Chiluba: hero or villain

Rupiah Banda talks to Frederick Chiluba
Rupiah Banda talks to Frederick Chiluba

TODAY marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Dr Frederick Jacob Titus  Chiluba, Zambia’s second republican president, whose legacy and contribution to Zambia’s development is still the cause of a raging debate among scholars and political pundits.

Was Dr Chiluba an economic liberator, democrat, a simple unionist or ‘‘political engineer’’ as he liked to call himself?

Had he lived to this day, what would have been his thoughts regarding the growth of the country’s democracy?

When Dr Chiluba and his colleagues assembled in the late 1990s to fight the one-party State of Zambia’s first republican president Dr Kenneth Kaunda under UNIP, which they called a one-party dictatorship, he could not have known that the seed he had planted with his colleagues would outlive him.

On June 18, 2011, Dr Chiluba succumbed to sudden death after being at the helm of Zambia’s major economic and political upheavals for 10 years during which the country moved from one-party State to multi-partyism and free market economy.

In 1990 Chiluba was part of a rainbow of political activists from trade unions, business, political parties and civil society organizations who formed the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) to champion democratic governance.The MMD was later transformed into a political party and Dr Chiluba, as its presidential candidate in 1991, went on to defeat Dr Kaunda who had ruled Zambia for 27 years since independence in 1964.

Dr Chiluba and  Dr Kaunda were strange bedfellows who shared a lot in common and in controversy.

They shared labour challenges at different levels with Dr Chiluba – as Chairman General of the powerful Zambia Congress of Trade Unions – being a representative of the workers, always demanding a better bread and butter deal for his millions of members, while Dr Kaunda was an employer as head of government, safeguarding public coffers and ensuring that the national cake was shared equally.

His ZCTU role not only propelled Chiluba to national stardom but made him cross many paths with Dr Kaunda who many political activists and trade unionists at the time regarded as a tyrant whose socialist orientation had ruined the economy of one of the most promising young African states.

It was therefore not surprising that Dr Chiluba was detained in 1981 by Dr Kaunda for calling what Zambians came to know as a wildcat strike that paralyzed the country over a national pay dispute. He was only released months later after a judge ruled his detention was unconstitutional.

Dr Chiluba remains the only former head of State not to have been honored by successive governments despite being the pioneer of democracy and free market economy.

He is credited with privatizing nearly all the State conglomerates that ran Zambia’s economy under UNIP, including the mines and transport sector.

As such he left an indelible mark on the conscience of the nation and transformation of the economy. Yet Dr Chiluba is hardly recognized as a significant political player and a trendsetter.

While the former Lusaka International Airport and many other national symbols have been named after President Kaunda, not a single national monument has been named in honor of Dr Chiluba.

And yet we have the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium in Ndola and general hospital in Lusaka; there is also the Michael Chilufya Sata Hospital while President Edgar Lungu has a shopping mall in Kitwe named after him.

Dr Chiluba has not been remembered for his contribution to the introduction of multi-party democracy and turning Zambia into a free market economy which made Zambians to realize the need to own property.

Many Zambians remember Dr Chiluba for allowing them to buy houses and own property and started the economic infrastructure development and the coming up of many residential townships.

Since the return to multi-party democracy in 1991, Dr Chiluba is but the only republican president to have completed two five-year terms of office.

Dr Chiluba’s successor, Levy Mwanawasa, ran his first five-year term of office but died two years in his second term.

Dr Mwanawasa’s term was completed by Mr Rupiah Banda who won a presidential election in 2008 but was defeated by Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front (PF) in 2011.

Yet again, the cold hand of death robbed Zambians of their head of State with the demise of Mr Sata in 2014, leading to a presidential by-election in January 2015 which was won by President Lungu.

Had he still lived, Dr Chiluba, an eloquent speaker, orator and believer in democracy, could certainly not have shied away from ‘‘dissecting’’ the new political dispensation.

He would have probably been analyzing the implication of the 50 percent plus one clause for a winning presidential candidate, the running mate and generally the new electoral process.

While Dr Chiluba enjoyed the first-past-the-post political system for a winning presidential candidate, the new dawn entails having more than 50 percent of validly cast ballots to get the State House job.

But even as Dr Chiluba became the first head of State in the return to multi-party democracy in 1991, his name remains conspicuously missing at national level with only his close friends and family eulogising him.

No major building or social facility carries his name. This is despite a corruption probe and prosecution against him being dismissed in the courts of law.

Those who had followed Dr Chiluba’s life after State House knew all was not well. In May 2007, Dr Chiluba had collapsed due to a heart problem.

He was flown to South Africa for treatment on July 27 of the same year and only returned on August 11.

As Zambians remember his death today, the million-dollar question is: was Chiluba a hero or villain?

[zambia daily nation]


  1. If u were born imperfect with human flesh zip your mouth and don’t judge.some of you would be worse than the devil himself if u were given a chance to rule this country.who the hell gave u authority to set standards when u are just lame execuses for your very existence?mwilaituntumba