The Temptation of Nevers Sekwila Mumba (Part III): Keeping the Ambition Alive
By Elias Munshya wa Munshya
Dr. Nevers Sekwila Mumba believes that political parties are not the centre of the political process, people are. As such, he sees nothing wrong with changing parties, starting new ones, disbanding others and going back to the parties that disowned him. Political parties for Nevers are tools that a person can use to aspire for leadership. As such, loyalty to a political party comes second on Nevers Sekwila Mumba’s radar. The adage that there are no permanent enemies in politics except for permanent interests, comes even truer in the political life of
Nevers Mumba after he was fired as Vice-President of Zambia.
In the previous article, I had mentioned how that after President Mwanawasa’s return from New York in September 2004, it took only 24 hours for Vice-President Nevers Mumba to be fired. The firing itself came as a shock to Nevers Mumba. What is even worse is that President Mwanawasa felt so aggrieved at Nevers that he even paraded Nevers’ letter of apology that he had written in connection with the reports The Post had carried about the airport event the day earlier. Most interestingly, President Mwanawasa even mentioned that he had regretted appointing Nevers as Vice-President.
After he was fired, a brood of the Mwanawasa camp within government and party was excited that Nevers had been fired. The perceived threat that Nevers presented to all those that were aspiring to succeed Mwanawasa had now been taken of. In the opinion of some, the MMD would now move on and keep the Nevers Mumba factor behind them. Not so fast though, the Nevers Mumba factor was alive and well and in the next few months he was to strike back and strike back real hard.
After the September firing, Nevers left government house, his official residence within days. Typically, a former vice-president is expected to stay in the official residence for a few weeks to allow for him to look for decent accommodation elsewhere. He left the country for the USA and a few other countries to perhaps recuperate. After this firing, he mentioned of how he tried the sport of golf and also found solace in taking a few courses at Regent University in Virginia. He had earlier enrolled there in a Master of Public Policy program.
Upon return to Zambia, a few months latter, Nevers discovered that the support he had garnered within the MMD branches across the country was quite unshaken. In fact, even within the MMD NEC itself, it seemed Nevers had some sizeable support. In a party that had grown to dislike Mwanawasa’s hardline style of leadership, most within the MMD party had taken Mumba to be a safe alternative.
The MMD was about to go to the convention that year. Now that it was just November, the arrangements for the convention were delayed until the next year 2005. MMD members who had seen Nevers as an alternative to Mwanawasa had to move quickly to assure Nevers of their support. Even MMD stalwarts like Sikota Wina and his wife were reported to be among those supporting Nevers Mumba to take over as MMD president.
As Nevers’ presidential candidature was gaining momentum, he enlisted the support of President Frederick Chiluba. Nevers knew that openly accepting Chiluba’s endorsement would be a political gaffe. And so he had to be very careful. Chiluba on his part had made it clear that he would support anyone who wishes to challenge Mwanawasa. When asked about this endorsement, Nevers Mumba’s answer was clever and yet subtle:
“I have heard that President Chiluba has endorsed me for MMD president, there is very little I can do about that since I cannot go into his mind and change it.”
Implicitly then, Nevers had accepted Chiluba’s endorsement. And if Nevers had considered Chiluba to be a thief – now that he was running for president of the MMD he could do with as much support as he could get. It did not matter that when in government Nevers did push for Chiluba’s prosecution. An enemy had become a friend – politics par excellence.
And then came the announcement. Nevers was featured on Anthony Mukwita’s Let the People Talk. It is from there that he announced that he was going to run for MMD president and challenge President Levy Mwanawasa at the upcoming MMD convention. Mwanawasa on the other hand gathered enough intelligence both within the party and indeed the nation to know that Nevers was going to be a viable candidate against him. He was told there is a revolt in the MMD branches and Nevers had real support.
With these reports, Mwanawasa had to move very fast. The only way out was to change the MMD’s electoral college. To help Mwanawasa do this was going to be the newly installed MMD Secretary Vernon Mwaanga. It only took weeks for Vernon to announce that the NEC had changed the electoral college of the upcoming MMD convention. It is the NEC that was going to choose delegates to the convention and not district or branch organs. The provincial MMD branches were also stripped of this power. Additionally, Vernon announced that the MMD was going to commence disciplinary action against Nevers Mumba. Among the charges Nevers was facing are gross indiscipline and disloyalty to the party.
The dissatisfaction that the MMD members and branches had against Mwanawasa was so deep rooted that even after changing the Electoral College, most of Mwanawasa’s preferred candidates did not win at the convention in 2005. Most notably, Vernon Mwaanga lost the position of National Secretary from an electoral college, which he himself had handpicked. But we will come back to that later.
After weeks of wrangling, the NEC finally decided. Nevers had been expelled effectively ending his ambition to be president of the MMD. Vernon Mwaanga had also ensured that the electoral college was cleansed of all the supporters of Nevers Mumba. One by one, so called MMD branch officials would appear on national television renouncing Nevers and emphasizing in no flattering language that the disgraced former priest would not come near to tasting the republican presidency.
Politics change and change very quickly. It is one thing to have support within the MMD and quite another to transform that support into a new political party. Even if Nevers was quite outstanding when compared to Mwanawasa he was no Michael Sata. Starting a new political party was going to perhaps be the most controversial decisions of Nevers’ political career.
Enlisting the services of a shadowy figure known as John Ziba, Nevers Mumba established and registered a new political party to be known as the Reform Party. With an emblem of a charging bull, the party symbol was going to show everything that Nevers stood for – tenacity, strength and power. The Reform Party had for its slogan, a phrase taken from the national anthem – strong and free. This party was not going to last long. Nevers did not manage to garner any significant support for it, and before long, the Reform Party remained a party on paper.
Perhaps, Nevers’ decision to start his own party after his expulsion from the MMD might have been motivated by the desire to emulate Michael Sata’s decision to start his Patriotic Front years earlier. However, like I mentioned above – Nevers was no Michael Sata. What Sata represented in the minds of Zambians was far much more real than what Nevers did. And so if Nevers had thought that his new party was going to succeed he was in for a rude shock. The Reform Party made no real inroads into the political scene.
After Nevers was expelled, the Bemba-speaking section within the MMD had lost their political symbol and with it they had lost their influence. This group now wanted to get back its lost power. Mwanawasa knew of this influence and in fact it had been one reason why he had earlier appointed Nevers in the first place – to appease them. For Mwanawasa to keep the Bembas happy within the MMD he appointed another Bemba from Kasama – Lupando Mwape to be Nevers’ replacement. But the Bemba group was still was unsatisfied. Lupando Mwape was not a safe bet.
Meanwhile, as the MMD is recovering from Nevers’ expulsion, a group of six Bemba candidates were lining up and campaigning for the position of party vice-president. Austin Chewe, Lupando Mwape, and Bwalya Chiti were among the leading contenders. Knowing the consequence of such a bloodbath, Mwanawasa came up with a solution, suspend all campaigns for the party vice-presidency but keep Mwape as republican vice-president. But that decision was going to be a costly one for the party.
At the convention, the Bemba group resurfaced again. The same group that was unsatisfied with the expulsion of Nevers Mumba regrouped and the influence was deafening. They influenced the MMD convention to vote for Bemba-speaking Katele Kalumba as MMD National Secretary. This shocked Mwanawasa. But at least it made him realize that in politics friends could be enemies and enemies could turn out to be friends. Katele Kalumba is one of those individuals being prosecuted for corruption and theft by the Mwanawasa government.
This MMD convention and the way it voted in Katele Kalumba made Nevers Mumba to exclaim that Mwanawasa had betrayed the fight against corruption.
To bolster his chances in politics, Nevers knew that the Reform Party was headed nowhere. As such, he sought an opposition alliance with Michael Sata’s Patriotic Front for the 2006 elections. The terms were that Nevers was going to support Sata while he is given the opportunity to stand on PF ticket for parliament. A few weeks before the 2006 elections Nevers Mumba travelled to Chinsali with a certificate of adoption from PF Secretary General Guy Scott.
There was a small problem, however. PF Secretary General Guy Scott had issued a similar certificate of adoption to another candidate Mulenga. Mulenga coincidentally is nephew to Nevers Mumba. He had campaigned hard in Chinsali and had bolstered his popularity in Chinsali. In the battle of the 2 adoption certificates, it was Mulenga’s that won. A family meeting in Chinsali had persuaded the uncle to defer to the nephew and drop out of the race for Chinsali.
Nevers had failed.
The 2006 elections came and Nevers never again appeared with Michael Sata. He never openly campaigned for him. His Reform Party was not prepared enough to even field a single candidate. It seemed like dejavu for Nevers.
In the 2006 election, Mwanawasa finally prevailed. But the MMD’s popularity was further eroded. After having lost popularity in urban areas, the MMD had now lost to the Patriotic Front in both Luapula and Northern Provinces. The Bemba-speaking areas of Zambia had disowned Mwanawasa and the MMD. In fact, even Mwanawasa’s vice-president Lupando Mwape lost to a little known lawyer in a contest for a seat in Kasama.
With the Reform Party now basically extinct Nevers started making gestures to Mwanawasa for an appointment into the diplomatic service. His efforts at going to Canada kept being rebuffed by Mwanawasa and his loyalists. There was no room for Nevers Mumba. His sin had been too much. And his temptations were unforgivable.
Two years after the 2006 elections, President Levy Mwanawasa died. Fresh elections were to be called within 90 days of the burial. The MMD found its candidate in the republic vice-president Rupiah Banda. Knowing that the MMD was basically non-existent in the Bemba-speaking regions of Luapula and Northern Provinces, candidate Rupiah Banda turned to both President Chiluba and to Nevers Mumba. The 2009 presidential by-election would pit Michael Sata against Rupiah Banda. Sata’s friend Frederick Chiluba was no longer supporting the PF. He had changed back to the MMD because Rupiah Banda was more hospitable to him than Mwanawasa had been.
In countless campaign stops, Nevers appeared with Rupiah Banda in Mansa, Chinsali and several others places. Campaigning for Rupiah Banda meant almost instantaneously that Nevers was still going to be game.
After Rupiah Banda won the elections – Nevers’ dream of going to Canada as High Commissioner would come true. The turbulent priest, turbulent vice-president and controversial politician was now on his way to Ottawa to become the country’s ambassador. Upon hitting the ground in Ottawa, Nevers became a hit. He learnt the art of diplomacy quickly and got loved almost instantaneously by his diplomatic colleagues. In 2010 he was appointed dean of the diplomatic corps of Canada. Apart from Canada he was also ambassador to several Caribbean nations such as Bermuda, Jamaica and The Bahamas.
Within the business community, Nevers connected very well. Barrick Gold had just come to Zambia and were making huge investments into Lumwana. President Banda was happy to have Nevers in Ottawa. Since Nevers’ ambition knew no boundaries, Rupiah Banda did well to keep Nevers as far as possible. But even from the far flung areas of Canada, there were still whispers in the corridors of power, that Nevers’ political ambition had not ended. His time in Ottawa was going to be but a preparation time for something bigger.
What else could be bigger than being Ambassador or being vice-president?
Nevers’ sights for State House were never altered. Being Ambassadors was just one of those steps to take to help him reach the goal. However, MMD members and indeed many MMD insiders were still watching Nevers from afar and given the right circumstances they could give him another chance.
And that chance came in 2012. It came very fast and shockingly brutal.
In the 2011 elections, Rupiah Banda had lost the election to Michael Sata. Ambassador Nevers Mumba in Ottawa got the shocking news and knew there will be changes soon in Ottawa. Hours after Sata was sworn in, Nevers sent his congratulations but knew that his time as Ambassador had come to an end. He started gathering his goods and putting his house in order. Zambia had called. Foreign Affairs Minister Chishimba Kabwili recalled Nevers Mumba with immediate effect. To this recall, Nevers responded:
“I will come back to Zambia after the 3 months expires in accordance with my contract.”
This three months would give Nevers the necessary time to bid farewell to the contacts he had gathered in Ottawa. It would also give him the time to reflect on his next move. The opinion within the MMD NEC had been quite categorical – they needed him back to head the MMD.
Rupiah Banda tried to hold on to the MMD presidency for a few more months. But in December 2011 – he resigned as MMD president giving chance to the MMD NEC to find a new president.
In a convention, the MMD electoral college comprising branch, district, provincial and national delegates cast their votes. The first ballot had no convincing winner. It was the second ballot that assured Nevers Mumba of victory.
That morning, Nevers Mumba had been elected president of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy. President Michael Sata was not too happy with this outcome. From State House, President Sata castigated Nevers Mumba as a bogus and fake pastor who had stolen money in Canada and could not be trusted for leadership. “Nevers Mumba”, President Sata said, “abandoned his flock to join politics.” These words left no doubt that Nevers Mumba was going to face more temptations and trials under the leadership of President Sata.