Death has been announced of Frederick Jacob Titus Chiluba – the former President of Zambia. He died at home after a short illness suspected to be heart failure.
Chiluba was a controversial figure. He was born on April 30, 1943 in humble settings. His early education was interrupted when he was expelled from School for indiscipline or as his political spin doctors called it – “political activities”. He managed life through odd jobs including being a bus driver until he eventually found his way in to trade union politics after short stints as a Councillor and accountant.
It is however when he led his Movement for Multi-Party Democracy to power that Chiluba became highly controversial. Having led Sub Saharan Spring, many people expected him to be a shinning example of good governance, accountability and openness in government. Those who expected that he would champion democracy were quickly disappointed.
Chiluba embarked on a singularly obsessive crusade of revenge against the man he had beaten – Dr. Kenneth Kaunda. He made various attempts to imprison Kaunda and did lock him up a number of times despite the ex-president having immunity from arrest. He would subject Kaunda to multiple instances of humiliation, including evicting him from his home on the grounds that it was built using state funds; Destroying the ex-president’s personal effects and finally rendering him homeless after failing to deport him to Malawi. His treatment of Kaunda attracted much criticism from abroad and would lead to the great loss of face and respect for the man who assumed power with great promise. In a way Chiluba confirmed every stereotype that had been said about him such as over-compensating for his limited height.
Little did Chiluba know that he was setting a dangerous precedent in Zambia that would dog every former president.
Having promised to serve only one term, not only did Chiluba stand again for the second term but he pushed his supporters to engineer a third term for him at the end of his second. He showed total disregard for the law and disobeyed court orders. Faced with the threat of a now reformed and popular ex President Kenneth Kaunda, Chiluba used dirty tactics to eliminate him from the race. He used his large parliamentary majority to ram through a constitutional amendment that forbade persons whose parents were not born in Zambia from contesting the presidency. Needless to say it equally disqualified him as Zambia was created in 1965 – long after he was born. His attempt to deport Kaunda to Malawi arguing that he was not a Zambian was also part of the plot to eliminate competition. As it later turned out, Kaunda was after all more Zambian than Chiluba: Chiluba’s parents came from present day Democratic Republic of Congo. To him the harassment of Kaunda became an obsession. If it was both ironic and mortifying for a man heading a party professing multi-partyism as its mantra to subvert competing political parties, Chiluba did not seem to notice.
Some say that Chiluba being a mere 5 feet tall reacted with everlasting anger when Kaunda labeled him “Four-foot Dwarf“. He remained sensitive about his height throughout his life. It was revealed in a London court in the late 2000s, that a Swiss shop had produced over 100 pairs of size 6 shoes for him with two-inch heels, many monogrammed. He had an insatiable taste for fine suits – something that became his trademark.
He was the least celibate born again Christian having married three times and sired over a dozen children. He was rumored to have countless affairs with different women – something he was lampooned for in the media. His opprobrious divorce from his second wife provided an opportunity for many to take a brief glimpse in to the debauchery that characterized the man’s private life with accusations of infidelity and widespread moral decadence.
While Chiluba his role in the introduction of multi-party politics in Zambia will be a footnote of history, it is his involvement in corruption and outright theft that will be his legacy. The period after he left office was consumed by different corruption related trials. The man he hand-picked as his successor turned against him and personally addressed parliament demanding that it lift Chiluba’s immunity from prosecution so that he could be tried for the massive theft he carried out during his tenure. Parliament agreed.
Thus Chiluba remained under investigation with the authorities recovering over 60 million dollars which he had stolen. There was more to come when Levi Mwanawasa succumbed to illness and died. The man who took over quickly made amends with Chiluba and all the cases against him collapsed following executive interference.
Chiluba dies leaving behind and example to incoming African leaders on exactly what not to do. He started off as a messiah who rapidly became a demon. His demise may be a relief to Zambians who would like to quickly forget the blunder they made in electing him their head of state.