The Invisible Force
Are Zambian leaders chosen by divine providence?
The Bible has several verses demonstrating the fact that leadership has more to deal with divine intervention than ability to govern.
Examples of Biblical characters who ascended to leadership with God’s involvement include Joseph, Moses and David who all started humbly before gaining great importance.
Regardless of how they govern, there is always divine intervention in choosing a leader as has been manifested in Zambian politics from Kenneth Kaunda, to the second republican president Frederick Chiluba, Levy Mwanawasa, Rupiah Banda and the incumbent Michael Chilufya Sata.
During the struggle for independence in Zambia, many “natives” thought the man who would be president was Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula.
Africans had good cause to pit him for presidency, because long before Kaunda gained political dominance in the struggle for independence, Nkumbula who was the leader of the Africa National Congress (ANC) was a towering force in the struggle for black rule.
As an aggressive, articulate and uncompromising opponent of the Federation, Nkumbula was elected president of the Northern Rhodesian African Congress in 1951, the party that was soon renamed the African National Congress (ANC) after the South African oldest political party of the same name.
In 1953, the then politically naive Kenneth Kaunda became secretary-general of the ANC, learning the ropes of the trade from his mentor and more seasoned political leader.
This alliance pitted two nationalists exposing their leadership qualities to Africans who were looking for a ‘Moses’ to free them from colonial rule that had made them strangers in their own country.
Nkumbula’s leadership shortcomings compared to Kaunda started showing a classic example being when he at one time called for the ill-timed national strike – disguised as a “national day of prayer” — in opposition to the Federation.
The African population did not respond due to the opposition of the African Mine Workers’ Union’s president, Lawrence Katilungu, who vigorously campaigned against the strike on the Copperbelt.
Katilungu who belonged to the minority middle class was among well-known sellouts nicknamed “makobo” after a tasteless fish that does not struggle when caught in a net.
In October 1953, after the White colonial settlers formed the much-hated Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, ignoring the Black African majority’s opposition, fate again pitted the two leaders who despite working together were sending different signals of weaknesses to the oppressed blacks.
One such example was in the early months of 1954 when Nkumbula and Kaunda organised a partially successful boycott of European-owned butcheries in Lusaka complaining against the racist practice of barring blacks from entering the butcheries to choose the meat of their choice.
Kaunda used the opportunity to announce in the Press that he would not eat beef because of the injustices meted against blacks who were forced to buy through pigeon holes.
Despite their efforts to stop Federation, the ANC found it difficult to mobilise their people against the move that quickly gained momentum and was established lasting for 10 years.
In early 1955, Nkumbula and Kaunda were imprisoned together for two months (with hard labour) for distributing what was deemed by the colonial masters as “subversive” literature.
However, it was Kaunda, who largely stole the show as a charismatic leader inspiring the nation by dressing in a black toga as a sign of resistance to colonial government.
The incarceration of nationalists and other forms of harassment were normal ‘baptismal’ rites of passage for freedom fighters whose fight against colonial rule was seen as the most courageous act a black could do against whites.
Historians of Zambian politics have noted that though imprisonment had a moderating influence on Nkumbula, it had a radicalising influence on Kaunda making him an avowed freedom fighter.
By the end of the 50s, Nkumbula who had been the sole choice for a black president became increasingly influenced by White liberals and was seen as willing to compromise on the fundamental issue of majority rule.
Opposition to Nkumbula’s allegedly lukewarm approach to black rule and his autocratic leadership of the ANC eventually resulted in a split with his former protégé forming the Zambia African National Congress (ZANC) in October 1958.
The new party was banned in March 1959 and in June Kaunda was sentenced to nine months imprisonment, a move that singled him out as a political martyr.
While Kaunda was still in prison, the United National Independence Party (UNIP) was formed late in 1959.
UNIP’s first president, Dixon Konkola, was suspended within weeks and replaced by Paul Kalichini who was also replaced by Mainza Chona who had just left ANC.
It is important to note that if Kaunda was a mere mortal, the UNIP presidency was going to be usurped by any ambitious member in the party but by this time the former teacher-turned politician had established himself at the man to take Zambia to black rule.
Chona, in principle and recognition of Kaunda’s towering personality and charisma handed the presidency of UNIP over to Kaunda because he did not feel he possessed the necessary qualities to lead an independence movement.
Kaunda’s Malawi parentage, which normally could have disadvantaged him as a foreigner worked to his advantage at a time when tribal affiliation was more paramount than national causes.
On January 31, 1960 Kaunda was elected UNIP’s national president and true to Chona’s observation, Kaunda took over the presidency of UNIP making it better organised and more militant than Nkumbula’s ANC.
Thus Kaunda displaced Nkumbula, the father of Zambian nationalism and set UNIP on a path to self-rule rapidly taking the leading position in the struggle for independence, eclipsing the ANC.
During independence constitutional talks in London in 1960–61, Nkumbula played second fiddle with Kaunda as the main man to make negotiations that would see the landlocked country attain independence.
Back home Nkumbula suffered a further impediment when he disappeared from the political scene for nine months (April 1961–January 1962), while serving a prison sentence for causing death by dangerous driving.
Later in the run-up to elections in October 1962, Nkumbula made the mistake of accepting funding from Moise Tshombe’s regime in Katanga.
He also made an ill-advised secret electoral pact with the Whites-only United Federal Party (UFP) but was later coerced into forming a coalition with UNIP and was given the post of minister of African education.
The UNIP made an alliance with ANC that lasted until the pre-independence elections of January 1964, when UNIP won 55 seats to the ANC’s 10 seats.
The alliance later led to Zambia’s independence on October 24, 1964. Can we attribute Kaunda’s ascendancy to power to divine intervention?
After Kaunda reigned for 27 years, there was much discontentment nationally concerning the economic situation that led to strident voices calling for change of government.
During the last week of June 1990, three days of food riots rocked Lusaka and other urban areas on the Copperbelt ‑ a clear indication that Kaunda’s days in State House were numbered.
The spark igniting the spontaneous violence was the government’s intention to double the price of mealie-meal, leading to a riot in which 27 people lost their lives. – UK Zambians