1993, was nominated as MMD candidate and went on to win the 2001 elections.
After leaving office, Dr. Chiluba was a target of Mr. Mwanawasa’s campaign against corruption: in February 2003, he was charged along with his former intelligence chief, Xavier Chungu, and several former ministers and senior officials, with 168 counts of theft totaling more than US $40 million.
It was alleged that money was diverted from the Ministry of Finance into an account held at the London branch of the Zambia National Commercial Bank (Zanaco). Dr. Chiluba said the account was used by the country’s intelligence services to fund operations abroad.
Investigators said it was a slush fund, used to meet Dr. Chiluba and Mr. Chungu’s private and personal expenses. Most of the charges that were made against him were later dropped, but others remained.
In early 2006, Chiluba was flown to South Africa for medical attention for a heart condition. After resisting the Government’s call for him to return to Zambia for what they termed as long-term treatment, he returned on July 15.
On May 4, 2007 he was found guilty of stealing US $46 million in a civil case by a UK Court. London high court judge Peter Smith accused Chiluba of shamelessly defrauding his people and flaunting his wealth with an expensive wardrobe of “stupendous proportions”.
He also castigated his lawyer, Iqbal Meer, saying “I am satisfied that no honest solicitor in his position would have done what he did.” His unquestioning acceptance of the money – transferred to a London bank account by the Zambian intelligence service – was “classic blind eye dishonesty”.
An appeal against the ruling was allowed by the court of appeal in 2008. Large sections of Zambian society have however questioned Peter Smith’s credibility following reprimands and recusals by the British judiciary.
Many have argued that the British Judge should have concentrated on cases pertaining to properties that were allegedly obtained by corrupt means in Britain and Europe rather than properties in Zambia. However, after offering Chiluba’s clothes to his family in 2016, the Anti-Corruption Commission later secured a judgement in the Supreme Court of Zambia where Chiluba’s estate (Tedworth properties) was forfeited to the state after seizing it in 2002.
Chiluba, however, continued to plead innocence and refused to recognise the verdict of the Judge Peter Smith who he accused of having been bribed by the Mwanawasa Government.
On June 7, 2002, the amount, which Chiluba was ordered to repay, was increased to US $58m, accounting for interest and legal costs. Several days later, Judge Smith ordered Dr. Chiluba to leave his home in Lusaka within two weeks because it was judged to have been bought with money stolen from the public.
Dr. Chiluba reportedly collapsed on May 24, 2007 due to heart problems and was hospitalized. He was released from the hospital on 29 May, and on 30 May doctors judged him to be fit to stand trial on the embezzlement charges following an examination.
On 31 May, a court ruled that his trial should proceed, although his lawyers argued that it should not due to his poor health. The judge rejected arguments from Chiluba’s lawyers and doctors that the former president is too sick to face prosecution over graft charges.
On 27 July he was flown to South Africa to be treated for heart trouble. This had been approved by the Government earlier in the month. He was scheduled to appear in court for his trial on 14 August, and he returned to Zambia on 11 August, saying in an interview that he was “surviving on God’s will”.
On 14 August, Dr. Chiluba rejected the idea of participating in the trial through video, saying that it would be illegal. After appearing briefly in court on 14 August, Chiluba was present for the resumption of trial proceedings on 15 August. Chiluba took breaks during the day for health reasons.
In May 2008, the Government announced that it had recovered nearly 60 million dollars in money and assets allegedly stolen during Chiluba’s presidency.
Dr. Chiluba was acquitted on all charges on August 17, 2009. Scores of people packed the Lusaka Magistrates Court to hear Judge Jones Chinyama final judgement which concluded that Dr. Chiluba was NOT GUILTY of the corruption charges laid against him and hence was acquitted.
Dr. Chiluba died on June 18, 2011, shortly after midnight. His spokesman, Emmanuel Mwamba, announced his death.
Mr. Mwamba stated that Chiluba had a normal day on June 17, and even had time to meet some of his lawyers but later complained of stomach ache.