Corruption: Good lessons from Zambia

Ogen Kevin Aliro
The Monitor (Kampala)
July 18, 2002

Interesting things are happening in Zambia.

On Tuesday parliament lifted the immunity enjoyed by former president Frederick Chiluba, who now faces possible prosecution for corruption.

Shortly after Zambia State radio reported that, former Foreign minister Katele Kalumba, one of those implicated in the financial scandals surrounding Chiluba, had committed suicide.

Kalumba’s wife however denied her husband was dead. She told police Kalumba was merely out of town.

Kalumba resigned July 11, moments before the new Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa asked parliament to lift Chiluba’s immunity.

Kalumba was Chiluba’s Finance minister but Mwanawasa moved him to Foreign Affairs earlier this year.

About 10 deputies – mostly Chiluba sycophants – walked out just before the vote. However, all 140 MPs who remained, voted for the lifting of Chiluba’s immunity.

Chiluba is accused of high-level corruption and theft of state funds during his ten years in power.

It is thus understandable why the vote in parliament was popular and widely hailed across Zambia, especially in the capital Lusaka.

Impoverished Zambians see their own poverty mirrored in the politicians’ corruption and primitive accumulation.

As the results of the motion came through, crowds waiting outside parliament burst into songs and dance.

Many people proclaimed a “victory for democracy”.

Zambia, one of the first African countries to “democratise” and have a peaceful change of government and leader through competitive multiparty politics, seems to be setting another precedent for the continent.

It could in fact be the first time an African leader is made to answer for corruption.

For many others, though, it was pay-back-time or poetic justice for Chiluba who so humiliated and harassed Kenneth Kaunda (KK), Zambia’s founding father and Chiluba’s predecessor in State House.

Not only did Chiluba imprison Kaunda on rather questionable grounds, he also stripped the man who was Zambia’s president for 27 years of citizenship.

Even those who had always disapproved of Kaunda’s autocratic and inefficient government felt Chiluba had overplayed his hand.

Whatever the case, there are lessons we (Ugandans) could draw from events unfolding in Zambia.

Zambia is poor – almost as impoverished as Uganda – but her politics is a lot more advanced.

Earlier, when Chiluba tried to change the constitution to force a third term, Zambians – including his own vice president – came down hard on him.

Chiluba’s ordeal reminds us of the “Golden” rule cited in the Bible: “Do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you”.

Chiluba manipulated parliament to make oppressive laws, mostly targeting KK’s (UNIP) party members. Today it is Chiluba’s turn to face the music, and he finds very little sympathy in Zambia or elsewhere.

The simple moral is that laws should be passed for the overall good and posterity, not for selfish or very short-term political gains.

This important lesson seems lost on Ugandan lawmakers who recently passed the Political Organisations Act (POA) and, the Terrorism Suppression Act before it.

It may not be long before Ugandan leaders of today suffer Chiluba’s fate – caught and suppressed by the very laws they so eagerly passed in the blind belief that their political opponents would remain the perpetual victims.

The other lesson is that graft will always have a price tag.

While Chiluba was in State House, it probably never occurred to him that his suspect dealings would one day be exposed, or that he could be prosecuted for corruption.

Such is the irony of life that it was Chiluba’s estranged wife who first helped expose some of his rotten dealings.

In Uganda today, there are leading military and government figures – including cabinet ministers – whose corrupt dealings are public secret.

Sources inside the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), for example, allege that a minister close to State House is deeply implicated in tax evasion, along with his business partner (a woman who operates out of Bungoma in western Kenya).

The URA reportedly has a dossier on the minister and his partner’s illegal activities but they won’t be arrested because of their “connections”.

Other sources however claim that after Annebritt Aslund (the URA commissioner general) presented all the evidence to President Yoweri Museveni, he gave the URA green light to arrest all high profile smugglers even if they were ministers.

It is also said that Museveni has since sidelined the previously close minister – keeping him at an-arms-length.

That may or may not be true. What is sure is that neither the minister nor his accomplices have been arrested.

If the minister were in Zambia, where the level of political consciousness is a lot higher than in Uganda, he would probably commit suicide to escape prosecution and shame.

But this is Uganda, where Parliament censures a minister today and the president re-appoints him tomorrow.

It may be that we won’t learn anything from Zambia. Instead corrupt ministers shall remain ensconced in government, since they feel “protected” for as long as the Movement [and Museveni] remain in power.

When Museveni’s constitutional term expires in 2006, they will most likely manipulate the constitution for a “third” term to “consolidate the Movement’s achievements of the last 21 years”.

What they will actually be seeking, however shall be continued protection from above – lest their corrupt dealings are fully exposed and they face prosecution for ripping off Ugandan taxpayers.

Categories: Africa, Corruption, Odious Debts, Zambia

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