Zambia and the Foreign Policy of Alienation

By Taylor, Ian | Contemporary Review, November 1997 | Go to article overview

Zambia and the Foreign Policy of Alienation


Taylor, Ian, Contemporary Review


The response by President Frederick Chiluba of Zambia to President Mandela of South Africa's opening speech at September's Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state meeting in Blantyre, Malawi, once more highlighted Chiluba as a head of state whose understanding of the basic realities of international politics is apparently manifestly weak and poorly informed. This is in stark contrast to the man whom he so intemperately attacked by allusion. President Mandela's message had been relatively simple: as an organisation, SADC under Mandela's chairmanship would no longer be prepared to tolerate those governments whose domestic behaviour and posturing run counter to the principles and ideals of the regional body. By making this statement, Mandela was implicitly criticising Swaziland and Zambia, countries who have either resisted democratic change and accountability (in the case of King Mswati) or who have resorted to a variety of electoral and constitutional schemes to maintain power and/or emasculate the opposition (in the case of Chiluba).

That the Zambian president should so contemptuously/ dismiss the well-intentioned advice of the president of the country that stocks his country 's shelves and from where most of Zambia's new investment emanates from. shows that Zambia's current foreign policy is ill-informed and is run on dangerous delusions of grandeur and exceptionalism out of touch with reality. After all, nearly one quarter of Zambia's imports emanate from Pretoria and without such South African produce, Zambia would be hard-pressed to satisfy its consumer's demands for even the most basic staple requirements. Whilst discourse find disagreement between nations is to be expected -- and debate encouraged -- the manner in which Chiluba has repeatedly believed both towards Mandela and Zambia's other important partners (notably Britain) is not that of a statesman of great standing. To court seemingly deliberately the wrath of important partners in the way Chiluba and his foreign policy establishment have done is not advisable, yet has been a consistent facet of Lusaka's foreign relations since Chiluba took power. This facet of Zambia's foreign relations has witnessed an increase in its manner in recent years. Such a foreign policy alienation has the potential to bring disaster to the already impoverished central African state, for even Zambia's warmest friends have a finite amount of patience and benevolence. The situation Zambia finds itself in now, is in stark contrast to the animation and goodwill that greeted Chiluba's electoral victory over the incumbent Kenneth Kaunda in 1991.

The trade unionist leader Frederick Chiluba swept to power in Zambia's first multi-party, elections with a remarkable degree of goodwill from the international community. Winning one hundred and fifty seats to Kaunda's twenty six in the National Assembly, the new president was widely expected to make a positive and lasting change for the good of Zambia. In the field of foreign relations, although inexperienced, Frederick Chiluba was largely seen as an unshackled pragmatist who would consciously alter Lusaka's relations -- particularly with South Africa -- to profit from the changes that were sweeping Africa and particularly southern Africa at the time. With the Cold War ending and apartheid crumbling, it was thought that Zambia would emerge from its confrontational posture which had existed under Kaunda to that of a more accommodating and co-operative regional partner. However, because of Chiluba's misdirected foreign policy this has largely not happened and Zambia now has the unfortunate distinction of being out of step with the regional agenda and perhaps more seriously at odds with not only the regional hegemon but also the main aid donors. Whilst it is true that Chiluba has been commended for his commitment to the necessary and long-overdue economic liberalisation of the country, when it comes to foreign affairs and maintaining international goodwill, Zambia has under the Chiluba government seemingly tripped from one debacle to another. …

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