Zambian Leader Sets New Course Former Trade Unionist Emerges as Leading Advocate of Free Enterprise, Tough Work Ethic. INTERVIEW

By John Battersby, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 7, 1991 | Go to article overview
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Zambian Leader Sets New Course Former Trade Unionist Emerges as Leading Advocate of Free Enterprise, Tough Work Ethic. INTERVIEW


John Battersby, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


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.

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