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Kaunda rises from the dead.

Zambia's flamboyant former President, Mr Kenneth Kaunda, has made a spectacular re-entry into active politics. He has thrown down the gauntlet to President Frederick Chiluba's Government and declared himself ready to contest next year's general elections. Anver Versi in London and Alfred K.K. Sayila in Lusaka assess Kaunda's come-back prospects.

Barely two years ago, Mr Kenneth Kaunda was a beaten man. He had not only lost the Presidency of Zambia, which he had held for 27 years, but the new Government seemed determined to humble and humiliate him.

He had been stripped of every vestige of status and he complained that he was rapidly becoming a pauper. His bright black eyes, famous for weeping copious tears in public during his reign in office, now had a haunted and confused look. The world outside State House, he was finding out, was a bleak and cold place.

But you cannot keep a man of Mr Kaunda's irrepressible energy, charm and ambition down for long. He used the goodwill he had created by gracefully accepting defeat in the 1991 election to launch himself on a talking tour of Europe. He set up a foundation and discovered that the press was still interested enough to interview him at length. He was through with politics, he reiterated time and again, but perhaps his long experience in African politics could be put to some use...?

But Zambian politics was not through with him. The Government of Mr Frederick Chiluba, which had stormed to victory in the last elections, was now rapidly running out of credibility. The economy was a shambles, unemployment was running at an all-time high and stinking wisps of corruption were emanating from the governing elite.

Even the style of government, typified by Chiluba's stern, uncompromising countenance, its petty vindictiveness against Mr Kaunda and other opposition figures and its increasingly threatening posture was alienating the public and the media. The new Government, borne into power on the shoulders of the country's white-collar unions and the middle classes, was now finding its support being rapidly whittled away.

The dream which had ushered the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (M-MD) into government had long vanished and only a bleak and austere future seemed to roll to the horizon.

It was time for a new vision - or the renewal of an old vision. And Mr Kenneth Kaunda, ever the man to choose his moment, stepped once again on to the political stage.

Around June last year, Mr Kaunda began a low-key tour of the countryside, particularly in the east where he still holds a substantial following. He told the steadily increasing crowds that at the root of their suffering lay Western imposed economic policies; he said the enforced privatisation of state-owned utilities was a blatant selling off of the country's sovereignty to Western capitalism; he drew prolonged cheers when he pointed out that the reforms of the public health institutions were placing medication out of the reach of the poor and he accused the Government of corruption, drug trafficking, tribalism and attempts to muzzle the press and the opposition.

In October, the reborn Mr Kaunda, eyes sparkling, his measured gait back in place and the familiar snow-white handkerchief fluttering delicately from his upraised hand, presided over a huge rally at the Kafue roundabout in Lusaka. He played the crowd like the master of old, weeping with them in their sorrows and then lifting their spirits with his own brand of humour.

"Yes, yes" he finally bowed to repeated appeals, "I shall return to politics if you want me to." He received a thunderous reception.

With this public declaration that he is firmly in the race for next year's elections, Mr Kaunda has, at a stroke, turned the Zambian political landscape on its head.

He has not only caused panic among the ranks of the MMD, he has threatened to turn the hierarchy within his own party, the United National Independence Party (UNIP) topsy-turvy.

His first battle was to win the leadership of UNIP, or failing that, form his own party. Mr Kebby Musokotwane, the embattled President of the party had shown no inclination whatsoever of stepping down in favour of his predecessor. He had in fact warned the party that Kaunda's bid for leadership would bring division and disunity to the party.

Mr Musokotwane, who once served as Prime Minister under Mr Kaunda, had never felt really comfortable as party President since he was catapulted into the hot seat, by Mr Kaunda himself, in 1992. Mr Kaunda also left behind a hand-picked leadership cadre which would willingly hand over the leadership to him whenever he felt the time was right to return to politics.

Mr Musokotwane, aware that he was being gradually marginalised by Mr Kaunda's supporters in the party, drove to the former President's house and demanded to know what his true position in the party was and what was "all this nonsense" he had been hearing from the grapevine that he (Kaunda) was returning to lead UNIP.

From that time on, Mr Musokotwane has been openly suspicious of the "old man" and has accused him of having betrayed him from the very time he assumed the presidency of the party. Worse, there has been open and bitter disagreement in the party's Central Committee with some top officials siding with Musokotwane and others campaigning for Kaunda.

The sharp division in the UNIP Central Committee came to a head recently when Mr Musokotwane decided to suspend four party officials including the party Chairman, General Malimbe Maaheke for aligning themselves with Kaunda. He later accused his Vice-President Professor Patrick Mvunga of leading a rebellion against his leadership.

But no sooner had Musokotwane disciplined the four members of the Central Committee then Professor Mvunga, a Central Committee member and Opposition MP, convened an urgent meeting of the Committee and announced the suspension of Mr Musokotwane and his Secretary-General, Lieutenant-General Benjamin Mibenge. The hastily arranged Central Committee nullified the suspension of the four Kaunda supporters and dissolved the party's Board of Directors.

Amid confusion and rancour, Mr Musokotwane and his group agreed to convene a party Congress in February to elect new party office bearers. Mr Kaunda was widely tipped to win.

An African Business snap survey carried out recently at Freedom House, the party headquarters, showed that 56.4% of party leaders preferred Kaunda to come back and revamp the party while 54.2% of rank and file members polled supported the leadership of Musokotwane. However, the party's 25 MPs appear to be fully behind Kaunda and it is expected that they will be able to rally the rank and file to their cause should Kaunda emerge triumphant from the Congress.

Meanwhile, the ruling MMD has launched an aggressive political campaign to try and counter Kaunda's storming return to active politics. It is feared that the return of the former Zambian leader may not only prove politically dangerous but might undermine the Economic Recovery Programme which the Government has pursued since it came to power.

Although President Chiluba has played down the political seriousness of Kaunda's pronouncements, there is an uneasy foreboding in certain quarters of the MMD that any miscalculation would be deeply regretted later.

At the moment, the MMD's main strength is its overwhelming majority in parliament, with 127 seats against the Opposition's 28. Of these, UNIP holds 25 seats while Mr Humphrey Malimbe's National Party (NP) holds 3. However, the MMD lost two seats to UNIP in by-elections in December and it is increasingly being seen as a northern dominated organ.

Mr Kaunda has already exploited the party's weakness and has accused President Chiluba of smoking hashish, drug trafficking and smuggling motor vehicles. "How can we be ruled by a President who smokes dagga (hashish)" he recently asked a rally. He also claimed that the reason why a political opponent was deported to Malawi was because he had witnessed the President's drug-taking habits.

At the time of going to press, we learnt that Mr Kaunda was seriously considering standing for a parliamentary seat in Eastern Province, a UNIP stronghold, in order to make his way to the Leader of the Opposition in the current Parliament. Such a political strategy will not only help him to water down MMD policies but would give him added political leverage in the country.

But Mr Kaunda's return to politics has generally received mixed feelings, with some people calling for his immediate arrest for pretending that he had retired from active politics, while others feel that as a citizen of the country the former President had every right to decide his own political future.

There is a growing school of thought in the country that having been in the political wilderness for some time, Kaunda might emerge as a better leader than before, especially as he has confessed to making mistakes while in power. But then others think the former President may be unable to live up to the aspirations of Zambia's new politics.

Whatever the situation, now that Kaunda has joined battle, the entire political scenario of Zambia seems to have been shaken into life. Political pressure may force President Chiluba to abandon some of his economic policies in order to appease the electorate. Some observers are pleased that Kaunda has joined the fray because, they say, it will force the MMD Government "not to take the people of Zambia for granted".

If Mr Kaunda does get into power, will he be good for business or will his socialist leanings get the better of him? He may kick-start the economy, but he could just as well preside over the last rites of a sick nation.
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Title Annotation:Zambia's former president Kenneth Kaunda
Author:Versi, Anver; Sayila, Alfred K.K.
Publication:African Business
Date:Mar 1, 1995
Words:1605
Previous Article:Back to square one.
Next Article:Limits of patience?
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