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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 18:04 GMT
Tembo: Waiting in the wings
Christon Tembo
Tembo: critics say he lacks charisma
Penny Dale in Lusaka profiles one of Zambia's leading presidential candidates.

President Frederick Chiluba's most recent number two, gangly army man Christon Tembo, is among a handful of presidential wannabes tipped to take over when Zambians go to the polls on 27 December.

Zambia's vice-president for close to four years, and a minister before that, he remained in the background, obscured, like his predecessors, by the glow of the all-powerful presidency.

Mr Tembo was only really propelled into the full glare of the political limelight six months ago when he and others were sacked for publicly opposing outgoing President Chiluba's unconstitutional bid to run for a third term.

His passage since beating strong contenders, including former Legal Affairs Minister Vincent Malambo, to become the leader of the opposition Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) has not been smooth.

Like other breakaway parties from the ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), Tembo is facing a tough time casting off his recent alignment with a party mired in corruption and economic mismanagement. Mud is slung at every corner.

Media shy

Leading political analyst and director of Institute of Economic and Social Research, Chilese Mulenga, says that Mr Tembo, and his vice-president Edith Nawakwi, are seen as being part and parcel of the tainted MMD.

FDD supporters
Tembo has strong support in Luskaka

"The only thing separating them and their former colleagues is the issue of the third term," he says.

His cause is not helped by his apparent shyness of the media.

His only news conference since becoming FDD leader was to explain he is no longer the strapping soldier of old because he suffers from diabetes.

Rumours of more serious health problems abound in Lusaka's rumour-mill.

However, the FDD's show of strength was impressive when Mr Tembo filed his presidential nomination papers earlier this month.

The business district of the capital Lusaka was brought to a standstill as several thousand supporters marched through the streets.

Career soldier

Born in 1944 in Kasempa, North-Western Province, he belongs to the Tumbuka people in Eastern Province, although his nationality has been challenged by some, including current Vice-President Enock Kavindele who claims he is a Malawian.

Before joining the MMD in 1991 and becoming a Lusaka MP, Mr Tembo was a career soldier. He attended military college in Camberley, UK, and rose through the ranks to become in 1984 a highly respected army commander.

The only thing separating them and their former colleagues is the issue of the third term

Chilese Mulenga
He was popular with the soldiers, raising their morale by improving supplies and logistics. But his army commander days were cut short by Zambia's first president Kenneth Kaunda, who first posted him to Germany as ambassador and then detained him on suspicion of being involved in an attempt to overthrow the government.

He was defended in the famous 1989 treason trial by Levy Mwanawasa, who is now one of his closest rivals in the race for the presidency.

Mr Tembo, 57, is married to Nangamba Nellie Nachombe with whom he has two children. They live on a farm on the outskirts of Lusaka.

Colleagues in the FDD, including party spokesperson Fisho Mwale, describe him as a benevolent, incorruptible teetotaller and a strong disciplinarian, who will instil honesty into public life.


Outgoing MPs say he was more friendly and more approachable while vice-president than another of his presidential rivals, General Godfrey Miyanda.

But Mr Tembo lacks charisma and is a poor public speaker.

A recent TV performance by him was ripped to shreds by the local press, with one commentator describing his speech as "incoherent like that of a child learning to talk or a drunken man persuading a bartender to give him beer on credit".

There are also serious doubts about his competence to lead Zambia out of its economic doldrums.

"Zambia needs a leader who is able to understand policies, articulate a vision and inspire confidence in the Zambian people: Tembo is not that man," says Ngande Mwanajiti, a political observer from human rights group Afronet.

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