By Elias Munshya wa Munshya
This article explores factors that have contributed to the rehabilitation of former president Chiluba’s image. First, by rewriting the script of Chiluba’s prosecution, after his acquittal, the Rupiah government has helped repair Chiluba’s image. Rupiah’s government has managed to claim that Chiluba was a victim of excessive prosecution. Barely months after the passing of Mwanawasa, had Tetamashimba proclaimed Chiluba’s innocence. The government media have also chronicled Chiluba’s prosecution as a persecution. Speaking in Luapula very recently Rupiah refused to be drawn into politics of hating Chiluba.
Secondly, there is one daily Zambian tabloid, whose incessant attacks on Chiluba have actually helped prop him up as well. Instead of finishing him, these attacks have actually helped Chiluba garner some sympathy that has led some to conclude that the tabloid’s attacks are inspired by personal hatred more than anything else. For example their continued insults of Chiluba, calling him thief, a lazo, and so on and so forth, while effectively demonstrating their hatred of him, have the potential to achieve exactly the opposite—compassion for a man who is perceived to be a victim. Persistent personal insults of a person we deem to be a criminal actually becomes very superfluous in the end and makes people question the very motive behind those insults.
Thirdly, PF and Sata helped begin the process of restoring Chiluba’s image. Just during the 2006 elections, Sata exuded in Chiluba, using him extensively to campaign for PF in Lusaka, Copperbelt and Luapula. To date, Sata admits that most PF MPs in Luapula were Chiluba’s. Sata contributed to raising Chiluba’s image in spite of Mwanawasa’s sentiments that Chiluba was a thief. The PF leaders and cadres would welcome Chiluba at the airport and would also accompany him to court. It is therefore, surprising that the PF is a bitter enemy of FJT because he has now switched his support back to the MMD. If FJT still has some legitimacy and clout, the PF should blame themselves as important architects of FJT’s restored image, which may have all started in 2006.
Fourthly, as an ardent Christian, Chiluba has mentioned that he has had to rely on his faith to counter most of the accusations and embarrassment he has faced. In spite of the fact that some clergy such as Father Bwalya have lambasted Chiluba and called him names, EFZ Executive Director Paul Mususu came to Chiluba’s defense immediately after his acquittal. Several church groups such as the BIGOCA have come to Chiluba’s support as well. Before his acquittal, a group of Pentecostal leaders gathered at Mulungushi to pray for him and honor him. They, quite amusingly, dressed him in Jewish religious garb during the event.
Fifthly, Chiluba’s personal assistant, Emmanuel Mwamba has worked hard for the boss’s image too. Mwamba radiates youthful confidence and innocence that are critical to hoisting Chiluba. An articulate speaker, Mwamba has courageously defended Chiluba irking many and pleasing some. His vigor and his lack of a political past, brought freshness to the image of a former president. At one time, during Mwanawasa’s era, he manhandled two intelligence officers who were indiscreetly trailing him and took them to Woodlands Police Station, embarrassing them.
It still remains to be seen however, the actual political impact that Chiluba’s rehabilitated image will translate into, going forward. It should be noted however, that he remains a great force to reckon with politically and it will matter who he supports for presidency. In the meantime, organizations and individuals are condescending around him for endorsements and patronage. As Mwanawasa had mentioned Zambians are quite forgetful. In our collective memory we tend to forgive and forget all the wrongs past, and instead rehabilitate the images of our fallen leaders. Kaunda was later restored, Chiluba is being restored and not many days hence, Mwanawasa will also be eulogized. Chiluba is still regarded as criminal to some, but dearly loved by many others—so much for a man just trying to restore his battered image.