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Alba Iulia
Monday, August 10, 2020

Leadership cults in Africa and Zambia in particular

Columns Leadership cults in Africa and Zambia in particular

Former Zairean President Marshal Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wa Za Banga once told a Western journalist that they should never expect their kind of democracy to apply to Africa. In his words, ‘We are Bantu, we are not Europeans.’ Like his neighbour to the north, Jean-Bédel Bokassa who crowned himself emperor (ruler of kings), Mobutu was also emperor too. He never officially crowned himself, but was all that but in name.

To the East, the lovable Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere abolished chiefdoms altogether and banished his royal friend who won British support for Nyerere and helped bring fellow chiefs into TANU party. In Zambia, Dr Kenneth Kaunda was quick to emasculate the 1964 Barotseland Agreement within 4 years of independence. Granted he maintained chiefdoms as they were before independence but, the Presidency took pre-eminence. It is probable that KK would have gone the Nyerere way had he not had roots in the land of the Maravi.

Colonialism fractured the institutions of governance in Africa. We were loyal to royalty until the Colonisers came. We became subjects of other powers across the oceans. After independence, our ‘elected’ leaders were simply substituted into the royal rulers they replaced. It is now more than 50 years after independence and most Africans treat their Presidents as kings or chiefs. It is unheard of for people in older republics to prostrate themselves before an elected representative as we do in Africa.

Mobutu in Zaire did exactly what king Leopold had done. He acquired Zaire as his personal property and treated its central bank as his own private bank. Mobutu’s plunder of his country’s wealth was unprecedented. He got away with it for years because of his friendship with the United States and the CIA. The western media were culled into a paralysed silence.

In Zambia, Frederick Chiluba in his own small way, imitated his relative by using a State account to deposit his money, money which was also dubiously acquired. When insulted by citizens, Chiluba replied, ‘A king doesn’t insult his subjects.’ With this, he put himself into the shoes of a king. This is where we are. We have not mastered the art of democracy. We are Bantu, as Mobutu said. We bow in servile fearfulness before the Excellency. To us Africans, he is the same as His Majesty. It is said that kings have a divine right to rule and so we have applied this to our elected representatives. It is not the ballot box that decides who rules, it is God. If there is rigging, we blasphemously attribute the result to God.

I have made generalisations here, but I will end with two examples that do not fit the mould- South Africa and Botswana. South Africa had a long transition from colonialism to majority rule. Can you imagine if we had a man as gigantic as Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela as our President. We would never have allowed him to step down after only one term. We would flay our backs and offer our skins for him to walk on where there is no tarmac. But, that did not happen in South Africa. Revered, yes he was, but they treated him as a mere man, and upon his insistence too, notwithstanding.

In Botswana, the first President abdicated the throne and refused to be king nor be treated as one. Sir Seretse Goitsebeng Maphiri Khama was just President and nothing more. In free and fair elections, he was re elected three times as he led his desert country to prosperity year on year. At one time, even feeding Zambia with beef! The onus to prevent CULT STATUS lies heavily on the man who is in charge. Julius Caesar in William Shakespeare’s tragedy by the same title says, ‘These couchings and these lowly courtesies might fire the blood of ordinary men and turn preordinance and first decree into the law of children.’ Indeed, ordinary men get excited by the flatteries and kneeling of people before them so that they abrogate the laws of democracy as a result. Let every man never forget that he is a mere mortal. The apostle Paul asks, ‘Who then is Paul… but a servant’ (1 Corinthians 3:5).


  1. When I was young I used to watch a documentary THE AFRICANS by the late renowned Kenyan scholar Ali mazrui, one documentary he showed us the inside of the once Zaire parliament one late Mobutu was coming and the MPs like hyponotized robots went into a trance screaming mubotu oyeee, Mobutu oyeee, just like some cadres are always screaming father of the nation, daddy, daddy, mother of the nation…….every time I see such cadres I become so nolstagic and remember those Kaunda days of lining up the streets to welcome ministers or the president and screaming chisokone, chisokone,..

  2. Unnecessary article that achieves nothing. To anyone about to read it please do not. I regret wasting 4 minutes of my life I will never get back.

  3. Please leave those that are able to read make their own assessment of the article than try to discourage them from dissecting the content. Herein lies the problem of individual opinion being absolute as to be imposed on others, Democracy dies!

  4. Imfumu taituka bantu has been misinterpreted in this article. Even here we’ve people who worship Edgar and his wife to the extent of naming their children after them. If Edgar steps down today it’s ba kandile like KZ that can cry loudest because their sustainer is no longer in the picture. So let’s fight poverty, especially of the mind

  5. Fumanchu is it you who wrote this useless article? I ask because you appear to be getting overly emotional. Tell me what is the point of this article and what have you learned from it apart from the old narrative of despise your own leaders based on a western notion of what an ideal political system is ? Democracy is more like demonstration of crazy:democrazy . Here I Africa we need our own unique style of governance, and that is what PF is giving you. A patriotic form of Africanism.

  6. Iam shocked that Kaizer Zulu can even read. Kaizer Zulu is so daft that if you pay him one ngwee for his thoughts, you can get change.
    Go away into your caves Kaizer. You have sunk so low that you have even started digging.

  7. Useless, vague and pointless article. KK had to deal with tribalism at home and a huge security threat from the rhodesians and racist apartheid regime-his actions were necessary. FTJ was acqitted and those corruption lies were generated by a cabal of his political opponents both local and foreign. Libya was ruled by a “dictator” who shared its wealth amongst its citizens-Libyan children were born with govt. bank accounts or trust funds to sponsor them through to college, today they live like rats scrounging for a living after the west liberated it from this dictator and applied democracy to their political system; western companies pump out oil while Libyans wallow in poverty in “liberated” Libya and civil war is normal in their country.

  8. On point, KZ my big bro!!!!!!! You my man, are an African with political experience with a cv to prove. You have a place in African history unlike the diaporan donkeys attacking you who will be remembered as economic refugees despised by the populations in their host countries and will never be recognised in their history.

  9. Hitler had bodyguards and supporters up to that day of his passing on. Gaddafi had also up to date of capture. Only Saddam was captured all by himself. That’s natural. It happened even to Jesus until the last minute. Nkumbula, Kapwepwe, Chiluba, LPM, Mazoka, Sata, Mungomba etc had powerful delegations. They are all gone. Just go and work for your family and forget about politics. Whether you are defending HH or ECL, very little will change and they will probably be gone and forgotten in less than 50 years.

  10. Interesting comments. We have come to that point where a simple issue has to be decided on whether it is pro PF or pro UPND. This is just a sociological discourse that I think the author is trying to offer a reason why we behave in a particular way towards our leaders. There is no such a thing as African democracy. You either have democracy or something else.

  11. Whoever wrote this has studied the past and learnt from it.
    The kind of cult like following we give to Zambia leaders is disgraceful to say the least. It’s understandable that cult like status is a way to keep followers in line. In democracy or one that pretends to be this is highly unacceptable and should not be entertained because it breeds conservatism and militancy/fanaticism/partisanship/dogmatism – these are demons that will have to be fought once a leader dies. PF is a perfect example of cultist following. UPND while an example is a slightly lesser one.
    We’ve a acolyte as president today because we love to worship leaders.

  12. Very good article. Just look at the way they treat Edgar, even this escorting a President to the airport and receiving him needs to stop, it is counter productive.

  13. Lovely peace of writing. Like Aristotle above, I also watched a documentary on the end days of the Mobutu rule, and was completely flabbergasted by how, seemingly sane men and women members of parliament, would chant at length Mr Mobutu’s name & praises – the whole scene seemed strange, like the ‘Shaka Zulu kingdom’ film scene!

  14. This is a very well written article. Can we just debate it without involving partisan politics please.

  15. Mobutu like Mugabe was renowned for brutality to opponents, corruption on a multi-billion-dollar scale and an opulent lifestyle symbolized by his fleet of Mercedes-Benz cars and a habit of chartering supersonic Concorde aircraft for trips abroad.
    The corruption and spending left most Congolese (or Zairians, as they were called) living in poverty.
    Still, some diehards have good memories of Mobutu’s campaign to strip colonial influences from the country or his role in staging the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman heavyweight championship match in 1974, won by Ali.
    Mobutu died 1997 in exile in Morocco and is buried there. Repatriating his remains is another item on the agenda of those who still refer to him as “Marshal,” such as Xavier Lukelo Longo who was part of Mobutu’s inner circle…

  16. Democracy comes in shades. It almost always favours the ruling elite class. Mr. Hakainde Hichilema (HH) has been UPND president since 2006. For fourteen years, all party members and sympathisers have been in a leadership cult and this period could yield to 25 years if HH is “democratically” elected and rules Zambia for two terms. This is the African democracy. We have Chiefs at party leadership who graduate to Emperors when leading a country.
    Political parties are personal to holder items and so is the republican presidency.

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