From The Depth of My Footprints: The 1990 coup d’etat

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By Ng’andu Peter Magande

“On 30 June 1990, Lt. Luchembe Mwamba with others organized a coup d’etat to seize governmental power by military force while

President Kaunda was on the Copperbelt to open the International Trade Fair in Ndola.

Kenneth Kaunda

As we peeped through windows, we saw hundreds of jubilant young people marching past our house on Independence Avenue going eastwards to State House, a few plots away. Some of the demonstrators were on bus tops waving tree branches and singing, “Kaunda alala, alala”.
I recalled my personal and frightful experiences of life under the military regime of Idi Amin in Uganda in the seventies, when I was at Makerere University. The horrific and gross violation of human rights was indescribable as it did not spare even the best and most humble human being. I hoped that Zambia would not fall into the hands of the military personnel, whose performance assessment is based on the number of ‘enemies’ one killed in combat. Many coup d’etat experienced in Africa at the time were bloody and barbaric with the use of various savage methods of eliminating the perceived opponents.
Our residence being close to State House, a number of friends telephoned me in the night to inquire on our safety. I assured them that we were safe, although frightened. In describing the confused situation, I also advised them not to venture out of their houses. I told one, who asked me whether they should flee from Zambia that getting to the border will be more risky, than staying in the house. Coups d’etat are associated with chaos and looting. At dawn, groups of people were returning from the direction of state house in a subdued mood.

Grey Zulu

After midday, an announcement was made on Radio Zambia by Grey Zulu, Secretary General of UNIP, that Luchembe Mwamba and the other plotters had been arrested. We concluded that the military takeover had been thwarted. Unfortunately, this was followed by a week of violence during which even the UNZA was closed as the students were at the forefront of the riots.
During the week, President Kaunda succumbed to the mounting pressure and announced that there would be a national referendum later in the year on the central political issue. The people were to decide on whether Zambia should continue as a One-Party Participatory Democracy or change back to a democracy of many political parties.
On 20 July 1990, some 130 people supporting the movement for change attended a meeting held at the Garden Motel. The issue of the chairmanship of the meeting, and consequently of the new organization, took time to resolve. A number of prominent citizens, among them John Mpanga Mwanakatwe, a former cabinet minister and Robinson Mwaakwe Nabulyato, a former Speaker of the National Assembly, were requested to chair the meeting but declined.
Finally, Arthur Wina, a former cabinet minister and a businessman accepted the onerous task of steering the new organization through the turbulent times as chairman. The Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) was formally launched. At the end of the meeting, a National Interim Organizing Committee was formed with diverse membership, which included Ephraim Chibwe, Fredrick Chiluba, Andrew Kashita, Humphrey Mulemba, Vernon Mwaanga, Levy Mwanawasa, Baldwin Nkumbula, and Ludwig Sondashi.

Levy Mwanawasa

Levy Mwanawasa was among those who were nominated in absentia, as he did not attend the Garden Motel meeting. Mwanawasa, who had not been invited to the meeting, became chairman for legal affairs.


Chiluba, who had been invited, and reluctantly attended the meeting, was appointed the chairman for operations and mobilisation, a position that suited his oratory abilities. Everything appeared peaceful and smooth until a convention was called for. While on tour of Luapula Province, Chiluba announced his candidature for president of the movement, to the surprise of the members of the movement.
Mwanawasa tried to interest the other elderly members to stand for the vice-presidency and leave Chiluba unopposed. Unfortunately no one of them was prepared to work under Chiluba. Young Baldwin Nkumbula saw an opportunity and announced his candidature as vice-president.

Katele Kalumba

Another group of ‘Young Turks’, who included Katele Kalumba, Gilbert Mudenda, Mbita Chitala, and Robert Sichinga surfaced with a mission to persuade Mwanawasa to stand for the position of vice president against Baldwin Nkumbula. Chiluba won as president and Mwanawasa beat Baldwin Nkumbula and General Christon Tembo to become vice president of the MMD.
The MMD, an alliance of civil society organizations, among them the EAZ, LAZ, PAZA, UNZASU, ZACCI, and ZCTU had the sole purpose of agitating for an end to the one-party political system. With mounting pressure, President Kaunda improved his offer of a referendum to full general elections and set them for the following year, thereby cutting short his term.
I recall the first rally of the MMD in Lusaka held at the grounds currently occupied by the catholic cathedral in long acres because on the same day, the Hunger Project under Mark Chona held the annual dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel. While enjoying the dinner, all ears were waiting for news from the rally. Late in the evening, we were joined by a late comer at our table. He was in an excitable mood and told us that ‘it is all over’. This was none other than General Godfrey Miyanda. The rally was attended by thousands of people, who had traveled from across the country.
I counted myself amongst the group of professionals, who were dissatisfied and ignored as I was regarded as ‘not pure UNIP’, for questioning some of the behaviours of the UNIP cadres. In my professional area, I saw the economy sliding into serious difficulties. But then, the UNIP District Governors had the last word on the distribution of the nation’s wealth amongst the citizens. Sadly, the governors’ unorthodox method was leading to large disparities amongst the citizens and disaffection for the Government.
In January 1991, the Movement was registered as a political party. The deteriorating economic situation in the country assisted the MMD Party to rapidly gain widespread popularity among the populace. A well-articulated manifesto, written by some of the best brains in the country, was presented to the people. The major thrust being the reform of the national economic and political management systems, with democracy and privatization as the main strategies.

Dr Kenneth Kaunda

At the First Extraordinary Congress of the UNIP held at the Mulungushi Rock of Authority between 3 and 6 August 1991, President Kaunda stated that:
“Comrades, it must be understood that the basic political reform we have set out to undertake is to give our Nation a clear, firm and workable formula to allow the people of Zambia to change their governments as and when they decide to do so smoothly, peacefully and in a democratic manner through the ballot box”.
I was privileged to have a number of senior officers in the various wings of Government with whom I shared information on the evolving political situation in the country. For example, the top officers of the Special Branch had been with me at UNZA and we often met at various functions and exchanged notes. The mood in the country was that of removing UNIP and KK from power. My associates in the security wings were reassuring KK that all was well and that he would win the elections.
The elections held on 31 October 1991 were peaceful and resulted in a resounding victory for the MMD Party with Fredrick Titus Jacob Chiluba, aka “FTJ” defeating KK for the position of President of the Republic of Zambia by a wide margin.
On 2 November 1991, KK appeared on national television and delivered a passionate farewell speech wishing the new Government success in doing what he might have failed to do. He informed us that he would leave for his retirement home at Shambalakale farm in the Northern Province. For an African leader who had forfeited part of his mandate and called for early elections, KK’s words touched many of us, who had been scared of violence from UNIP cadres. The transition and peaceful change of guards earned Zambia and Kenneth Kaunda the greatest respect and admiration from the international community.
Regrettably, former President Kaunda suffered great humiliation and indignity at the hands of President Chiluba a few years after the peaceful change. At some point, KK was declared a foreigner and moves were made to deport him to Malawi, the origins of his parents. On the Christmas day of 1997, KK was arrested by more than sixty policemen dressed in battle fatigues and armed with assault rifles, under the orders of a born-again Christian President Chiluba. After being shunted around Lusaka, KK was finally taken to Mukobeko State Prison in Kabwe, where he went on a hunger strike.
It took the personal intervention of Mwalimu Nyerere, former President of Tanzania to save a frail-looking and bearded KK from the vengeful President Chiluba. KK, one of the few living gallant freedom fighters, continued to be marginalized and harassed by the Zambian Government until President Mwanawasa ascended to the presidency in 2001”, from “The Depth of My Footprints”.

About the Author

Mr Ng’andu Peter Magande is former Minister of Finance



2 Responses to From The Depth of My Footprints: The 1990 coup d’etat

  1. This piece of our history is important. Please do not forget to add that aspect that for the country to get back to multi-party democracy, KK had to circumvent the Referendum and made a unilateral decision to remove Article 4 of the Constitution which had proscribed multipartism. The removal of that Article led to the formal establishment and recognition of MMD as a political party.

    July 17, 2018 at 2:46 pm

  2. politics of retribution awe mwandi.
    Power power

    November 20, 2018 at 1:35 am

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