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Zambian Politics Sending Wrong Message

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  • Denise Gordon
    Zambian Politics Sending Wrong Message John Kakande THE latest developments in Zambia highlight some of Africa s problems that need to be tackled as the
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1 4:49 AM
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      Zambian Politics Sending Wrong Message

      John Kakande

      THE latest developments in Zambia highlight some of Africa's problems that need to be tackled as the continent grapples with the issues of good governance and democracy. How should former presidents be treated?

      Zambia's parliament recently resolved to lift former president Frederick Chiluba's immunity against prosecution, following allegations by President Levy Mwanawasa linking him and his close aide to a pattern of high-level crime during their 10-year rule which ended in December 2001.

      Mwanawasa alleged that millions of dollars, including US $20.5 million earmarked for arms purchases, were diverted from the public coffers for the personal benefit of Chiluba, his family and associates. It was further alleged that public funds were also used by Chiluba to bribe, among others, Zambia's former Chief Justice Matthew Ngulube. Ngulube resigned recently after media reports charged that he had received bribes. Several of Chiluba's close associates have already been arrested over corruption charges.

      While several political analysts and commentators here and in Zambia have applauded the waiving of Chiluba's immunity, I personally do not share in the euphoria. The saga surrounding Chiluba is shameful for Africa and has serious political implications beyond Zambia's borders.

      Mwanawasa should tread carefully because his actions could be injurious to the democratic transition underway in many African countries. Many African presidents have been unwilling to step down partly out of fear that they would be persecuted by their successors. Thus many African presidents have had to be disgracefully forced out of office.

      But even some presidents who have honourably stepped down, like Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, have not been accorded respect they deserve by their successors. Chiluba himself mistreated his predecessor Dr Kenneth Kaunda.

      Indeed, political leaders who steal public funds while in office should be made to pay for their crimes once they leave office. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has estimated that corruption has cost Africa at least US $140 billion. Former Nigerian leader, Sani Abacha plundered more than $2 billion from the country! This is almost half of Uganda's foreign debt.

      Nonetheless, leaders should not use the excuse of fighting corruption to witchhunt their predecessors. There ought to be overwhelming evidence against a former president of massive corruption to warrant criminal court action.

      All leaders inevitably commit mistakes. And leaders who stay in power for too long commit bigger mistakes. But their successors should not capitalise on these mistakes to humiliate or even lock them up. In the case of Zambia, there is fear Mwanawasa is merely using the state machinery to settle old scores with his opponents. Chiluba is seen as a destabilising factor within the ruling party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). Chiluba has indicated he is ready to testify in court during hearing of the petition challenging Mwanawasa's election to presidency. There is speculation Chiluba could 'confess' that he rigged elections for Mwanawasa. The President has warned Chiluba over the matter. Mwanawasa has also alleged that his opponents (understood to be Chiluba loyalists) planned to assassinate him.

      These political developments in Zambia are sending out the wrong message to the rest of African presidents who were contemplating retirement. Mwanawasa must therefore prove to the world that he is not merely witch-hunting political foes.

      Published in New Vision, Kampala, July 31st, 2002.

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