Zambian Leader Sets New Course
Former trade unionist emerges as leading advocate of free enterprise, tough work ethic. INTERVIEW
A RIPPLE of excitement passes through the crowd as the diminutive figure rises to his feet clad in a double-breasted Italian suit."The hour ... the hour ... the hour has come," proclaims the crowd of 40,000 or so people reaching forward with the symbolic thumb-and-forefinger salute of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). The hour is noon on Saturday Nov. 2 outside Lusaka's high court - the scene for the swearing in of Zambia's second president. The man is Frederick Chiluba - the former trade union leader who embodies the wave of popular feeling that swept longtime ruler Kenneth Kaunda from power over the weekend.
Opens with a prayer Normally, he would have initiated the haunting chant himself. But instead Mr. Chiluba, a reborn Christian since he was detained for trade union activities a decade ago, opens his speech with a prayer. Then he continues: "The stream of democracy, dammed up for 27 years, is finally free to run its course as a mighty African river...." His supporters call him "The Liberator," or "The Messiah," or "The Black Moses." In Zambia's Copperbelt, where he grew up, he was known as, Aka Red, the Winning Dice. "We know that President Chiluba is a not a talker but a doer," the pro-MMD Sunday Express said in a recent editorial."That is what makes him different from other leaders who spend most of their time talking." Chiluba's life is a paradox. It is rare in Africa to find a trade union leader emerging as the leading advocate of free enterprize and the architect of economic reconstruction in a country devastated by socialism. He has inherited the ruins of a centrally controlled economy in an advanced state of decay. Yet Chiluba's greatest challenge could be to hold together the unlikely eight-month-old MMD coalition of workers, big business, church groups, and the professional class. As a member of Zambia's largest tribe, the Bemba, Chiluba could also face tribal tensions in his government if he does not strike the right ethnic balance in his Cabinet. Mr. Kaunda successfully maintained tribal unity because he wasn't Zambian; he was the son of a missionary from neighboring Malawi. Chiluba, who was born in Zambia's northern Luapula province, spent most of his childhood in the Copperbelt town of Kitwe. His father was a copper miner who died when Chiluba was a child. Chiluba was then raised by his grandmother. He dropped out of school and worked briefly as a personnel clerk in a sisal hemp plantation in neighboring Tanzania where he developed an interest in trade unionism. He later completed his schooling by correspondence, passing exams in politics and government. Chiluba was elected leader of the 300,000-strong Zambian Congress of Trade Unions in 1974. He held the position until he was elected the first president of the MMD in February. Kaunda, who ruled the country for 27 years, suspended the Constitution soon after independence, nationalized the copper mines in 1968, and ushered in one-party rule in 1972. Chiluba rejected repeated attempts by Kaunda to neutralize him as an opponent by bringing him into the Cabinet after his release from detention in 1981. Chiluba is in the mold of a new generation of African leaders who are prepared to confront the severe crisis the continent faces rather than blame Africa's ills on the legacy of colonialism. A strong advocate of free enterprise and privatization, he urges Zambians to make the economy attractive to foreign investors. "In the world and Africa today the great nations - the prosperous nations - are the free nations," he said.
Tough decisions ahead He faces daunting economic decisions, such as phasing out state subsidies on corn in a country where previous price increases have triggered food riots and reducing the size of the civil service to meet the demands of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. At the final MMD rally before the ballot, Chiluba lectured his youthful audience of 30,000 on the need to work harder and make sure that they arrived on time for work. "Our attitude to work has not been the best," he said. "Let us show the outside world we can do as well as people elsewhere. Are we ready to work?" "Yes," roared the crowd. In his acceptance speech Chiluba quoted United States President Bush and the late Sir Winston Churchill. He said Mr. Bush, in his inaugural speech, had said that "Great nations, like great names, keep their word." "This is my pledge to you, Zambia: The government will keep its word." He said the winds of change, predicted for Africa decades ago, had finally reached Zambia. "When Winston Churchill offered his people nothing but blood, toil, tears, and sweat, they rose to the occasion and swept away the forces of tyranny and repression," Chiluba said. He blends his popular rhetoric about democracy, human rights, and the rule of law with a tough message about the work ethic and the hard road that lies ahead. "There will be no manna from heaven," he told the Monitor. "That is why I always stress the need to examine attitudes. Initially, there will be more problems than ever before. But you have to start somewhere." Despite a wave of anti-Kaunda sentiment, he has pledged that the new government will take care of Kaunda and his family, and he has called on Zambians to show the former president respect. "We are entering the arena where conflict of opinion will be resolved amicably," he said. But some of Chiluba's trade union critics say that he has an authoritarian streak. "There are already worrying signs that his trade union leadership style has been carried over into the MMD," said an editorial in the independent Weekly Post.
Critics question style His critics question the ease with which he developed a presidential style and allowed followers to call him "Your Excellency" long before he was in office. "I think he has the potential to become a pocket Kaunda," says a Western diplomat. Chiluba prefers not to express a view on his own character. "You would do best to ask my colleagues," he says. On the other hand, he is admired for his sincerity and realism and has impressed many Western officials with his charm, modesty, and efficiency. "There is no doubt that he is a lot smarter than Kaunda when it comes to economics," says a senior Western diplomat. "If he can manage to take the MMD through the next two years, I would give him a fighting chance to survive his first five-year term."