Zambia: Chiluba Waffles

The question of whether or not President Frederick Chiluba would alter his country’s constitution in order to seek a third term of office has been animating Zambia for several months.

Despite widespread and vociferous opposition to the third-term bid—including from members of his own cabinet—Chiluba won an initial victory on April 30 when, at a controversial convention, the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) party voted to change its constitution to allow for a third term. Twenty-two of Chiluba’s opponents in the party had been expelled from the convention.

The vote was widely seen as a blow to the cause of democracy in Africa. In a May 11 letter published in the African National Congress online publication Today, South African President Thabo Mbeki called it “a most disturbing development indeed.”

“It is a great pity that he wants, through a ruse, to thwart the aspirations of a vast majority of his people,” read a May 1 editorial in Nairobi’s independent The Nation.

Chiluba seemed to be taking the upper hand when, two days after the convention, he permanently expelled nine cabinet ministers—including the country’s Vice President, Christon Tembo—for opposing the third-term bid.

But a groundswell of public opinion soon overwhelmed the president and his supporters. Following pressure from the international community and heated demonstrations at two Zambian universities, Chiluba announced on May 4 that he would not seek a third term, and dissolved his remaining cabinet.

Commentators in Zambia and beyond greeted the announcement with skepticism. “The war is far from being won,” wrote Father Joe Komakoma in a May 10 editorial in Lusaka’s independent The Post. Already, wrote Komakoma, the Zambian police force, which “never seems to learn,” was “in fourth gear pursuing phantom political charges against the opponents of the president.”

Opposition politician Dean Mung’omba warned Zambians to remain vigilant. “I know [Chiluba] is capable of changing what he says,” he said in a statement quoted by Dakar’s Panafrican News Agency (May 11).

On May 7, as 16 new cabinet ministers were sworn in, ousted opposition politicians prepared to file impeachment charges against the president, accusing him of “gross violations” of the constitution.

—Sarah Coleman

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