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 2011-06-18 03:27 am Back to NEWS
Former President FJT Chiluba has died
FILE PHOTO: Former President Dr FJT Chiluba (r) & his wife Regina pictured in a car

Former President FJT Chiluba is dead. He passed away in the early hours of Saturday morning 18th June 2011. Mr Chiluba died at his Kabulonga residence in Lusaka after beginning to feel unwell a few hours earlier. Despite attendance by his personal physician, Mr Chiluba died at 00:05 AM on 18 June 2011.

FJT Chiluba, a good orator who had a strong trade union leadership background, first came to prominence as an outspoken Chairman of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in the late 1970s. He and several leaders in ZCTU were detained in 1981 by then-President Kenneth Kaunda for calling a wildcat strike that paralyzed most of the Zambian economy. The union leaders were eventually released after a court ruled that their detention was unconstitutional—which might just as well show the relative amount of justice and independence of the judiciary that existed prior to Mr Chiluba attaining power in Zambia in 1991.

Frederick Jacob Titus Chiluba was born April 30, 1943 and was the second President of Zambia from 1991 to 2002. Chiluba won the country's multi-party presidential election in 1991 as the candidate of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). He defeated the first Zambian president Dr Kenneth Kaunda. Mr Chiluba was re-elected in 1996, tried to amend the law to enable himself pursue a third term in office but his wishes were defeated and he was unable to run for a third term in 2001. Former Vice President Levy Mwanawasa instead ran as the MMD candidate and succeeded him. After leaving office, Mr Chiluba was the subject of long-standing allegations of abuse of office, legal investigations, and trials regarding alleged corruption and theft. In one highly publicized case, he was famously found guilty in May 2007 by a British High Court judge of 'plundering £23 million from his people'. In his most famous and controversial case, he was eventually acquitted in August 2009 in a Lusaka Magistrates' court on all counts of embezzling public funds amounting to US$500,000.

Read about Mr Chiluba's Lusaka Acquittal here]

Records from the May 2007 London High Court case ruling may sound almost comical, such as:

""He used the stolen money to indulge his taste for clothes, jewellery, cars, luxury homes and handmade high-heeled shoes to boost his 5ft height...Chiluba spent at least £600,000 on designer clothes bearing his FJT monogram, representing his names Frederick Jacob Titus," Mr Justice Peter Smith said after a two-year legal battle and a four-month trial. "The most telling example of corruption," he said, "was the clothing acquired by FJT". The former President "had a worldwide reputation as being a smart and expensive dresser. He had his own stylish suits with his initials, FJT, monogrammed on them, a large number of specially made signature shoes and thousands of monogrammed shirts. During Chiluba's ten years in office, from 1991 to 2001, £600,000 was spent at Basile, an exclusive Swiss clothes shop, all of which was stolen from the republic. The amount of clothing seized by the anti-corruption task force set up by his successor, President Mwanawasa, in 2002 was "considerable"," the judge said. "First there were 349 shirts. A large number of these bore the FJT monogram on them and they were from virtually every designer outlet. Second, there were 206 jackets and suits. A large number of these were from Basile, bearing the FJT monogram. Third, there were 72 pairs of shoes. A large number of these were made by Basile with the FJT logo. All were for Chiluba's unique personal specification high heels. Many of them were in their original shoe covers and had not been used." "...

Read about Mr Chiluba's London Conviction here]

Some critics of the London judgement have dismissed the ruling as anything between "imperialistic", "colonialistic" and "unconstitutional", and the Zambian government of President Rupiah Banda seems to have held little of it. No comment was officially passed. Because there are many prominent and ordinary Zambians who suspected way back then that the laws were being hijacked, this has given rise to an atmosphere of general mistrust of the whole government apparatus that exists in Zambia since late president Mwanawasa's death. This is evident in the animosity that persists between President Rupiah Banda's government and the government-owned press on the one hand, and the independent press, on the other. And it hardly came as a surprise to the attentive observer, therefore, when the London ruling was refused to be registered by the Zambian government that had taken over after Mwanawasa's death.

The entire Chiluba cases, including those involving his wife Regina, have since been quashed or thrown out in Zambian courts and this has made some Zambians seemingly lose trust in the country's justice system. Some Zambians may have wondered why the government-owned press outlets and other government organs, during Mwanawasa's presidency and up until the early stages of President Banda's time in office, started by baying for prosecution, later to contradict themselves by apparently pleading for Mr Chiluba's defence team. After Mr Chiluba's acquittals, including that of his wife, there existed a cordial friendship between President Rupiah Banda and Mr Chiluba.

"President Chiluba will be remembered, among other things, for laying the foundation towards the liberalisation of the economy which has led to the present economic growth Zambia is experiencing. He will be sadly missed by all Zambians and human rights activists across the world."
President Rupiah Banda addressing a media briefing in Chipata on 18.06.2011

Mr Chiluba is nevertheless credited with effectively overseeing the democratization of Zambia during those times of upheaval in the early 1990s following the disintegration of the former Soviet Union and fall of the Berlin Wall. He is also credited with constitutionally mandating Zambia as a Christian nation, but there has been wonder at whether this is really significant or whether it was even relevant. However, the rise of the MMD and coincidental fall of Kenneth Kaunda and UNIP from the late 1980s to 1991 were indeed major turning points in the history of Zambia. That transition was largely tense, but remained fairly peaceful, though some isolated cases of political and barely criminal violence and death have been recorded since then. Chiluba's subsequent harassment of former president Kaunda and his other perceived threats started drawing criticism from within the country and from some overseas watchers abroad. It soon became apparent that Mr Chiluba's type of leadership, though initially seen as flamboyant in style, was actually autocratic and that he was merciless in dealing with political opponents and any criticism from the press. This was greeted with disillusionment from many quarters, including from some of his former close colleagues, such as Levy Mwanawasa who had started serving as Vice President but later resigned and eventually succeeded Chiluba as President and opened up the floodgate of court cases against him.

"He has gone to meet people like Paul Tembo, Ronald Penza, wezi kaunda, Ngenda the lawyer who all died mysteriously, Levy mwanawasa…his day of judgement is here. jah rule!"
Harsh & unforgiving comment posted by an anonymous User on the Zambian Watchdog website

FTJ Chiluba's transition of Zambia's bankrupt or near-bankrupt economy to a free market one has also been hailed as a major success. At the time he took power, Zambia's unemployment rate was very high, inflation was at 100% and there was a staggering external debt of US$6.7 billion. His marketization of the Zambian economy, however, also appears to have been largely botched and stories now abound that some mining companies were sold for a song. It would serve as no surprise, therefore, that Mr Chiluba was eventually slapped with many serious charges alleging abuse of presidential authority or office, corruption and even theft. His attempt and failure to alter the constitution so that he could make a third run for presidential office has also been seen as a major political failure, one that—his critics later claimed—revealed his true nature. To many, Mr Chiluba seemed particularly obsessed with opposition rivals and outspoken journalists. Nevertheless, many believe FJT Chiluba was a true democrat, not a 'thief' and not an authoritarian, who did the best he could for the country when he did it.

"The death was a surprise for us because he was normal during the day," spokesman Emmanuel Mwamba is reported to have said by phone from Lusaka. "He met some people, had appointments and consulted. It was a normal day."

Meanwhile, the secretary to the cabinet, Joshua Kanganja, said in a statement released on Sunday that Mr Chiluba will be given a state funeral, announcing a week of national mourning:

"The burial will take place on June 27 in Lusaka, President Banda has declared Monday June 20 to June 27 a period of national mourning for the late president Frederick Chiluba," said Kanganja.

Mr Chiluba's death comes unexpected and will shock many. He leaves behind his wife Regina and some nine children.


Copyright © 2011 · Zambia Online Network.

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