Obituary: Rupiah Banda

On 11 March 2022, Rupiah Banda, Zambia’s fourth republican president died. 

His demise got here 9 months after that of his mentor, one-time boss, and Zambia’s founding president Kenneth Kaunda. The two former presidents depart behind them a legacy that goes past Zambia’s borders: that democracy is an inestimable political worth, worthy of preserving and that if it entails incumbents conceding electoral defeat to victorious oppositions, then so be it. 

Another lesson, considerably associated to the primary, is that an lively and rewarding political and public life is feasible when one leaves the presidency. In an Africa that’s fraught with leaders who’re reluctant to relinquish presidential energy, this lesson is much more necessary. 

Zambia has all the time performed a pioneering or trailblazing position in southern Africa and past. In the Nineteen Sixties, it was one of many first southern African international locations to realize independence. It used its newly discovered political sovereignty to embark on an anticolonial campaign that noticed the nation pitted in opposition to the remoted however highly effective neighbourhood nemeses in apartheid South Africa and Ian Smith’s insurgent minority regime in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). 

In 1991, Zambia once more blazed a path when Kenneth Kaunda, a lynchpin of southern Africa’s anti-colonial wrestle, referred to as for a democratic and multiparty election. When he was resoundingly defeated, he did what was virtually inconceivable for a person who had performed the foremost position in establishing Zambia: he gracefully conceded defeat and personally eliminated the presidential pennant from his car. 

After he left energy, Kaunda grew to become a revered elder statesman and invested his energies in HIV and Aids activism. The outpouring of grief at his passing in June 2021 attested to a life effectively lived, although the person being mourned had been out of the presidential workplace for 3 many years. 

Rupiah Banda served in Kaunda’s authorities as ambassador to Egypt, the US and the UN and as a minister of international affairs. While younger folks and non-Zambians will largely bear in mind him by his three years as president, essentially the most perceptive will notice that his enormous contributions to Zambia and Africa really occurred in the course of the years earlier than and after his presidency. During his years (1974-1975) on the UN, he headed the Council on Namibia and was an eloquent and impactful campaigner for the Namibian trigger for independence. 

After the top of the Kaunda presidency that paved the best way for a return to multiparty politics, Rupiah Banda led a largely inactive political life, which ended with the considerably stunning appointment to the vice-presidency by Levy Mwanawasa in 2006. In August 2008, Banda was catapulted to the presidency when Mwanawasa died simply shy of two years into his second time period. For younger-generation Zambians, this was the time they grew to become acquainted with the veteran diplomat. 

Banda was not as common as his predecessor, and his 2% victory over Michael Sata and his Patriotic Front (PF) within the 2008 presidential by-election was an ominous precursor of the 2011 election, which he misplaced to Sata, turning into the second incumbent president (after Kaunda in 1991) to be voted out of energy. 

Again, like Kaunda did twenty years earlier, Banda conceded defeat and provided an unforgettable and tearful congratulations to a victorious Sata. His presidency was largely overshadowed by Mwanawasa’s achievements and Banda is understandably judged as having been a caretaker president, voted into energy merely to see out his predecessor’s second time period. For instance, he has not obtained due recognition for sustaining Zambia’s financial progress of greater than 7% at a time when the world was reeling in opposition to the backdrop of a worldwide recession. 

Whereas many Zambians would have been tempted to write down Banda’s political obituary in 2011, he would go on to reside an lively and admired postpresidential life. In 2012, he was invited to be the eighth president-in-residence at Boston University’s African Presidential Center (APC). 

He used this platform to make a case for Africa’s democracy. In his inaugural lecture at Boston he argued that “for democracy to flourish there must be a continuing stream of individuals of integrity and ideas with promise. There must be room for a new generation of leaders to rise to solve the next generation of problems. If democracy is going to be secure in countries like Zambia, if development is going to take root, old leaders can’t cling to power or attempt to consolidate it at all costs.” He added that “there comes a time when leaders must step aside and become statesmen – elder or not.” 

Before he may consolidate his standing as an elder statesman, nevertheless, Banda was subjected to an unseemly spectacle by the PF authorities. He was stripped of his presidential immunity in opposition to prosecution and hauled earlier than courts on costs of corruption. He was finally acquitted, and was a transparent winner within the battle for ethical integrity, having subjected himself to government-sponsored vindictiveness and scorn. 

For his ethical integrity and his willingness to relinquish energy in a misplaced democratic election, Banda was usually enlisted by organisations such because the Jimmy Carter Foundation and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa to be a part of election observer missions in a number of African international locations. 

In his dotage, Rupiah Banda continued to indulge his love for the youth and soccer (considered one of his final conferences was alleged to be with former star striker Frédéric Kanouté), all whereas battling most cancers. Amid all this, Banda was to carry out what may measure as much as be considered one of his greatest contributions to Zambia’s democracy, and it got here in August 2021. 

Edgar Lungu, who was president from 2015, had simply misplaced the August 2021 election to his major rival — Hakainde Hichilema and his United Party for National Development (UPND). Though Hakainde’s victory was resounding (59% of the full vote to Lungu’s 38%), there have been troubling indicators that Lungu would reject the end result. Through financial and political blunders and the intimidation wrought by PF hooligans euphemistically referred to as cadres, the PF had forfeited the assist of many Zambians, particularly the youth. 

Thus, rejecting the vote that drove such an unpopular get together and president from energy was positive to excite the passions of a restive and impatient citizenry. Rupiah Banda needed to attain into his innate diplomatic assets to ask Hichilema and Lungu to his residence. The major discussions of the watershed assembly could by no means be identified, however the photos and movies that had been taken after the assembly, of Hichilema, Lungu and Banda in upbeat temper and exchanging Covid-imposed elbow greetings, weren’t solely an image of Zambia’s continued standing as an African beacon of democracy, however a permanent testomony to Banda’s expertise for diplomacy and persuasion. 

As Zambia mourns Banda’s demise, the nation is in a determined seek for leaders who will step in his sneakers to supply counsel to lively politicians. With near-exaggeration, some Zambians are trying to find a brand new “father of the nation” a designation that Banda by no means made about himself; he most well-liked the extra modest “elder statesman” title. Edgar Lungu, as Zambia’s solely remaining former president, has by default incurred the position of a statesman. President Hichilema introduced that, upon listening to of Banda’s demise, he referred to as former president Lungu and undertook to tell him of all proceedings main as much as the burial. 

All this may scarcely have occurred had Banda not put it in movement with the celebrated assembly of August 2021. Indeed, it’s due to the ilk of Banda and Kaunda that Zambia continues to flaunt its deserved standing as a star of democracy in Africa. 

Banda’s contributions serve for example to incumbents reluctant to depart energy that there generally is a life after the presidency and that nobody ought to ordain themselves as the only real deserving president. This instance was a present not solely to Zambia however to the remainder of Africa,, and particularly to international locations which can be saddled with long-serving presidents who refuse to surrender energy.

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