In the 3rd grade, I came back fresh from my first civics lesson in Mrs. Marshall’s class at Nkana Trust School, to announce, “Zambia is a One-Party Participatory Democracy. Kenneth Kaunda is our President. He believes in Humanism and UNIP won 99.99% of the vote.” I think my father mumbled something that expressed the trifecta of his disdain for what passed for civics in my school, the ridiculousness of the construct of a ‘One-Party Democracy’ and the hilarity of getting 99.99% of the vote. But he kept his sarcastic retort jovial – only partially because he probably didn’t want to discourage my enthusiasm. He was well aware of the grace under which we lived: peaceful Zambia, to which people from all nations could come and live, be they Angolans, Zairians, Rhodesians (then), South Africans, or from the many nations of Europe. ‘Zambia in the Sun’ even permitted the likes of us, Sri Lankans, whose home island was on the fast track to civil war. KK’s grace seemed to extend to everyone, until the first violent strikes by Zambian mine workers reminded us that Zambians were the real losers here: they were paid less, and given far fewer benefits than their ‘foreign-born’ counterparts.
Of course, foreigners and Zambians alike loved ‘batata KK’, his ubiquitous safari suits and white handkerchief, which was rumoured to have been given to him as a talisman of protection by an Indian. It’s true we didn’t get what he was talking about when he switched from calling us his ‘children’ or his ‘people’ to ‘comrades’. It seemed an unnecessary distance to leap. KK explained, on the front page of the Times of Zambia, that he had been told that calling his countrymen ‘his children’ was ‘paternalistic’. But we couldn’t figure out what was wrong with being a little paternal.
After I arrived for university in the US, aided by the benefits given to expatriate workers – one of which was that the company would subsidise a portion of our educations abroad – the nations towards which Zambia looked for economic and political support collapsed under a wave of change: Perestroika and Gorbachov, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the dictatorships throughout other Soviet Bloc nations made Zambians reconsider their loyalty to the United National Independence Party (the UNIP of above) and the beloved figure of KK. They also wanted multiparty elections. After nearly 30 years in power, KK was ousted by the weasly, decidedly unstatesman-like Frederick Chiluba of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD). When that man was eventually brought up for charges of corruption, for which the exhibit ‘A’ of evidence was his extensive collection of tiny, multi-coloured crocodile shoes (Chiluba was a diminutive man), I think that Zambians were finally able to freely make jokes about the relationship between foot-size and another portion of the male anatomy, and why a man with such tiny feet would need to be so declarative about his capacity to collect so many shoes.
The MMD has remained in power since that decisive victory over UNIP in 1991. The third president, Levy Mwanawansa, died in office; Rupiah Banda became acting president, and went on to win the presidency in 2008. Zambians have been disappointed by the experiment with multiparty elections. The presidents who followed KK have neither had the political acumen, nor the gentleman’s touch for which KK was famous (there’s great archival footage of him ballroom dancing with Margaret Thatcher, after the Commonwealth Heads Government meeting in Lusaka, 1979). And the fall of copper prices, the sale of the nation’s largest income generator to various foreign interests – from Anglo-American to Chinese and Indian companies – and the brutal entrance of the IMF’s policies meant that Zambia went from being the nation with the highest GDP in Africa to being one of the poorest countries in the world.
The first decade of the 2000s saw Copper prices rise to blue-sky levels once again – but without much benefit to the ordinary Zambian, since the income generated goes to foreign companies – companies that are not building schools, offering university bursaries, or providing free health care, as was the norm during KK’s rule. September 2011 will see Zambians return to the polls to cast their votes for a new presidential election. And again, a wave of freedom in formerly oppressed nations, countries to which Zambia once looked for comradeship (Egypt in particular) means that Zambians are also looking for change.
There’s word that a Twitter and Facebook-led movement is underfoot: the Facebook group, ‘Zambian People’s Pact’ may have a hand in the direction in which the Zambian elections may go. The members range from Lieutenant-Colonel Panji Kaunda (son of KK, and a fan of golf, basketball, and Manchester United), and several thousand others, many of whom probably never even experienced life as adults under KK’s leadership. The group openly states that their major goal is to unite followers of all parties in order to oust the ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD). Whilst the debate on the page is passionate, with up to 800 and 1,000 posts per day documenting comments, reactions, and vitriol (mostly against each other), the membership is low: 5639 at last count. That’s hardly enough for a revolution; rather, it may simply consist of a small, elite group of navel-gazers who’ll generate more infighting and sycophantism than a genuine political upheaval. Hardly anyone can afford to have internet connections in Zambia, even via their mobile phones. Facebook is largely populated by aid workers and Zim expats, writing home and cruising for hookups. It is not a realm inhabited by ‘the people’.
Meanwhile, out come the usual, entertaining crazy-auntie stories, in time for the election moon:
25th July: Former Defence minister Ben Mwila claims that former UNIP secretary general Sebastian Zulu received about K250 million from the State to destabilise the former ruling party UNIP and its leader Kenneth Kaunda at the time. Apparently, there’s backup: Lusaka-based lawyer Sakwiba Sikota confirmed that when he represented petitioners in the 2001 presidential election petition, former Zambia State Security and Intelligence Services director general Xavier Chungu testified that the State actually paid Mr. Zulu K250 million for him to cause instability in UNIP – where he was the secretary general.
All this, because Mr. Zulu was earlier quoted in a daily tabloid, calling for change, saying there was too much corruption in the present government (Mwila clearly remains a supporter of the MMD). Mwila responded by broadcasting that “Sebastian Zulu is the reason why UNIP is dead today.”
27th July: Former works and supply minister, Mike Mulongoti (dismissed from the MMD), revealed that he survived an attempt on his life while on his way to Lufwanyama on the Copperbelt on Saturday the 23rd; they were convoying to a “traditional ceremony”. Mulongoti left ahead in another person’s vehicle, while a colleague drove Mulongoti’s car. On a lonely stretch of road, group of thugs raced to block the vehicle driven by Mulongoti’s colleague. Mulongoti’s colleague explained that he had narrowly managed to escape the vehicular assailants (its believed that they thought that Mulongoti was driving the car), and was too shocked to take down the license plates of the attackers’ vehicle. Mulongoti had recently endorsed the candidature of PF leader Michael Sata, and attributed the attempt on his life to those in power, who wanted to silence his support for the opposition.
2nd August: In a move reminiscent of Tea Party tactics, PF (Patriotic Front) secretary general Wynter Kabimba disclosed that his party is in the process of petitioning the UN, SADC, NATO and other organisations over the parentage of president Banda, which the PF believes is foreign. President Rupiah Banda responded by asking why the issue was never brought up before, and magnanimously said that the PF is free to petition the UN over his parentage. We’ll wait for him to show us a clip of the Lion King (birthplace: Luangwa National Park) as proof of his nationality.