By Charles Mwewa
In the brief treatise that I wrote titled, “In Defence of Christian Nation Declaration: 24 years after the fact,” I rendered my defence for the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation (the “Declaration”) from the perspective of those who argue against it. In this follow-up discourse, I wish to argue for the Declaration vis-à-vis the protagonist, President Frederick Chiluba. Zambia was dedicated to Christ on December 29th, 1991. In 2015, Zambia marked the 24th year of that dedication. But it is 19 years since Zambia became constitutionally a Christian Nation. In vernacular, we may say that the Declaration survived.
To place the Declaration in context, it will be vital to capture the protagonist of the Declaration as the man and also as president. My fear is in the human tendency to throw babies with soiled water. To avoid that, we must be guided by the words of the Lord themselves, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” We should also be challenged by Western philosophy when it regards the preservation of the integrity of its former leaders. Unless one is a Hitler, the West will not despise the legacy of their previous presidents or prime ministers. There will always be something good they preserve and cherish. Zambia should have the habit of respecting its own leaders, especially if one held the position as president. The Bembas say, “Ubufumu buchindika ubwine” (literally, “If you honour what is yours, others will do the same!)
President Chiluba should not be remembered for the allegation of corruption that was never proved by any Zambian court. He cannot be indicted on the basis that he asked for a third term (because he retracted his offer when the Zambians refused). He should not be judged because he divorced or he was a womanizer. That would be hypocritical; because even the person who should lay those accusations will themselves be guilty of the same. He must be judged on merit – what he did as a man should not be credited to his presidency. This will be unfair as many a former presidents have had worse moral flaws than attributed to President Chiluba. And to some extent, Niccolo Machiavelli is right when he said that, “Politics have no relation to morals.”
By any political and historical standards, President Chiluba is a hero, perhaps the greatest president Zambia has ever produced. When he passed away on June 18th, 2011, I dedicated an entire book to him – not for what he was accused of, but for what he did to Zambia’s democracy. And I was not alone. The BusinessWeek hailed him as, “The first democratically-elected leader of his country”; Aljazeera described him as “…ending the 27-year rule of Zambia’s founding president, Kenneth Kaunda, he was hailed for saving the country from one-party rule”; and the BBC hailed him as a “liberator” and as one who won praise for “his economic and political reforms”; Xinhua News Agency informed on him, thus, “The Lusaka magistrate’s court in August 2009 ruled that Chiluba was of no guilty of all charges against him”; France 24 heralded him as “a hero of democracy”; and the Zambian Post and Yahoo News ululated him as “’The Black Moses’” and “…[because]…he…introduce[d] political freedoms and replace[d] Kaunda’s debt-ridden, centrally planned economy with a free market,” respectively. Modern Ghana serenaded him as “turning the page on the autocratic rule of founding father Kenneth Kaunda…”; Billionaire Forbes narrated, thus, “Under Mr. Chiluba, Zambia was considered to be a model of African democracy and his presidency was welcomed in the West”; The Independent reported, “In his bid to free up copper-rich Zambia’s economy, Chiluba slashed import duties and abolished currency controls. He sold state owned enterprises to private buyers, many of them from Europe or South Africa”; AllAfrica.Com is on point that: “[President Chiluba]…was welcomed by the West who had struggled to get on with the leftist Kaunda and he won praise for his emphasis on democracy, human rights and governmental transparency”; Press TV praised him for “his economic and political reforms”; The Lusaka Times vindicated him for winning “…the country’s multi-party presidential election in 1991 as the candidate of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), defeating long-time President Kenneth Kaunda. He was re-elected in 1996”; and The African Report defended him, that he was “…the victim of a political witch-hunt backed by Britain, Zambia’s former colonial ruler.”
Chiluba did not only declare Zambia as a Christian Nation, he did it in an authoritative and authentic manner – just like when Solomon dedicated the Temple. Chiluba challenged Zambians to “endure hardships beyond those that brought the UNIP government of Kaunda to its knees.” He “…admonished Christians to ‘work hard and not to continue begging…’” Although some would consider this as antagonistic to trade unionist beliefs and “the characteristics of liberal democracy as understood by Chiluba were not put into practice when he declared Zambia a Christian nation,” this is a misunderstanding and outrightly tendered in bad faith. Those with such sentiments expected Chiluba to rule as though he was campaigning or as though he was a president of a section of the state. Chiluba was the president of the whole country. No-one should find fault with his decision to adopt Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), for with the way UNIP had destroyed the economy, perhaps no other model was tenable. Chiluba did what any president in his stead would have done.
Isaac Phiri’s observation that, “… [Chiluba’s] presidency of Zambia as a Christian Nation ended with his reputation both as a Christian and as a democrat in ruins,” must be corrected. Chiluba as a Christian and the Declaration, though sharing a lot in common, should not be imported into judgment of the strength and character of the Declaration. Solomon, who wrote many of the proverbs and injunctions that constitute the Bible, also sinned terribly against God: He worshipped idols and married many foreign women and was polygamous. Yet his work remains and his wisdom is unquestionable. King David, credited as father of the Jewish State, had many moral blames, and yet he (the Star of David) remains recognized as the symbol of modern Jewish identity and Judaism. As a democrat, no-one can question Chiluba was, as different international and local media agreed, and as mentioned above. Perhaps the greatest test of his democratic manumission is contained in the statement he made when he conceded defeat on his attempt to run for the third term: “I will leave office at the end of my term. Let’s take national interests into consideration; this is in the best interest of the nation.” The test is not in that he attempted (for his attempt was equally democratic; he did not resort to the imposition of a third term, he sought for consensus); it is in the fact that when the people refused, he peacefully capitulated.
Phiri’s argument thus, “…Chiluba’s declaration was a personal commitment to God as president that he would lead Zambia guided by his principles based on his Christian faith,” and not a political statement, is only partly correct. Declaring a nation as a Christian Nation does not mean that the people of that nation will stop sinning. It does not mean that its presidents will be saints, either. It is a declaration, an intention to be guided by Christian principles. Christians are not sinless; they are only forgiven sinners, and are equally susceptible to insatiable appetites like everyone else is. A Declaration is an intention that, caeteris paribus, a people will choose to be guided by higher orders. No political leader ever led his people to deeper knowledge and fear of God; he only facilitated. A good example is Zerubbabel who was the governor of Judah and who laid the foundation for the Temple. “In all of the accounts in the Hebrew Bible that mention Zerubbabel, he is always associated with the high priest who returned with him, Joshua (Jeshua) son of Jozadak (Jehozadak). Together, these two men led the first wave of Jewish returnees from exile and began to rebuild the Temple.” Zerubbabel built the Temple; priests ministered in the Temple. Similarly, it is not the duty of a political leader to minister divine sacraments; it’s his duty to declare the intention and provide a legal framework for the same. But it is the job of religious leaders to implement divine orders. Thus, Chiluba provided the legal regime under which the Christian leaders of Zambia can provide instructions and implement the Declaration in a practical way.
I believe that, again caeteris paribus, President Chiluba must have had a hero’s welcome in Heaven, because he honoured God with the Declaration. And Chiluba is not a hero because he lived a morally-upright life, far be it – for as everyone knows, Chiluba had several moral failures. He’s a hero because he humbled himself on behalf of his nation and associated his nation with the name of God. And we know that he did it in good faith because he did it barely two months into his presidency. We should not allow petty jealousies or hatred to syphon the value of the Declaration. There should be no argument as to the validity of the Declaration. The Declaration is the only event that exalted Zambia before Heaven; it is what sets Zambia apart from all other nations. And to undermine its protagonist will be immoral. Ronald Reagan said, “Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.”