By Field Ruwe
With his parted hair and an alluring grin, he won a legion of fans. But at 72, years have made their mark on the man we fondly call VJ – the Master Dribbler. Born with a sliver spoon in his mouth, he has served in the last four regimes and now he is plotting to serve in King Cobra’s citadel. In his hay days he was our sex symbol. He married and dumped them as they came. From the age of 21, the youngest ambassador ever, his forays in diplomacy had solid results. He danced in the Makumbi and left his imprint on the dance floor. He’s been here there done this done that.
His closest buddy RB, 74, perhaps not as ostentatious, has had an equally enthralling life with a presidency only dreams are made of, and a young wife to nurture him. His bonanza will last him a lifetime. Another pal, AC, in his 70s is pinching himself. Not in his wildest dreams did he think he would resurrect and become the custodian of the country’s coffers. He is now going to apply the Keynesian economics he learned in Sweden 52 years ago to the Endogenous Growth Theory. Their colleague King Cobra, at 74 is at the helm, living the dream.
It is now 42 years since independence. All our 1964 venerable martyrs are antediluvian. Let’s face it; they are all susceptible to arthritis, poor eyesight, wrinkles, and Alzhiemer’s Disease. Each evening they have to put their feet in hot water to maintain blood circulation in what is called hydrotherapy. They are rubbing Sloans and are treating their wounds with Permanganate. In the next five or ten years VJ will be 77 or 82, RB 80 or 85, and King Cobra, the last of the Mohicans, will be 79 or 84.
Baby boomers are lurking in alleyways, waiting to pounce on the highest office on land. The General who garnered a dismal 4,730 votes in the just ended elections still believes he is the heir. Poor General he has been plummeting like a NASA satellite out of control, from 8.1% in 2001 to 0.76% in 2008 to 0.17% in 2011, the worst performance by any approbated politician. As he correctly points out in his manifesto preamble the message of “Start Afresh” does not resonate with the people. His Heritage vision of the Village Concept lacks intellectual depth and shall never win him the crown. Advice to drop his ridiculous concept has fallen on deaf ears. People are afraid of him. They say he runs his party like a fiefdom and shows absolute disdain for his critics. After such disheartening results one would wish to pass the mantle to new young blood. Not the General. It is his livelihood. At least he gets to rubbing shoulders with those in the corridors of power. He gets funding, attends state functions, and goes on air to voice his “village” opinion. The truth is that the General is a lazy politician who sits on his laurels envying the popularity of others. “I wish I was as popular as Sata” statement was so damn it cost him votes.
Many baby boomers behave like the General. They are fully aware that there is no retirement age limit in our politics. When they are fired, retired, released from jail, or delinquent, they dash to the registrar’s office. They use a political party as a lifeline and occupy the post of president. The title of “president” exudes power and confidence. To them the party is the kingdom, even just by name. Some use it to practice politics of vengeance and vendetta while others shield their ineptitudes, or amass wealth.
This goes for some young politicians as well. Forty-nine-year old Hakainde Hichilima would have become our Obama had he not turned himself into a paramount chief. Hichilima reminds me of “The Old Lion” Harry Nkumbula, who should have become the first republican president. A student of Makerere University College, the University of London, and the London School of Economics, he was more educated than Kenneth Kaunda. It was Nkumbula and Hastings Kamuzu Banda who drafted a document that expressed African opposition to White-dominated Central African federation. But as leader of ANC Nkumbula engaged in ethnic politics and employed rhetoric that appealed to the Ila and the Tonga speaking south. Kaunda with his UNIP took a different route. He called himself a “Bemba” and attracted a multiethnic following. He knew that as long as Nkumbula received support in the south and in some areas of Central province, he would never become president. Hichilima has fallen in the same trap and is being hammered left, right, and centre.
Of course UNIP is dead and Tilyenji at 57 with 0.36% is riding a dinosaur. He thinks like Niccolo Machiavelli: “A Prince ought to be better loved, and will naturally be popular with his subjects unless outrageous vices make him odious…For one change always leaves a dovetail into which another will fit.” The 2011 elections have proved that a name cannot buy votes—not any more, not in our country. Tilyenji, who in his life-time has had less need to toil, needs a lot of energy to become president.
The poor performance of the young politicians, including Charles Mulupi at 57, with 0.94% and Elias Chipimo Junior at 46, with 0.38% is a wakeup call. We urgently need to find King Cobra’s successor among these young men, groomed not by him, but us. We must look for one who is young, daring, cunning, self-denying, and self-devoted in a crisis; and yet just, generous, hospitable, revengeful, modest, and commonly chaste in peace. These are qualities, it is true, which are difficult to attain; but they are the predominating traits required of a remarkable person.
There is someone somewhere in our country that befits these qualities. If you feel you are the one—with accurate insight, intelligence, passion, commitment, and the ability to inspire, read this article, ponder the ideas you get from it and take a hard look at yourself. Do not decide to run for the presidency impetuously like most of you. Do not do it because you don’t like King Cobra or his white vice president, or because you are unemployed. Do it because you believe deep down your heart you have a rare gift, that you can make a difference, that you can touch others in a special way, and that you can make our country a better place. Consult your wife or family members because living in the public eye will have consequences for them as well as you. Make sure you have a clean slate, that you have a good reputation among your peers, otherwise your past will come back to bite you. Above all, make sure you are in good health. Do not rush to the press to proclaim. Radio and Television are dangerous. They can destroy you. Ask the General. He sped to the studio, addressed the nation and got the boot.
Here is what you should do. In the first quarter of King Cobra’s reign grab the constitution and understand how the office of the president operates. Make King Cobra your role-model (Don’t smoke like he did). Get from him only results that will benefit your candidacy and fine-tune them, perhaps make them even better. Put your ear to the ground. You must know that throughout the world governments do not serve the needs of all the people. We all know that ours is a government of the elites and as long as it remains so some leaders will be acting against the well-being of the ordinary people. Even if King Cobra fulfills his 90-day pledge, or succeeds in raising the minimum wage, there will always be some who are unhappy. Listen to what they are saying. Embrace issues that concern them. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your issues are theirs.
Know the type of people in the opposition; RB, HH, Mulupi, Chipimo, Tilyenji, Nawakwi, Magande, the General, and Mutesa, and gauge their support. Cross out RB, Magande, and the General. They are a spent force. Don’t ignore our Sarah Palin; you might need her as your vice president, who knows, or your president should you become too cocky. Before you declare your interest to stand for the presidency of the Republic of Zambia appoint a Willie Nsanda as your campaign manager or poach the real one. Your strength and success and that of your party depend on the grassroots. Our sophisticated young and learned presidential candidates tend to ignore the grassroots and focus exclusively on the use of the media. They are possessed with press conferences and releases. Don’t. Get Nsanda. He is the vigilante per excellence and a master mobilizer. He is behind the success of the MMD and the PF on the copperbelt. With the way things stand for him, you can easily sway him to your side. He will produce more miniature Nsandas and they will deliver the State House.
Befriend a Catholic priest. Ask KK, they are like Fred M’membe; they can build and destroy you. M’membe makes kings then masticates them. Develop a thick skin. You will be a victim of ad hominem attacks and your response could turn you into an RB. Respect King Cobra, but don’t fear him. After six months stand on the stairs of the High Court or before the Freedom Statue, or some other landmark, and declare your candidacy. Tell the world in Nyanja that you have decided to make King Cobra a one term president. Can you do that?
Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner and author. He is a PhD candidate with a B.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism, and an M.A. in History.