By Isaac Mwanza
Leading a country like Zambia is what we all aspire to do one day and when the time dawns and the sweetness of power is tasted, the journey towards failure of leadership begins. Society contributes generally to the failure which our leaders experience. We are all a part of the problem.
Past Multi Party Presidents
1. Fredrick Titus Chiluba
In 1991, Frederick Chiluba was popularly elected President of Zambia by an all-time large number of voters in our country’s first election after Zambia reverted to multi party participatory democracy. His first 3 years were probably the best years compared to the last 7 years, not to mention that FTJ, as he was popularly called, accused his predecessor of stealing public funds while in office and called in the UK’s elite Scotland Yard unit to investigate, at a huge cost, the alleged theft of public funds by Dr. Kaunda and his team. The only thing KK was found to have “stolen” were two or so reading books, mistakenly packed by his staff on departure from State House.
2. Levy Patrick Mwanawasa
Mwanawasa, solely handpicked by FTJ for the top job, emerged President with extremely low numbers and rating among Zambia’s presidential candidates to date. This was after 10 years of MMD rule under President Chiluba. Mwanawasa tried to increase his popularity by going after his predecessor whom society was made to believe, had stolen from Zambians.
Mwanawasa’s reign turned the whole country into a courtroom. He died half way into his second term and could not see the conclusion of the allegations he made against Chiluba and lost an opportunity to put Chiluba behind bars. For 7 years, his sanctioned investigations against FTJ could not be concluded. There is no guarantee that if Levy had concluded his 10 year as President, his successor would not have treated him way he treated Chiluba.
3. Rupiah Bwezani Banda
Rupiah Banda, during a follow up Presidential by election after the demise of Mwanawasa, was elected into office through a sympathy vote by the Zambian people and became Fourth President of Zambia. Within 3 years, he tried his best to do some development projects. The leader of the main opposition, Michael Chilufya Sata, who became his successor after he won the 2011 presidential election, took the lead in accusing Banda of having had a hand in the acquittal of FTJ. When RB left office, ending the 20-year reign of the mighty MMD, Rupiah too was prosecuted but his prosecution was short-lived and yielded no results as he was acquitted by the courts.
4. Michael Chilufya Sata
Michael Sata, popularly known as King Cobra, had his chance to turn around the country when he was popularly elected into office in 2011. Sata can be credited with the manner the country was beginning to open up with new roads built to a bituminous standard or upgrading of old ones. He too spent part of his energies in prosecuting or persecuting his predecessor, without success.
5. Edgar Chagwa Lungu
President Edgar Lungu’s 6½ year reign, which also saw the end of the 10-year reign of the Patriotic Front, was a continuation of the foundation laid by late President Sata. The governance style of President Lungu was no different from his predecessor. He kept key institutions of governance in the same order his predecessor had reorganized them. He took the same path to accelerated development, albeit with accusation led by his now successor that he promoted corruption, which the former President disputes.
6. Hakainde Sammy Hichilema
We now have a new administration led by an economist, Hakainde Hichilema, elected by the 2,852,348 million majority out of the 4,959,332 voters who turned up. This was a similar victory pattern when the PF took over the reigns of power in 2011.
The New administration, which prefers to call itself New Dawn Administration, has just been in office for a month and a few days – the honeymoon days. It is not clear as yet nor easy to judge where the New Dawn administration is taking the county, but it can be said the new President has kept key institutions of governance, that is, Anti-Corruption Commission, Drug Enforcement Commission as well as the newly-created Anti-Financial Crimes Commission, very much to himself as did the PF administration. He remains Chairman of the Industrial Development Commission. They are early signs that he too may go on the long path to try and prosecute and persecute his predecessor.
The Big Question
The question is, how do Zambia leaders, who come on the scene with a popular mandate, get to quickly lose the confidence of the majority voters?
Again, I say much as these leaders contribute to their own failure, we all contribute towards leadership failures.
First, soon as a President is ushered into the high walls of State House, they quickly become “deaf” and “blind” to realities facing the nation. More and more, these leaders begin to hear views of those who surround them than the majority views of Zambians; they became deaf and blind to the sufferings of Zambians, probably because of the work pressure associated with their office but, more probably, due to the arrogance that comes with the possession and exercise of immense power and unlimited influence..
The President seems to begin to believe that they have ministers as their eyes – ministers who usually nod to everything the Great Leader says, the “all-wise Father” behind the walls of State House says. The Great Leader becomes pre-occupied with fighting their predecessor and other perceived enemies who threaten their continued enjoyment of power, as can be seen by examples above.
(a) Role of Praise Singers
Secondly, we as society also contribute to the failure of leadership partly because of the high standards we set for these leaders and the high goals we think they can get the country to achieve. But most importantly, it is those of us who sing praises to these leaders, and the leader’s enjoyment of our praises, that fail them.
The propensity by leaders to want to listen to niceties about how good they are, how special they are, and how Christ-like the Great Leader is as opposed to being told where the Great Leader is going wrong, or what they are doing wrong, also adds to the probability of their failure.
Of course, I, without much regret, have been a part of those who praised both President Sata and Lungu for the development they had continued to rightfully steer this country towards but may not have highlighted other things where society generally thought was going wrong with their presidency, thereby robbing them of an opportunity to correct themselves.
(b) Role of Media
But this issue of singing praises is not limited to activists – hired or not, sympathetic to a ruling party or not – but also includes the media which influence what these leaders do when they are comfortably seated behind the high and long walls of State House. President Bally, as Hakainde Hichilema is now called by his supporters, has deliberately created new offices of Media Analyst at State House because he understands the influence the media has in shaping society’s opinion or in collapsing an administration.
We cannot forget how, at one point in history, the Post Newspapers and it’s famous Editor-in-Chief, Fred M’membe (no offence intended by this reference) had in particular assumed the role of mouthpiece on behalf of the late Michael Sata. At one point, the Post run an editorial about, “Michael (Sata) the Archangel’. When Mr. Sata was sick and alleged to have died in London, it was comrade M’membe and not the Chief Government Spokesperson who responded to insinuations by the then Opposition UPND, that Mr. Sata had died. It was M’membe of the Post newspaper who told the nation that it was not true that President Sata had died, a matter which ought to have been handled by the Chief Government Spokesperson.
So how will the Great Leader know that they are doing something wrong when the media is full of praise and adulation for the new and all-wise Father, especially in this honeymoon period shortly after being elected? How will the Great Leader know that the failures of other leaders before them could have been about their decisions to put institutions such as RDA, ACC, DEC etc under their foot?
(c) Role of society generally
Our society and democracy will continue to remain the same if we continue with the practice in which political parties or Presidents are supported based on the temporary benefits one can get from the president. The new wave of defections has not yet started but it will start soon and two of our women – Ms. Charity Lumpa and Ms. Charmaine Musonda – wanted to take the lead.
Much as people have a right to associate with political parties of their choice, the swift change to support leaders in power contributes to taking leaders backwards. Presidents begin to pay more attention to the flattering praises they get from the very people who had shaped the views of previous, fallen regimes than embracing new views from those whom they shared views before they took over power.
The practice by those who defect in search of temporary benefits from a new ruling party, tends to also weaken opposition parties. It is better to stay in opposition, as did HH than to jump on the bandwagon, for the sake of temporary benefits.
All in all, our leaders are capable of being themselves only if they choose to begin to promote and listen to criticisms more than they would want people to ululate for and flatter them with endless praise. Leaders should realise that they are not angels who know it all; they must learn to listen to everyone, including the fools in the village. We are all part of the failure of leadership in Zambia but we can all become part of a successful leadership for Zambia. When an administration succeeds, Zambia succeeds.