Zambia: How Will Chiluba Be Remembered?

How will Chiluba be remembered? That is the question that is being debated by Zambian netizens on various networks. The buzz on the late former president’s death and his legacy is almost reflective of one of Zambian language sayings which states that on the day an elephant dies, it is the talk of the village.

The story of Zambia’s second president, Frederick Chiluba, reads like a Homeric tale in Greek mythology in which someone of humble beginnings rises up and heroically knocks off the perch the ruler of a state and takes over. In the process, the hero falls in love with a wicked nymph and is consumed in her power.

Former President Chiluba’s body taken to the Mulungushi International Conference Center in Lusaka, Zambia for body viewing. Photo courtesy of @QfmZambia

One Facebooker put it on his wall, the death of former President Chiluba, who died on June 18, has brought more mixed opinions and divisions than that of his nemesis and successor Levy Mwanawasa. A few months into office in 2002, Mwanawasa waived Chiluba’s presidential immunity accusing the second president of plundering millions of US dollars from the national treasury.

Some netizens say that Chiluba must be allowed to rest in peace while others maintain that the former president should be treated even in death for what he was, a plunderer whose actions while in office impoverished many people in the country he ruled from 1991 to 2001.

Perhaps, the eulogy by Munshya wa Munshya captures best the views of those who say Chiluba ought to be remembered for the good he did for the country rather than dwelling on the negative side of his reign.

Wrote Munshya:

In 1990, choosing a leader for the MMD was not an easy feat. But all sections of the MMD united around Frederick Chiluba. Even many academics in the movement acknowledged the intelligence and brilliance of Chiluba. Chiluba acquired this brilliance, neither in the walls of the classroom nor in the decors of laboratories but rather on the street. It is this courage, this education, and this street wisdom that made Frederick Chiluba fit to lead Zambia’s new political party.

And in consistency with his predecessor, one of the first acts of the presidency was Christian commitment. For Kaunda, three months in power in January 1965, he launched the United Church of Zambia, calling it a “national edifice.” For Chiluba, three months in power he addressed a prayer meeting at State House where he renounced corruption and witchcraft and declared Zambia as a Christian nation. This 1991 declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation is perhaps one of the most far reaching decisions that would long linger in history.

In death, however, Zambians should put their political differences aside and unite in mourn the passing of an extraordinary man. A diminutive man who walked among us with extraordinary courage.

A brief Twitter exchange I had with Munshya went like this:

It looks like #Chiluba is being canonised in death. Very soon we'll hear a suggestion that he be called Saint Fred. #Zambia.

Munshya replied:

@GNdhlovu death has a way of redeeming people.

@ICTjournalist tweeted:

@GNdhlovu i remember him as a person who who started a revolution in Africa which has spread all over

Another tweep, @missbwalya, had this to say about Chiluba:

Beyond multi-party democracy & liberalization, Chiluba's lasting legacy is “ukubosha (bribery)” mentality + corruption. #ThatsAll #Zambia

@afriwoman did not like him but

Listening to Zambian radio stations, going through pics of #Chiluba's funeral courtesy of @QfmZambia . Didn't like the guy but a little sad

The debate on Chiluba’s virtues when he was alive have been intense on Lusaka Times and Zambian Watchdog which have been carrying a number of stories on the former president’s death.

Commeting on the Lusaka Times under the story in which the incumbent President Rupiah Banda declares seven days of national mourning for Chiluba, Sanford and Son says:

As we depart from this earth, we shall be remembered by what we have done, and at times the bad overshadows all the good we may have done, So it is for FTJ. I remember my brothers and sisters who died in droves because there was no food or healthcare, being taken to the nearest clinic in a wheel barrow while Chiluba dined with prostitutes!

Isaac has a different view:

It is so sad to lose a former president of a nation.He was a great man who will b remembered by many for the introduction of multipartism. May His Soul Rest In Eternal Peace.

Another contributor, Independent, names the number of people, including politicians and lawyers who died in mysterious circumstances under Chiluba’s government:

Well I guess 7 days national mourning is befitting of a former president.
But that does not take away the fact that he presided over worst levels of public corruption in Zambia’s history.
When he was president,prominent political figures (Penza,Tembo,W.Kaunda,Nguni,Ngenda e.t.c)met their deaths in the most brutal way imaginable.This was in the so called “Christian Nation” era.
I agree, FTJ deserves it……………

The Zambian Watchdog had a story in which readers were asked to discuss Chiluba´s death and coming elections. Some of the responses are as follows:

Juan wrote:

No way the chap was a criminal & he could cause problems during the elections so it’s good for us that he is dead now. RIP no flowers please!




I think Chiluba should have lived to answer the cases that RB decided to close without proper justification. It is always hard to debate a dead man, let alone one who is not even burried yet, but the misery he caused, impunity with which he acted and lack of shame and remorse stinks, real stinking. I pray to God that Zambia should never have a president like him.

I am not very sure if Chiluba was really a factor in the coming elections. A small number i think might have been influenced by him especially in Luapula but elsewhere, no.

Machende mbwazulwa wrote:

there is no impct which can come with chiluba’s death, people stopped recognising chiluba as a president a long time ago, him being alive or dead doesnt make any difference. on sunday i went to COMESA market, and among the people i spoke too non was sympathetic of chiluba’s death. even those attending his funeral most of them are just there to enjoy the GRZ sponsored meals, im also rushing there to have lunch. later……

Airubi mwanza wrote:

In life there are some ups and even if chiluba is gone,it stl remains that he ruled zambia. he taught us democracy.though he was arrested for theft of public funds.god wl hv th final say.come wat it may mmd ar wining again ths elections.

It is the choice of words of Zambia’s First President Dr Kenneth Kaunda when he visited his successor’s funeral house that summarised his perception of the man he never saw eye to eye with from his trade union days to his presidency and beyond. The Lusaka Times story went:

Dr Kaunda said the country had lost a great trade unionist who fought for the rights of his members, regardless of the situation and that his contribution would always be remembered by everyone.

Dr. Kaunda said Dr. Chiluba contributed immensely to the strengthening of the labour movement in the country.

Dr Kaunda once detained Chiluba and his trade union colleagues in 1981, ten years before he succeeded him for calling for wildcat strikes that paralysed the economy in the country at the time. Ironically, President Chiluba also detained the former president in December of 1997 accusing him of plotting a failed coup a few months earlier.

Reactions to Dr. Kaunda's remarks are as follows.

Setjhaba says:

KK is right – Chiluba was a great trade unionist but not a good president. So KK has focused on Chiluba’s positive attributes.

President Rupiah Banda, the man who has seen an incumbent president, Levy Mwanawasa to whom was vice president, and a former president, Frederick Chiluba, die within two and half years of each other, has since declared seven days of national mourning. He will be buried at the same site where Mwanawasa is buried in the heart of Lusaka.

Chiluba's body will lie in state at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka. Hundreds of citizens are expected to file past the body to pay their last respects. He will be buried at Embassy Park in the heart of Lusaka where Zambia's third President the late Levy Mwanawasa is buried.

QfmZambia has posted photos on Facebook in the album titled “Former President Chiluba’s body viewing in progress”.


  • I find it quite interesting that former president KK just made mention of Chiluba’s role as a trade unionist and not as a political leader or president of the nation. Surely there are some positive attributes from the latter. Oh well…
    I will personally remember FTJ for the role he played in unifying Zambians to say “No more!” to KK and UNIP. He made us believe that there was more, and luckily we didn’t have to engage in a civil war to topple the old warriors. People were finally able to speak up and use their vote in a legitimate election to choose the president.
    He admirably included founding members of the MMD in his cabinet to formulate a road map to lead Zambia out of stagnation. And the people rallied behind them.
    Sadly, after tasting the sweetness of power FTJ became intoxicated with the idea of his own self worth and resorted to tactics employed by his predecessor – ostracising party members who disagreed with him, manipulating the constitution for his own purposes and treating Zambians like half-witted children who didn’t know what was good for them. He is also responsible for some ill advised decisions that had far reaching repercussions for thousands of Zambians such as selling off some parastals to “investors” who just stripped them of machinery; shut them down, and thus throwing employees into mass unemployment.
    He should be remembered for the good and the bad that he did. That way we’ll learn to be more discerning of our elected representatives and keep them accountable for their actions while in power.

  • […] of his post-presidency retirement defending himself from both criminal and civil suits after his immunity was lifted on allegations of plundering national resources leveled at him by the late Mwanawasa, the man […]

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