Book review By Emmanuel Mwamba-When I learnt that Amos Malupenga, Managing Editor of The Post, was granted a rare privilege to author President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa’s official Biography, I personally congratulated him for the honour.
I felt Amos was qualified to write the biography owing to his relationship he enjoyed with the Mwanawasa’s (Levy and Maureen) at a professional and personal level. I also felt that probably President Mwanawasa could trust him with information and personal material that would help him write the book. This is a critical ingredient in a biography. The subject has to freely give personal and detailed account of his life trusting that the information will not be abused or misused.
My feelings were further augmented by a quest by many that Zambians ought to pen their own history. A dangerous trend has emerged where everything about Zambia and her people is done by foreigners. It has become increasingly distasteful to see many foreigners branding themselves as ‘experts’ on Zambia but who are clearly disconnected from the life and times of Zambia and its people.
THE BOOK LAUNCH
On September 3rd 2009, the burial and commemoration date for Mwanawasa, the book was lunched at a well attended gala dinner at Hotel Inter-Continental.
I attended the ceremony but quickly realised that the night was spent commemorating and celebrating the life of Mwanawasa and thereby consigning the book launch into the background.
Although there should be nothing wrong with memorials, the book launch appeared to mesh into a family project. Songs were sung in memory of Mwanawasa, a brief life history video was played showing the political life of the late President and a heavy and sombre atmosphere prevailed tinged with memorial anecdotes.
Because, the book launch appeared to form part of the memorial activities that began on 19th August 2009, I wondered if the book wouldn’t therefore, constitute a propaganda piece to shore up Mwanawasa’s legacy.
I expected the book launch to be packed with excerpts, reviews and work about the book. Veteran and seasoned broadcaster Frank Mutubila did not help matters as he treated the event like a memorial service (maybe those were his instructions).
I expected celebrated Journalist and well known Critic, Edem Djokotoe, who had earlier reviewed the book to be part of the program and speak to his well founded review of the book.
Mrs. Maureen Mwanawasa’s speech did not help matters as she launched a strong defence of Mwanawasa’s character and his presidency. She also used the opportunity to issue veiled attacks against her perceived enemies. She condemned in her view, emerging affronts against Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression. (Fred Mmembe had a pending bench warrant issued against him by the Magistrate Court the previous day). Her speech condemned emerging acts of corruption and ‘leaders that stashed millions in foreign accounts’. Clearly this was not a book launch!
However the Book Launch was only rescued by the author himself. When Amos was called to the podium, he appeared to sense that the plot was lost and spent time to restate the business of the night.
He spoke about the book in an informal manner and without a written speech. His speech though long, rescued the night. It recounted the work that went towards the book and lifted a few interesting extracts of and about the book.
The closing speech by the First Republican President, Dr. Kenneth Kaunda was apt and fitted very well with the intended launch. His speech exclusively discussed the book. The speech actually sounded like the foreword to the book. Dr Kaunda and Amos appeared to be the only one that remembered that the business of the night was the book launch!
The book has 12 Chapters. The foreword was written by President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete who had come to know President Mwanawasa through his official engagements and during the many talks they had over the Zimbabwean crisis.
The book traces Mwanawasa’s life from his early and formative days to his school life at Chiwala Secondary School and later his University of Zambia days. It also recounts his professional and political life concluding with his demise.
Amos had the misfortune of writing a biography that was cut short by the cold hand of death of the subject. He was forced to conclude the book under those circumstances. However the book doesn’t read like an unfinished project.
Mwanawasa granted Amos with liberty, access to information and persons. He was only ‘warned’ to keep away from State Secrets!
The book is an interesting piece to read owing to the simple and narrative manner and style Amos took. Most books are difficult to read as authors want to colour their writing styles with flowery or technical language. In fact many experts state that ‘’to write simply, is to write well’’.
I have read books by other Zambian writers and some books make terrible reading! There are few good local books that are written well. Authors such as John Mwanakatwe, Andrew Sardanis and Francis Kaunda can count in this fortunate category.
Amos’ book is not one you could flip through and hope to get the gist of the story. Some critical facts appear unannounced and without warning. The reader is therefore advised to take time and read everything!
The book was enriched by other contributors. Contributors ranged from Dr. Julius Sakala who gave Mwanawasa his first job as an intern at Ndola City Council to his nemesis Patriotic Front (PF) leader Michael Sata. Others are his former
Vice-presidents: Enoch Kavindele, Dr. Nevers Mumba and now Republican President Mr. Rupiah Banda.
More contributors were Jack Kalala, Dr. Simon Miti, Anderson Chibwa, Mutembo Nchito and Mark Chona.
Mwanawasa’s spouse Maureen, and their children also gave valuable contributions.
Akashambatwa Mbikusita Lewanika gave his views that have become popular with the book. He also gave an ideological perspective of Mwanawasa’s rule.
Dr. Simon Miti defended his and other doctors’ decision to declare Mwanawasa fit and proper to hold office even under the circumstances of his first stroke. Miti also talked about the difficult decision made to evacuate Sata after a serious heart attack he suffered in 2008.
Sata was a fierce critic of Mwanawasa at the time and a source of grievous pain to his (Mwanawasa) family. Sata also made his justifications about their political differences dating back to 1991.
Rona, Mwanawasa’s sister recounted how painful Sata’s utterances were and insists up to now, that Mwanawasa should not have reconciled with Sata. She refuses to ignore or forget Sata’s political attacks on her brother especially the insensitive comments about Mama Myria Mokola’s death (Mwanawasa’s mother).
She insists that the reconciliation between Sata and her brother should be deemed as personal and did not extend to the Mwanawasa family.
Children Miriam, Matolo, Jackie (though a nephew, grew up in the Mwanawasa household); Chipo, Patrick, Lubona and Ntembe gave detailed personal account of the man and father they called ‘Tiger’.
Their comments are mostly jovial when they talk about the life they shared with Mwanawasa but painful and sorrowful when discussing his demise and absence. For example Ntembe knew her father so well that she even remembers his favourite television program – Isidingo!
Miriam, Mwanawasa’s eldest daughter also gave a memorable account when she recalled her father’s social advice regarding men and how dishonest they can be! She recounts her personal experience with (Austin Liato) a father of her first-born child born, who showed affection and love when Mwanawasa was alive. This man in fact, even paid lobola for her but has since shunned her and her daughter after the death of Mwanawasa.
Liato is accused of abandoning even the care and child support of his own son and this makes Miriam recollect her father’s advice and caution that now rings loudly true.
She also recounts how her father saved her life when she suffered without suspicions, meningitis, while she was in the USA.
Maureen’s comments are however, guarded and reasoned through. She clearly was attempting to carefully typify and present an acceptable Mwanawasa.
She seems preoccupied with portraying Mwanawasa as a strong, principled and clean man who was so committed to the ideals of serving and saving a country even at his own expense and life. She comes out as Mwanawasa’s best cheer leader!
Yet Mwanawasa himself speaks candidly and with clear abandon. Mwanawasa did not seem to worry about the effect of his own words but he was intent to communicate his life and views in a frank manner. For example Mwanawasa gave what would be regarded as unkind remarks about UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema, who he viewed as an opportunist, a cheat and one that was not truthful!
Mwanawasa regretted that Hichilema held so much promise but was not truthful and he felt that he missed a great opportunity to work with him. Hichilema promised Mwanawasa that in the event that he came to join politics, he would join Mwanawasa and the MMD.
The worst commentators were Dr. Nevers Mumba and Mr. Enoch Kavindele whose own speeches after their fall-out with Mwanawasa were so strong but do not bear the resemblance of their new views they gave in the book. Their views are so muted and careful as if measuring and fearing unknown consequences if their true views and account about Mwanawasa were communicated. Remember, this book was written when Mwanawasa was alive and Amos refused to take new views after his death as he saw a shifty behaviour in some contributors.
It is for this reason that Akashambatwa Mbikusita Lewanika popularly known as Aka, provided refreshing comments that are so welcome. He gave those strong views when Mwanawasa was alive but gave an account he could defend in private and in public.
Aka for example defines Mwanawasa as a professional who struggled to get out of the confines of his narrow legal perspective. He defines Mwanawasa’s law practice as a money-making venture that had most of the times ‘’nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with social programs altogether’’.
He described Mwanawasa as a product of UNIP who was following its brand of nationalism. Further he saw a conflicting Mwanawasa who sometimes sided with employers – a capitalist tendency. He however discloses that though Mwanawasa projected a tough and dictatorial image he in fact loved debates and challenges, though most of his colleagues did not recognise this quality.
Aka has earlier in the book portrayed Mwanawasa as a conformist and not a revolutionary, a manager (‘a status quo leader’) who was not keen to change anything but merely corrects or improves things. He showed a Mwanawasa who merely got a technical certificate of education (Law) and refused to grow out of that box even when times and circumstances demanded for a leader who had a broader perspective and could deal with people and difficulties in a realistic manner.
Aka also comments about the formation of the MMD and Chiluba’s role. In his review of the 1990 Garden House Meeting and the struggle for multiparty democracy, Aka portrays Second Republican President, Dr. Frederick Chiluba as a reluctant revolutionary who was not keen to take enough risks to bring about immediate change. He cites the case of invitation letters to the meeting that should have been done by Chiluba.
Chiluba is said to have relegated this duty to his secretary Newstead Zimba who consequently refused to use ZCTU letter heads and did not sign the letter at all. He portrays Chiluba as one who was concerned about government’s constant threat to stop workers’ contributions to ZCTU. He recounts how he proceeded to host the meeting after a heavy drink of brandy with Remmy Mushota and a night spent listening to recorded speeches of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jnr.
He remembers that Chiluba and Chitalu Sampa came to the meeting after 11:00hrs, when in his view, learning that the meeting was not disrupted and the attendees were arrested! (And he also mentions Chiluba’s maroon suit he was dressed in, with a tone of scorn).
Aka’s views whether they are a reflection of the truth or not, are the most memorable and exciting ones as they portray a speaker determined to communicate his views even at the threat of losing friendships and relationships.
President Rupiah Banda describes a Mwanawasa who is moulded by his law practice. He stated that Mwanawasa demanded for evidence when you gave him a report about a matter or a person. These comments seem to summarise many people’s view that characterise Mwanawasa as being influenced heavily by his law practice and he dealt with matters like he was in a court of law!
MWANAWASA’S VIEWS ABOUT CHILUBA AND ZIMBABWE
Mwanawasa’s interesting comments are about the two subjects that made him famous with the West. The Chiluba and Zimbabwe issues! He strongly parries allegations that he was doing and toeing a donor’s agenda when he embarked on the two programs.
He goes to a large extent to demonstrate how he loved Dr. Chiluba. He regretted that the fight against corruption had alienated him from Chiluba who he regarded as a dear friend and one who had rescued him from the jaws of death and during periods of his life.
However, Mwanawasa’s conflicting personality comes to the fore when he discusses and defends the reasons and circumstances that forced him to pursue Chiluba. His reasons for pursuing Chiluba after professing love for the man, appear not convincing. He felt that he in fact, treated Chiluba better than (Chiluba) had treated Kaunda.
On Zimbabwe, Mwanawasa discusses with pain the difficulties he faced on the position he chose to pursue despite the clear stonewalling he faced from his colleagues. SADC heads of state chose to treat Mugabe with kid’s gloves under their policy of ‘Silent Diplomacy’.
The regional leaders refused to publicly condemn Mugabe’s undemocratic practices even when the principles of SADC demanded so. Mwanawasa appear naive especially when he became SADC Chair where he chose to issue unilateral and condemnatory statements against Mugabe even when the past record of his colleagues is well known on the matter.
Mwanawasa met the wrath of a well orchestrated Mugabe’s propaganda machinery when he chose to invite Morgan Tsvangirai and attempted to accord him access to the emergency SADC Heads of State Summit in Lusaka. Whatever the case, this meeting was a summit of Heads of States and Mwanawasa was taking a serious diplomatic breach by inviting an opposition leader to the Summit.
In his usual way, Mwanawasa justifies this by falling on his law practice, and insists he needed to give ‘both sides’ a chance by inviting Tsvangirai so that he could state his position too!
Mwanawasa recounts how he felt betrayed by South African President, Thabo Mbeki. When Mbeki showed ‘support’ him on the phone, Mwanawasa was confident he had secured an ally on the matter. He was surprised that Mbeki couldn’t restate the same position in the meeting.
Mwanawasa only received unequivocal support from Botswana’s President, Ian Khama who suffers similar constant accusations that he is an imperial pawn (like Mwanawasa).
The book however descends to a level of patronising towards the end when it steeps into material only good for memorials. Maybe this can be forgiven as this in a section for the author’s epilogue and appendix.
When you strip away the prejudices against Amos and The Post, you realise that this is a good book and a worthy investment.
This was Amos’ own initiative though it rides extensively on the infrastructure of The Post. The Post and Mwanawasa had an uncanny relationship where the paper formed part of Mwanawasa’s strong core of allies and this would prejudice others against the book.
Amos’ narrative style has distinguished itself and has helped the book to make it good reading. It meets international packaging and presentation standards. Though the volume is small (pages 244 and pages 273 with appendixes), it was a serious attempt to do a good job.
Some people felt that The Post or Amos can only white-wash Mwanawasa’s legacy but the contents of book betrays those feelings and distinguishes itself as a scholarly piece.
Details of the book are below:
TITLE: LEVY PATRICK MWANAWASA- An Incentive For Posterity
PUBLISHERS: NISC (South Africa)
AUTHOR: Amos Malupenga
COVER DDESIGN: The Post
PRICE: K200, 000.00