Hunt for Successor 23: The Rise and Fall of Edith Nawakwi

Hunt for Successor 23: The Rise and Fall of Edith Nawakwi

By Field Ruwe

Edith Nawakwi

“Following the rise in the price of foodstuffs which are the basic needs for Zambians, the army has taken over in Zambia with effect from (3:30 a.m.) Zambian time. All Zambians and foreigners are free to remain in the country. Announcing the military coup is Lt. Mwamba Luchembe.” These 48 words broadcast at dawn of July 1, 1990 on ZNBC by an army officer, changed Zambia. They were a crescendo to three days of riots and looting that left 27 people dead and more than 100 wounded.

Although unsuccessful, the coup rattled the nerves of the indomitable KK and gave fresh impetus to advocates of multi-party politics, among them, the virtually unknown 32 year-old Edith Nawakwi.

The old adage that “leaders are born,” is a non sequitur. While it is a fact that Prince William was born with kingly blood, it is also true that Winston Churchill was a created leader. In Zambia, the so-called Young Turks turned FTJ into a leader. And as recent as September last year the gullible kaponyas made King Cobra the leader of our nation. As for Nawakwi, she is a self-made leader who by sheer boorishness and discourtesy, has proved that there is a kernel of leadership for opportunists and all.

Nawakwi’s swift rise to political stardom was paved by KK on December 5, 1986. It is on this day that he devalued the Zambian Kwacha and increased the price of mealie-meal by 120 percent to meet the demands of the structural adjustment program. Many economic analysts believe it was perhaps KK’s major step to his downfall.

Because the downfall of KK is coincident with the rise of Nawakwi, it is worth noting. KK’s first misstep was in 1971 when he made his first contact with IMF following the Mufulira disaster. Wishing to cushion the slight fall in copper prices and moderate the impact of the mining disaster, he acquired Zambia’s first IMF loan; a one year Compensatory Financing Facility (CFF).

The IMF intelligentsia here referred to as the Harvard boys or as I call them the “Truman Navy Seals,” had been targeting KK in their war with the Soviet Union. They knew that KK and Leonid Brezhnev were comrades and therefore a danger to the Truman Doctrine—a containment policy to stop Soviet expansion.

Their break came in 1973 when oil prices on the world market soared, and the price of copper slumped. The Harvard boys embarked on a series of lending agreements and turned KK into a chronic borrower. By 1986, the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth was zero and inflation had skyrocketed. Shortages of basic goods, cuts in food subsidies, and pruning of workers were rampant.

The Harvard boys applied further shock-treatment economics. They ordered that the Kwacha be devalued. KK obliged and increased the price of mealie-meal, a move that resulted in the Copperbelt riots.

Enter FTJ. Back in1981, KK had detained him for calling a wildcat strike that paralyzed most of the Zambian economy. In 1986, FTJ used the mood in the country to condemn the move by KK to continue borrowing.  KK brushed him aside as a “dwarf” who had no idea what he was talking about.

FTJ was encouraged. He knew KK was paying attention to him. In December 1989, the General Council of the ZCTU declared its intentions to reintroduce multiparty politics. When FTJ requested other individuals to join forces with his union, Aka and Chitala were two notches ahead.

Notice how I have not mentioned Nawakwi up to this stage. It is not on purpose. No one had heard of her. She was not part of the political and economic discourse. Crudely put, she was insignificant—an absolute nonentity.

It was in 1990 that she fell from the skies. Like all of us, she knew that food riots were taking a heavy toll on KK; that he was losing his grip. She was further encouraged when UNIP back-benchers as well as people from the business community supported ZCTU’s idea of multiparty politics.

An economist, she knew the Harvard boys were winning the war against KK and the Soviet Union. Their strategy led to perestroika (restructuring) or the wind of change in the Soviet Union which saw for the first time previously dreaded and impervious Communist leaders being questioned and held accountable. The wind spread fast. In 1990, it was blowing in many parts of Africa, including Zambia.

In Zambia, the incessant food riots forced KK to announce a referendum on multi-party democracy in May 1990. Nawakwi saw an opportunity and joined Aka, Chitala and others. On July 20, 1990, she became one of the founders of a social movement called Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) whose main objective was to campaign for a “yes” vote” in the referendum.

Aka was royalty while Chitala was simply a tenacious revolutionist with a bad attitude. Nawakwi, the daughter of the chief of Nawaitwika village rallied behind Chitala and became a courageous bull-whacker. For the first time we saw a young woman show total disrespect for KK. In a manner unprecedented she poured scorn, disdain, derision, ridicule, disparagement, sneer, and mockery at Gilgamesh. We applauded and described her as a learned, intelligent, and fearless amazon. Anything to disorient KK was welcome.

Nawakwi’s tough-talk was her defensive mechanism. She knew she was playing with fire. KK had his own way of dealing with his opponents. In 1972, when Kapwepwe tried to challenge him, he threw him and 122 members of his UPP in jail.

In the same year Livingstone Mayor William Chipango led a group of civilians against Zambia becoming a one-party state. When he tried to stage a coup (the first in Zambia) he was arrested. Some of his men escaped into Namibia and reappeared under the command of Adamson Mushala who was later killed.

In April 1980, KK demanded the dismissal of Elias Chipimo (snr) from the chairmanship of the Standard Bank. Chipimo was guest speaker at the annual dinner of the Law Association. In his speech he advocated for the return to multi-party politics.

And later that year on October 31, KK ordered the second battalion of the Zambia Army to raid a farm in Chilanga. After exchanging gunfire, eight suspects were arrested, including the perennial politician Lieutenant General Godfrey Miyanda. They were sentenced to death in January 1983 and later pardoned. In 1989, Miyanda in concert with others was again charged with treason, but later acquitted.

Nawakwi was saved by Luchembe. After the coup attempt KK was no longer the intimidating leader we had known for 27 years. He seemed overwhelmed by what was going on around him. Facing the worst crisis of his presidency, he, in November 1990, balked and repealed Article 4 of the constitution to allow for multiparty politics to the delight of Nawakwi and her cohorts.

As a result, the MMD was transformed into a political party in March 1991, and in the November elections FTJ was voted president of Zambia. Nawakwi became Member of Parliament in a historic life-changing election, and in the county’s first cabinet, she was appointed Deputy Minister of Energy.

Riding high on cloud nine, Nawakwi continued to behave like a man. A spinster, she dressed in minis and flirtatiously challenged men on the floor (at parliament house) where she would change from irresistible to rude. In a typical masculine style she snatched a married man and used her power and customary law to betroth him.

Nawakwi had no time for women movements and feminist garblers. If anything she chose them as her target and referred to them as “those women.” While men were intrigued, women, the most critical demographic in Zambian elections, distanced themselves from her. It is here that her cocky ego stoked her own political fire and her downfall was a matter of time.

There was no celebration from women when Nawakwi became a fully-fledged cabinet minister of her ministry and later Minister of Agriculture, Food & Fisheries. She was later implicated in the Carlington Maize scandal in which Zambia lost more than $4,000,000 for maize that was never delivered. She continues to deny she did anything wrong.

When Ronald Penza was fired for corruption and later assassinated, Nawakwi succeeded him as Minister of Finance, the first Zambian woman to hold the post of the most “intellectual” of the ministries. Again there was no ululation or accolades from the Zambian women because she was still behaving like a misogynist.

It is often said that when a Zambian president wants to “finish” a minister, he shunts him or her to the Ministry of Finance that’s where the electric chair is kept. The daring energy economist Edith Nawakwi sat on it and some of us applauded her. But Nawakwi was taking the chair at a time when FTJ had seen the personal benefits of befriending IMF and was holding a yard sale of our national assets, including the mines.

As minister, Nawakwi presided over the transfer of millions of dollars from her ministry to the Zamtrop account at the Zambia National Commercial Bank in London. According to the FTJ London trial documents $52,000,000 raised from the FTJ auction was banked between 1995 and 2001. The money has not been recovered to date.

When Nawakwi got into battles with IMF and the WB, the Harvard boys found her rhetoric green and jaundiced and felt she was not ripe enough in pose and negotiation. They made this clear to FTJ. It is believed that FTJ demoted Nawakwi following a poor performance at the annual consultative group meeting of Zambia’s principal donors. When she was moved to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, many women quietly ululated.

In 2001, Nawakwi hit back. She refused to support FTJ’s third term bid. She and 19 others were fired. They formed the Forum for Democracy and Development in which she emerged as vice president and MP for Munali. In 2005, men of FDD chose to make her their leader and in 2011 she filed her papers to become the first female president of Zambia.

The women of Zambia and thousands of her male critics had been dying to see Nawakwi stripped of power and in the desperate position she finds herself today. When the September elections were held they shunned her. The result was a pantry 6,833 votes raked from her constituency and from members of her party, their relatives and a few reluctant friends.

It was clear the likes of Chifumu Banda, and Luciano Mbewe had made a bad choice. Edith Nawakwi has fallen into the political abyss, never to recover. Between 1999 and 2011 she should have crossed over from men to women and present herself as their hope in the male-dominated social and political strata. She refused to listen. Up to this day, she hasn’t the strength of character or humility to request help from Zambian women who represent 60 percent of the electorate and many men who find her controlling and self-centered.

The downfall of Edith Nawakwi is purely her own making. Her foolish bravado is responsible for her own routing. No doubt she is smart, but her intellect and intellectual stamina do not go beyond her ego. She lacks the ability to know when she is wrong and the humility to accept and apologize.

It is therefore safe to conclude that as at now, Nawakwi has obliterated her political soul. The depth required of a president is missing. I wish her success in augmenting the FDD cause, but I think she should give other distinguished men and women in her party a chance to challenge the incumbent. FDD should know that Edith Nawakwi has gone to Rio.

Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner and author. He is a PhD candidate at George Fox University and serves as an adjunct professor (lecturer) in Boston. ©Ruwe2012

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