Zambian Watchdog

History: the day Chiluba was sworn in

April 01
19:24 2011

By Jane Perlez

LUSAKA, Zambia, Nov. 2, 1991— In a rare democratic transition, Frederick Chiluba, a trade union leader, was sworn in here today as President of Zambia. Tens of thousands of people walked miles in the hot sun to a grassy square in the front of the nation’s High Court to witness the inauguration.

They listened to the new President pledge that “freedom to work and freedom of speech” would replace the “corruption, repression and dictatorship” of the past.

Earlier in the day, the only other President Zambia has known, Kenneth D. Kaunda, conceded defeat by a landslide at the polls on Thursday.

In a televised speech, the 67-year-old Mr. Kaunda, an often-emotional man who clutched his signature white linen handkerchief in his left hand, offered an apology to the people of his south-central African nation, saying, “I tried to do my very best.” Comeback Seen as Unlikely

He said he would work to pick up the pieces of his shattered political organization, the United National Independence Party, which had virtually run the country. But few took the idea seriously. Zambians seemed to agree with former President Jimmy Carter, leader of an election observer team, that Mr. Kaunda now deserved a role as a “respected senior statesman.”

The ousted President, well known in Africa and internationally, achieved far less success with the Zambian economy. He has bequeathed to the 48-year-old Chiluba a bankrupt country.

This is a comedown from Zambia’s position as one of the richest nations on the continent after its first decade of independence from Britain, beginning in 1964. In colonial days, what is now Zambia was known as Northern Rhodesia.

In Thursday’s voting, widespread disgust with the decrepit state of the economy and the low esteem in which many had come to hold Mr. Kaunda helped provide Mr. Chiluba’s stunning majority.

Although the returns were still incomplete 48 hours after the polls closed, Larry Garber, a senior consultant with the National Democratic Institute in Washington who came here with Mr. Carter, said he believed that final counting would give Mr. Chiluba about 80 percent of the vote.

Officials of Mr. Chiluba’s party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, said partial results showed they had won more than 100 of the 150 seats in Parliament. Dissent Had a Price

For many members and supporters of Mr. Chiluba’s party, today’s swearing-in represented a hard-earned victory. Sitting on the stage behind him were several civilians who had gone to jail for plotting a coup against Mr. Kaunda in the early 1980’s.

Zambians seemed proud that, in contrast with much of Africa, their country was able to carry out multiparty elections without violence. “It was good Kaunda had to stay and face it,” said Masiye Nyirenda, 26, a bank clerk. “We helped him pack his things and leave by voting. No shots have been fired. The people have rejected him.”

Many voters credited the relatively smooth running of the elections to the presence of international monitoring teams including Mr. Carter’s, as well as two Zambian teams, which fielded more than 3,000 observers.

Mr. Chiluba, as leader since 1974 of the nation’s robust labor union movement, the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, was a clear choice to lead the country’s newly invigorated political opposition in the election.

But some now question whether he has the political acumen to carry through the promise of democracy and the economic skills to straighten out the troubled economy. Senior supporters say Mr. Chiluba was chosen for his vote-getting ability rather than experience in government. Austerity Will Be Needed

Those views notwithstanding, Mr. Chiluba, who describes himself as a believer in free enterprise, faces the need to make some unpopular moves. He tried to prepare the way during the campaign by telling voters that Government-subsidized food — one of Mr. Kaunda’s methods of keeping city dwellers happy — was not a viable economic policy.

He has pledged to remove the subsidies in stages. When Mr. Kaunda reduced subsidies last year, there were riots, and out of fear of violence just before the election, he broke a commitment with the World Bank to reduce the subsidies again in September.

Mr. Chiluba has argued that the subsidies have helped break the nation — huge amounts of state revenue has been spent on keeping grain prices artificially low for the consumer — leaving little to pay the farmers who grow it. Thus, many farmers did not grow corn this year, leaving the country with a substantial shortage and predictions of famine in some regions. Avid Reader

Frederick Jacob Titus Chiluba was born the son of a miner in Kitwe, a major city in the northern copper belt, on April 30, 1943. He dropped out of school because of lack of money and completed his secondary education in 1971 through a correspondence course from London. Since then, he has continued to read political science and history, often quoting from the biographies of world figures.

As a young man, he went to Tanzania to work as a clerk on a sisal plantation, where, he has said, he developed his interest in the labor movement.

In 1966, he joined Atlas Copco, a Swedish mining-equipment company in the city of Ndola as an accounts assistant, and stayed at the company, rising to credit manager, until last year, when he took a leave of absence.

He started in the labor movement as a shop steward for the National Union of Building, Engineering and General Workers and became its president in 1971. In 1987, he left the union, the loser in an intramural political struggle, but soon established a new organization so he could retain his leadership of the national trade union congress.

Eight months after a coalition of politicians, students and businessmen pressed hard for multiparty elections, the Government legalized the opposition, and he was elected chairman of a new political party. Jailed and Born Again

Unlike many other union leaders in Africa, Mr. Chiluba refused to be co-opted, declining Government job offers from President Kaunda. Instead, he used his position to criticize economic policies.

Angered by such criticism, Mr. Kaunda arrested Mr. Chiluba in 1981 on charges of trying to overthrow the Government.

In three months in prison, Mr. Chiluba has said, he became a born-again Christian.

The new Zambian President is very short by the standard of most Africans — just under five feet tall.

Courtesy of New York Times

 

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