Monday, August 24, 2009

The Chiluba Story

As a precursor to our Zambia analysis, thought it might be useful to share some musings on Frederick Chiluba the former President of Zambia who earlier this week [17.08.09], was acquitted of allegedly embezzling nearly 500 000USD of state funds into accounts to pay for an extravagant lifestyle when he served as Zambia's first democratically elected leader from 1991 to 2001.

Like many others in the anti-corruption community, I was particularly surprised by the outcome of the trial because the circumstances of Chiluba's period of rule were well known to many. Several of Chiluba's colleagues had already been found guilty and jailed for embezzling state funds. Chiluba's own wife Regina was found guilty and sentenced to serve 3 years imprisonment for theft of state funds and Chiluba himself had lost a civil case wherein a UK court found that he had diverted approximately 46M USD into a London account.The Judge Peter Smith in that case, in his bold ruling, accused Chiluba of shamelessly defrauding his people and flaunting his wealth with an expensive wardrobe of "stupendous proportions". Smith subsequently went on to order Chiluba to leave his home in Lusaka which he found to be built on proceeds of embezzled state funds.

Not surprisingly therefore, the criminal charges filed against Chiluba in Zambia were just the last in a spate of investigations and prosecutions which most felt would go the way of the others. Many anti-corruption practitioners were anxious to see what the first internal criminal prosecution of an African leader for corrupt activity would yield and what broader repercussion such a judgment would have for African governance. The case was being called the "flagship corruption case for sub-saharan Africa".

Chiluba, a former bus conductor and trade unionist was hailed as one of a new breed of post independence African leaders who were democratically elected. Promising a spate of liberalization reforms and a commitment to a free market economy, some of which were in fact implemented, lamentably Chiluba, the second leader since Zambia's independence from British Colonial rule in 1964, followed the path of so many others on this unfortunate Continent. From very early on in Chiluba's reign it became obvious that things were not quite right. He started out by firing many of the independent thinkers in his Cabinet and surrounding himself with "yes men". It is said that corruption flourished as some Chiluba's cronies seemed more interested in lining their own pockets, than serving their country. [My foreign readers will forgive my local digression for a moment. There are some stark and very disturbing similarities between the widely held perception of Patrick Manning the current Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and Chiluba in this regard but more on that in another blog!] Chiluba, then was perceived to have used his office to hound his predecessor, Kenneth Kaunda who had been the first post independence leader.

Kenneth Kaunda President of Zambia [1964 - 1991]

Although Kaunda had his own detractors, holding on to power through one-party rule, many saw Chiluba's intense prosecution of Kaunda as vindinctive. In 1997, Chiluba caused charges to be brought against Kaunda for conspiring in a failed coup plot and had him imprisoned. Chiluba had to be pressured by external forces to release Kaunda. Chiluba therefter used the judicial system again to attempt to strip Kaunda of his citizenship! After 10 years in power Chiluba who had gained quite a reputation for his flashy dressing, a fondness for expensive, monogrammed clothes, and high heel shoes to improve his diminutive height [he was a little over 5ft], had sold off state land at suspect prices and the state copper mine amidst scandal where much of the assets seemed to vanish for next to nothing. In 2001 Chiluba, true to form, fought to change the constitution so that he could remain in power for a third consecutive term, but acceded to internal party pressure to step down. His successor President Levy Mwanawasa [2002-2008]

in an anti-corruption campaign which he pursued until his death in 2008 successfully prosecuted Chiluba's colleagues and his wife Regina. Chiluba's defence in the criminal case was that the monies held in the account were actually proceeds of gifts given by businessmen and others to him personally and were not state funds. It was this money that he would have used to buy clothes totaling approximately 500 000 USD paid in trunks of cash in one instance. The court found in Chiluba's favour stating that the prosecution had failed to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the money was state funds as opposed to gifts. It should be noted that the standard of proof in a civil case is much lower than in a criminal case i.e, the case must be proved "on a balance of probabilities".

To those of us from countries with far more sophisticated governance frameworks one of the first questions we would raise would be - Can a president personally receive monetary gifts of such large amounts??!! In Zambia, it would appear that the answer is yes! There is no law preventing a public official from receiving gifts of money nor any limit on the size of gifts. As I see it, these are the kinds of regulatory gaps in some newly democratic states which demonstrate the form of democracy without the accountability checks and balances which ensure democracy in substance. Regulatory inspection and overhaul needs to take place in order to begin to fight corruption meaningfully and sharpen enforcement mechanisms.

Preceded by Kaunda and Chiluba, and succeeded by Banda, Levy Mwanawasa who died in office in 2008 while pursuing his relentless anti-corruption campaign should not be forgotten. For those who feel that Africa is devoid of leaders who are willing to and capable of approaching the task selflessly and with integrity for the benefit of the people, his legacy will be that there is hope for African leadership. It has been said that Banda does not share Mwanawasa's exuberance to eradicate corruption and went "soft" on the issue. Already there are rumblings that the Chiluba trial was in some way politically influenced to cause the eventual outcome.

In the wake of this verdict all eyes will now turn to Banda. We at LMG World TV ask, which path will he follow? The worn path of post independence African rulers like Chiluba and Robert Mugabe or the rarer likes of Mwanawasa? Only time will tell, and we will be looking on.

Rupiah Banda President of Zambia [2008 - present]

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