By Elias Munshya
Where history is written by the victors, or rather, by a section of the victors, it becomes necessary for us to provide a little documentation of our role in the struggle that eventually led to the vanquishment of the scandalous presidency of Edgar Chagwa Lungu. We must tell our story from our perspective. We must communicate our feelings and thoughts and assessment of what we felt and experienced just for the sake of the future. Every time you are called upon or call it upon yourself to write your own story, there is always a human temptation to try and overate your role in history. Give another person the duty to explain their story, and they will tell the story from their perspective, with a blatant exaggeration of their role. Exaggeration as it may – our side of the story must be told.
To call our story the TVBAKWETU’s story is somewhat a misnomer. My role starts a little older than TVBAKWETU.
Several things, I think, combined to get us all started. I had been involved in political agitation and advocacy since the 2000s. But I think it wall crystallized in 2011 when the Patriotic Front party formed government. As a Zambian resident in Canada, I found blogs and Facebook to be quite helpful in communicating my responses to the issues of governance going on in Zambia. By 2011, I was in my third year of the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) studies with the Northumbria University School of Law in England. I would take the Zambian perspective from my assignments at school and adapt those assignments for my blogs and Facebook statuses. It was not long, though, before I got the nickname of a Facebook lawyer. I think that nickname stayed on very well, and we had to work with it. Facebook lawyer, was I. I graduated with my LLB in 2012, and it would take another four years before I could qualify as a lawyer. In 2016, I got called to the Alberta Bar after seven years of academic and professional study.
An Albertan Lawyer
After my Bar Call, something happened in Zambia that indeed required my attention. Zambia’s opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema got arrested on trumped-up charges. And so, in 2017, we started advocating for the rule of law in Zambia. President Edgar Lungu quickly became a dictator, and he was building around himself a whole harem of bootlickers. We needed to act. I joined several Zambians in and out of Zambia to advocate for the rule of law. At that time, I was an associate at a local law firm known as West End Legal Centre, and the partners of the firm were kind enough to let me use their time and their stationery to be involved in the issues that were happening Zambia. Under the letterhead of West End Legal Centre, we wrote letters to local and international organizations letting them know that a dictatorship developing in Zambia was worrisome. I also used the tool I came across – Facebook Live – to address our people and express our displeasure over the incarceration of Mr Hakainde Hichilema. I look at those 2017 lives, and I see how young I was and perhaps how shy I was before the camera. But we used that channel to express our story and advocate for Zambia’s rule of law. Some supporters of the Patriotic Front, and they were many, came to my live videos and did what they knew best to do – insult me and insult several of our people we joined in the struggle.
When months later, Mr Hichilema was released, I received a perfect and kind message from someone who identified himself as part of Mr Hichilema’s media team – Brian Mwiinga. He reached out to my inbox and mentioned that he was very grateful for the kind of advocacy for his principal. But Brian’s message made me realize that our efforts were not in vain. It was good to know that at least our efforts were appreciated and noticed. But our goal was to ensure that we did the right thing for Zambia.
2019 Commonwealth Lawyers’ Conference
Our advocacy for the rule of law continued through 2017, and 2018, and 2019. In 2019, I travelled to Zambia for the Commonwealth Lawyers’ conference and delegates from Canada. It was prime time to travel to Livingstone. While in Livingstone, President Lungu opened the conference and said a few things about lawyers’ roles in a democracy. It was all talk and a lot more talk coming from the gentleman I knew was becoming a ruthless dictator. When the speech was over, I learnt that he was planning to sign the National Constitutional Conference bill into law just as he said what he was saying on the podium. President Lungu had ignored advice coming from Zambians that he should not amend our country’s constitution in the manner his government was proposing. But he was adamant.
After the NCC had sat, it then came up with several bills. One of the Bills was to change the country’s constitution. By the time the bill was drafted and circulated to the public, I had already returned to Canada and had busied myself with the nitty and gritty details of my tedious practice. I knew that the constitutional bill would be bad for Zambia as there was nothing that Lungu was doing in our people’s interest. But I had underestimated the kind of damage the new bill was proposing. I was in my office on a Saturday when I decided to review the proposed law. I was alarmed just as I turned to pages one and page 2 of the bill. Immediately, I switched on my phone and went live. I alerted our people that Bill 10 was going to be destructive to Zambian democracy. Laura Miti was the first to raise the alarm, so I could not hold it anymore when I read on my own.
Lawyer Goes Live
I did a series of Facebook Live shows in the coming months. I decided to speak directly to the people of Zambia – in Bemba and Ushi breaking down the bill in chunks so that our people could understand what was going on. And so, in both 2019 and 2020 – that became a little of the duty. And explaining we did. It took almost a year before Bill 10 was shot in parliament. I received several messages from our people who were grateful that the live videos I did on Facebook were beneficial in making our people understand what was at stake. In September 2020 – Bill 10 finally died and was soundly defeated by the opposition UPND. Through the live videos and newspaper articles in The Mast, my role was to educate our people on it. Under the steady leadership of their leader in the house Jack Mwiimbu, the opposition MPs ensured the bill’s death. At that time, the Elias Munshya Facebook page started being trusted as a reliable venue in the struggle against the ruthless Lungu regime.
I visited Zambia shortly after the fall of Bill 10; the feeling was mutual. Our people were very appreciative of what we did. And indeed, there was a good connection between Facebook and what was obtained on the ground. If my live shows helped defeat Bill 10, I started getting some courage that our page on Facebook could be used to contribute to the fall of the Lungu regime. But even if we did not help defeat Lungu – it would be still a good thing to try, and so that is how a direct effort was launched for me to use my Facebook page, leverage our little infamy to advocate for better leadership in Zambia.
After the fall of Bill 10 – I was pretty concerned that visiting Zambia under that climate could be a risk. The PF and its supporters were not happy with what we had done. Against the advice of those who care, I had decided to make the trip to Zambia. I travelled to Bangweulu for a marathon during this trip, and quite surprisingly, President Edgar Lungu was also running in the same marathon. I never got to meet him, though. I did my thing and left very early before the conclusion of the events after the marathon. I visited Milenge later that afternoon and gauged the mood in Luapula – the Patriotic Front seemed strong over there, and it would be a colossal battle to dislodge it from there.
During the same visit – I registered as a voter and had the opportunity to meet then opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema. My visit was short and meaningful. We took a series of pictures, and an hour or so later, I was on my plane to return to Canada.
Taking the Stand
Upon my arrival in Canada – I knew that if we were to dislodge the Lungu government, we needed to work together with several people in our country. I did see for myself the kind of corruption that was going on in Zambia. The economy was on its knees. The PF party was a party of the arrogant. President Lungu’s clueless leadership was now affecting all the institutions of government. The government was almost collapsing, and even independent institutions were not independent anymore. That kind of trajectory was unacceptable. We needed change. And after I visited with the then opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema – I knew that I had to take a side – openly. I would not be a formal member of his party, but no one should ever doubt my endorsement. I went to Facebook and openly endorsed Mr Hichilema for the August 2021 elections. We could not be silent anymore. The open endorsement was significant in my opinion – as a Luapulan – I had to send clear messages to our people that One Zambia One Nation meant when a Zambian of Mr Hichilema’s calibre presented themselves for leadership – we must support them.
The sustained campaign from the Patriotic Front was tribalistic. And I took it upon myself to use our platform to rebut the tribalistic nonsense. The open endorsement was also significant because it would help mop up the support of those in doubt. By the end of 2020 – at least my page had become a leading page in terms of viewership and readership. Using our page to steer public opinion was very important. Lastly, the open endorsement was necessary to show that those tired of the Lungu mismanagement had a clear alternative. And with an alternative staring at us – we could not pretend anymore. Hakainde Hichilema it was.
I received pushback from the PF supporters. They accused my page of being significant only on “Facebook”. The PF supporters claimed they were on the ground, while my page and many other pages were only on Facebook. However, I knew that I could only work with the tools I had in my hands. I was not on the ground – but Facebook was reaching more and more people. My live shows started being much more regular. From once a week to about twice a week. When police shot at peaceful protesters in Lusaka in December 2020 – we did a live show with the highest viewership. I explained that the shooting should be blamed on one person and one person alone -Edgar Lungu. The fight was on.
In the early months of 2021 – I started thinking of changing the format of my shows. I knew that we were getting into election season, and something different needed to be launched quickly. We were getting an increase in viewership. Of course, our lives could not compare to some of the movers and shakers of the Facebook world then – but it was significant nevertheless. And so, towards the end of the first quarter of 2021 – we rebranded our live shows. I also got a better subscription to a broadcasting platform. The new format I was thinking of was in the form of a dialogue. And so, I needed one or two more people to join me as co-hosts.
Norman Chipakupaku Comes on
Someone I had interacted with in the past, Mr Norman Chipakupaku, reached out to me on one of the shows and told me he was available to explain something better than I had explained. And so the following week – I scheduled him and Dr Kasonso to appear on my Facebook Live. The first time we did that show – it received good reviews. I think I had gotten what I wanted. Dr Kasonso would be busy during the ensuing weeks as it was tax season in America. He is a tax professional, and so it would be a challenge for him. Nevertheless, the audience liked him very much.
But on the show with Mr Chipakupaku made it a hit. Mr Chipakupaku, who is nicknamed “general”, was funny, knowledgeable, passionate and loud. In a sense, he was everything I was not, but at the same time, he was everything I was. Sometimes, I feel like I am learning from him, and sometimes I feel like I am coaching. But he brought to my live shows something that I had long wanted and envisioned. He was funny and could take a few punches. He would also punch back. But we made no mistake – he was a fully blown UPND troop, while I feigned some sort of neutrality. My involvement with the UPND was that of a sympathizer and endorser, but General was UPND. Our shows got the attention of many, and our numbers started to hit the roof. We were united in some objectives – highlighting the abuses and ineptitude of the Lungu government, speaking for the voiceless and Zambia, while communicating clearly that there was an alternative to the Lungu government.
By now, we had rebranded our show to TVBAKWETU. We went to work! Appearing weekly, then twice a week, and then every other day to daily – we brought guests from all walks of life. General reached into a wide range of his friends to bring us, famous people. By the time the nomination period was coming – we had a sizeable audience in Zambia, and several people would tell us that they were following. TVBAKWETU was non-partisan with a clear slant towards advocating for new leadership in Zambia.
When the period of campaign was launched, we knew that our role was already cast. But we had no idea the reach of our shows. It appeared like under the atmosphere of repression in Zambia, our show coming from two people in the diaspora was a little courageous. We knew, though, that it was because we were in the diaspora that gave us a little more courage than the people present in Zambia who feared the ever menacing presence of the Lungu abuse of power. TVBAKWETU did not like Lungu’s dictatorship and tribalism. We directly attached the tribalism. We highlighted several issues that I think Zambians were listening to and following. Again, because I am telling this story, I may be exaggerating our role a little bit. But, if history were to be written, we want our story and our voice to be heard!
Among guests featured on our show are Colonel Panji Kaunda, Honorable Situmbeko Musokotwane, and several other candidates from the opposition UPND. One show that stood out for me was when we brought Mr Musokotwane. First, I did not know that he had been following us for some time. And so when he asked me what the word “Kelenka” meant, I knew just how our show meant to so many others who could not openly tell us they were following. Kelenka, I explained to him, meant the PF – they were a bunch of common crooks who had no clue in the governance of our country. Another show was when we hosted Colonel Panji Kaunda. The political heat was growing in Zambia, and some were accusing us of not having business accusing Ms Tasila Lungu of corruption. We called her names such as Mukula and Chimtengo Forest. She obviously, in our eyes, was one of the greatest perpetrators of theft and corruption in Zambia. Some in the audience thought we were just jealous of the President’s daughter. Then Colonel Panji came on our show and confirmed what happened at Chimutengo and what he did to stop the President’s daughter from colonizing the forest from the people of Sinda.
UPND candidates Noel Nkhoma, Sibeso Kakoma, and many others spoke to us. Running mate Mutale Namulango appeared on our show. She shared with our viewers her story from being a village girl in Kaputa to Lusaka. If there was any doubt about TVBAKWETU, it must have been dispelled then – we were using it as a platform for change in Zambia.
TVBAKWETU, in my opinion, also satisfied something the UPND party needed; an unapologetic rebuttal of the accusations that the party or candidate Hichilema was a tribalist. I made it a point to address our people in my mother tongue of USHI and Bemba. My co-host Mr Norman Chipakupaku also vigorously defended his party. We argued that One Zambia One Nation meant respect for all, including the tribes despised and sidelined by the tribalist Lungu regime. And I think our message resonated.
Towards the end of the Lungu regime, they became even more dictatorial. Several members of the opposition got arrested and jailed. We felt it was a call for TVBAKWETU to rise to the challenge and speak for the poor and the voiceless. I hope history will be kind to those little efforts we made.
The PF members accused us of being enemies of Zambia. We faced abuse daily. We were told that we were only helpful on Facebook, but we were extremely weak and had no influence on the ground. We could not tell, though, and sometimes we were confused about whether we were making any difference. But from the growing audiences, the interest of the UPND party in what we were doing, and the occasional followership from Mr Hakainde Hichilema, we could feel that our message and platform were resonating very well.
Two weeks before the elections – there seemed to have been a difference of opinion between me and my co-host. This was not new. We were not shy from letting our audience know that we disagreed. He felt like the PF was planning to rig the election actively, and without vigilance, they would succeed. On the other hand, I felt like the election would be incredibly peaceful, and we will have a clear winner very early. At least we agreed that the best thing we could do is encourage Zambians to wake up early and show up en masse to vote. It was voting that would stop PF from the rigging. That is the message we emphasized towards the end of July until election day.
Off to Zambia
In the first week of August, I started for Zambia. TVBAKWETU was in the capable hands of my co-host. We could not tell our viewers that I had travelled to join them in voting due to the apparent danger we all thought I would face. General continued hitting the airwaves. On Sunday, August 8, 2021, I landed at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport. A few days later, I was on the queue in Chiwempala to cast my vote for the one we had endorsed – Hakainde Hichilema and his entire ticket, Chipoka Mulenga for MP, and a Kang’ombe for mayor.
While lining up at Chiwempala Community Hall to vote, I knew that our role in this campaign as TVBAKWETU was felt on the ground. We were not just making an impact on Facebook after all. My fellow Chiwempalans would come over, greet me, take some pictures with me and even get me something to drink as we waited our turn. My high school friend George Sichula came over to my queue and assisted me immensely. Otherwise, it would have been a much longer day. After I had voted (with Sichula’s assistance), I went to Twatasha to catch up with my aunt, who had just finished voting as well. She said she used the senior “card” to vote early. As I waited for my aunt, an older woman, my aunt’s friend walked up to me and said Munshya, “thank you for TVBAKWETU”, and “let general know that I am his greatest fan”. “Do say hello to him”, she continued. I even took a picture with her. By Election Day, – I had still never met Mr Chipakupaku in person.
But everyone else I met, including aunt’s friend, would recognize me – and the first thing they would say is – “say hello to the general” and “thank you for the role TVBAKWETU played in this revolution.”
The phone call
I drove back to Lusaka from Chingola. The day after the election, I got an unusual request from one of the underground operatives of the UPND PVT centre. I was pretty surprised at first because in the many months we were running TVBAKWETU lives – I had never received any request from any official from the UPND. Everything we did was unscripted and spontaneous. We were carrying out our plan and not any person’s. When that person phoned me asking if TVBAKWETU could help on a serious matter that had arisen – I thought hard to myself. Shockingly, our friends could trust us to help them out on a crucial aspect. The voice was worried that the PF party had started to rig the election, and TVBAKWETU could help to spread the word around the country for UPND members and the general public to secure the GEN20s published at polling stations. I sensed that TVBAKWETU would not be effective at doing that though. Internet was down, and I was on the road. We managed to calm the nervous nerves, though and my friends, I think, wanted someone to speak about what they were feeling. I reassured them that from my analysis – the PF was not going to rig this election. It had no capacity to do so. And all the indications of rigging were all kelenka indications. We should have calm down. People’s voices were clear and resounding. The PVT should be safe!
When I got to Lusaka – a statement had been issued by President Lungu. I knew he had lost the election. He wanted someone to blame, and he drafted the last tribalist statement. He lost, he claimed because the Zambezi Provinces were not playing to the rules. The gentleman forgot that his opponent had received massive votes from non-Zambezi provinces as well. Chiwempala results came out – it was a resounding landslide in favour of the UPND, and I knew that the people of Zambia had spoken!
A few days after ECZ had confirmed the President-Elect, I drove to Community House. Security was tight, and I bounced. On the third attempt – I was ushered into the fortified home of the president-elect. His minders knew of me and us. It was with a sense of deep humility that I heard Zambians strolling on those grounds and telling us – thank you for the role your TVBAKWETU played. We are fans.
I said my courtesies. Congratulated the President-Elect, and after a few laughs, he asked in the presence of Mr Felix Mutati and some independent MPs with whom we were competing for the President-Elect’s attention – “how is your law firm”? “It is doing OK”, I exclaimed, thinking to myself, “it is that law firm office that played host to TVBAKWETU’s live shows.” And yes, “it is doing well.”
President Hichilema was sworn in on Tuesday, August 24, 2021. I attended the event. A week later, Mr Norman Chipakupaku arrived in the country and found me in Lusaka. After exchanging pleasantries and eating, we then imagined ourselves to be good singers. And going live on my page once more, I started the song – “mwalefwaya ba Lungu, nomba mubikepo umulomo?”, and then we all went “alebwelelapo, pa mupando”. We burst into laughter because the change we had advocated for had now happened, and we were both in Lusaka, feeling the sense of freedom engulfing our people.
I then left Zambia on September 1, 2021, for Calgary thinking, “What is next now for TVBAKWETU?”
Elias Munshya can be contacted at email@example.com