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Last Updated: Friday, 4 May 2007, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
Chiluba's legacy to Zambia
Former BBC Zambia correspondent Ishbel Matheson reflects on Frederick Chiluba's time as president. Mr Chiluba has been found guilty of stealing $46m (23m) of public money by a court in London.

Frederick Chiluba with his wife, Regina
Mr Chiluba has always denied stealing public money

Soon after President Frederick JT Chiluba swept to power in a landslide election win in 1991, he was heard to remark to close aides: "Power is sweet."

After 10 years in charge, the former bus conductor and trade union leader, continued to enjoy the taste of power.

So much so that he mounted a campaign to change the country's constitution to allow him to run for the presidency a third time.

He was forced to abandon this plan, after massive opposition from within his own ruling Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) and from the Zambian public.

But the move did much to damage the president's personal prestige.

Many Zambians saw it as an attempt to turn the clock back - as well as a betrayal of the democratic principles which he had preached since the beginning of his presidency.

"We don't hate you, Mr President," said one shop assistant as the arguments raged in 2001. "But please just do the right thing, and leave."

Heady times

When Mr Chiluba was elected, it was amid a atmosphere of elation and euphoria.

His fledgling MMD had trounced the incumbent Kenneth Kaunda and his ruling Unip at the polls.

Kaunda's men were pickpockets, but Chiluba's lot are thieves
Zambian journalist

It was an audacious victory, which sent shockwaves across Africa.

The charismatic Mr Kaunda had held the reins of power since independence in 1964 - much of it under one-party rule.

Although he had been forced by popular discontent to hold elections, when beaten at the polls, he ceded power peacefully.

His successor Frederick Chiluba was hailed as one of a new breed of democratically elected leaders, in a continent where rulers clung on for decades.

Zambians looked forward to a bright, new future.

The new government set about unshackling the country's collapsing economy from stifling state controls. Guided by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, it embraced the free-market market with one of the most ambitious liberalisation programmes in Africa.

With its large copper reserves - some of the biggest in the world - and rich agricultural potential, foreign investors started to eye this poor southern Africa nation with interest.


But 10 years on, that optimism had mostly evaporated. Many regarded Mr Chiluba's rule as a disappointment. The promise of the MMD revolution remained unfulfilled.

So what went wrong? For one, despite being promoted as an new-style African leader, Mr Chiluba began to show some decidedly old-fashioned traits.

Former President Kenneth Kaunda
Kenneth Kaunda was hounded by his successor

Within a year-and-a-half, he had sacked independent-minded colleagues from his cabinet, and began to surround himself by "yes" men and women.

Corruption flourished. Some of Mr Chiluba's cronies, it seemed, were more interested with lining their own pockets, than serving their country.

Within a decade, graft seeped into Zambia's way of life.

"Kaunda's men were pickpockets," commented one Zambian journalist. "But Chiluba's lot are thieves."

The government's sell-off of the copper mines - the country's biggest asset - was botched and scandal-ridden.

A parliamentary probe revealed that some of the assets of ZCCM, the mines' company, simply vanished into thin air, while other valuable properties were sold for a song.

In the meantime, the free-market economy failed to deliver.

Despite billions of dollars of international aid since 1991, three-quarters of Zambia's population still live below the World Bank poverty threshold of $1 a day. The much-needed foreign investment to kick-start the economy has not transpired.


A large part of the blame must rest with Mr Chiluba himself. He often seemed more interested in securing his own position, than improving the lot of his people.

His attempts to hound his rival and former president, Mr Kaunda, out of politics in the mid-1990s, tarnished his reputation badly with the international community.

President Levy Mwanawasa
President Levy Mwanawasa says he will pardon Mr Chiluba - if he returns 75% of the money
In 1997, Mr Kaunda was accused of conspiring in failed coup plot and imprisoned.

It took protests from Africa's elder statesmen, Nelson Mandela and Julius Nyerere, to persuade Mr Chiluba to release him.

Then there was the long-running, politically inspired court case, which attempted to strip Zambia's independence leader of his citizenship.

Many saw the hounding of Mr Kaunda as spiteful and malicious, by a leader who felt jealous of the older man's popularity, both with the Zambian people and among fellow African leaders.

Mr Chiluba, himself, cut a curious figure in public life.

He is a "natty" dresser, with a fondness for expensive, monogrammed clothes, and built-up shoes to improve his diminutive height.

A fervent born-again Christian, his private life was the subject of much gossip. In September 2001, he divorced his wife Vera, to whom he had been married for 33 years.

Positive change

But although Mr Chiluba may not have left office a popular leader, Zambia changed greatly under his tenure, and a lot of it, for the good.

The public opposition to his third term bid showed that Zambians treasured their young democracy, so much so that even in this famously, laid-back country, they were prepared to mobilise to protect it.

Moreover, the freedom of speech allowed under Mr Chiluba would have been unthinkable for much of Mr Kaunda's rule.

There was a lively, free printed media, which relentlessly - and cruelly - lampooned the country's political leadership including Mr Chiluba. Such public mockery of the presidency is unknown in some parts of Africa.

Although the free-market has not delivered prosperity, the consensus among the country's political class - opposition and government - is that it is the only way forward.

The goal is to make Zambia's economy work better, not to return to the days of price controls, and the over-weaning state.

Finally, although Mr Chiluba wanted to stay in power, it is to his credit that he did not use widespread, state-sponsored violence to do so.

Zambians only have to look south, to neighbouring Zimbabwe and President Robert Mugabe, to see what the alternative might have been.

Mr Chiluba - Zambia's second leader since independence - opted to go the other route, leaving office peacefully. For this, Zambians can be thankful.

Zambia's 'matrix of plunder'
09 Dec 03 |  Africa
Chiluba loses immunity appeal
19 Feb 03 |  Africa

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