By Gershom Ndhlovu
Just over 18 months ago, I wrote the article below for this column but for some reason, it was never used. With calls for Mrs Mwanawasa growing for her to go for the presidency, I have decided to run it.
In his early days in office as president of the Republic of Zambia, Levy Mwanawasa told the nation at one function that at the end of his tenure as head of state, he would love to leave the mantle to a woman.
What he did not state was who this woman would be and from which party she would come such that when Edith Nawakwi emerged as president of the opposition Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD), those who remembered what the president had said, thought his prophecy would come true in Nawakwi whose ascendancy to the top party post was greeted with excitement.
Mwanawasa’s words were enhanced with the appointment in neighbouring Zimbabwe of Joyce Mujuru as vice president who it was thought would step into Robert Mugabe’s shoes as the next head of state, the appointment in South Africa of Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka also as vice president taking over from grassroots favourite Jacob Zuma who was sacked by Thabo Mbeki.
In Uganda, Specioza Kazibwe was Yoweri Museveni’s vice-president for a long time.
The recent election of Ellen Sirleaf Johnson as president of the West African nation of Liberia which emerged from a 15 year old civil war, as the first woman to hold the highest elective office in any country in Africa is equally motivation enough for a sitting president to consider leaving office to a woman, Mawanawasa no less.
It appears unusual in Africa for a woman to lead a nation as head of state, but recent history in the rest of the world proves otherwise. The most high profile leadership of Margaret Thatcher in Britain does not need any comment. Elsewhere, Mary Robinson of Ireland who went on to become United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Mrs Corazon Aquino who came to the limelight after her husband Benigno Aquino was gunned down by the Marcos regime when he arrived from exile in the Philippines, Gloria Macapagol Arroyo also in the Philippines and the recently elected Angela Merkel in Germany turn the African paternalistic traditions on the head.
I suppose that even Zambia is ready for a female president even if Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika and Gwendolyn Konie, some of the most accomplished women academically and career-wise, failed to muster any meaningful ballots in 2001 when they took part in the presidential elections, but it is who this person is or will be that matters.
The news that Maureen Mwanawasa is being considered the likely successor of her husband is what sends a cold chill up people’s spines. If she should become Zambia’s president, let alone enter the political fray, she should not piggy-back her husband, or indeed through the Maureen Mwanawasa Community Initiative which has been going round the country donating food and non-food materials to vulnerable communities.
Like Hillary Clinton who waited until her husband, Bill, left the White House for her to contest Senate elections and won as New York Senator as a Democrat, Mrs Mwanawasa should also wait until after they go back to Teka Farm when her husband retires before she can launch her political career.In fact, she herself said she could not follow Mrs Yoweri Museveni’s example to seek public office after the Uganda’s leader’s wife was elected to that country’s parliament, saying the office of the First Lady was very busy and wanted to concentrate on running it.
But even after Mwanawasa decides to leave office due to ill-health (God forbid) after suffering what has been referred to as a mild stroke over two months ago, it would not be right to pass on the baton to Maureen. This, if it happened, would be akin to the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo where Joseph Kabila took over from his late father, Laurent, and Togo where the constitution was changed overnight to allow the late Gnassimbe Eyadema’s son to take over.
Maybe it is a question of power not only being sweet, but it being sweeter in Africa such that most of the leaders on the continent want to cling to power, or if it fails, pass it on to relatives and close associates to the detriment of the much touted democratic processes.
A lot of things have changed all over the world. In America, Mrs Clinton is running for presidency by seeking nomination through primaries for the Democratic Party.
Prospects are high for her to become the first female president of America as they also are for Barack Obama who would be the first black in the White House if elected. Equally notable is the defeat of South African president Thabo Mbeki to the ANC presidency by Jacob Zuma who is set to take over as state president, bar his corruption court cases.
What has changed in Zambia is that what was a rumour then is now ‘reality’. Northern Province Minister Lameck Chibombamilimo, Chief Nabwalya and a few others are publicly calling for Mrs Mwanawasa to go for the presidency.
It is obvious that this group has taken a leaf from Argentina where lawyer Cristina Fernandez Kirchner recently succeeded her lawyer husband in elections less than two months ago, the same time the calls have been stepped up locally.
Except that these people are not calling for Mwanawasa to go for a third term but we are seeing a replay of 1998/99 when MMD youths led by then Copperbelt youth chairman Joshua Mutisa and one Ben Maliti kick-started a campaign for former president Chiluba to go for a third term.
The man got carried away in the erroneous belief that Zambians were gullible and would let him achieve his dream. The rest, as they say, is history.
But will those who harbour ambitions of taking over within the MMD take it lying down as Mrs Mwanawasa marches to (or more appropriately, marches within) State House?