Hunt for successor part 3: young Turks of yesteryear

By Field Ruwe

The Swazi princess pulled me by the side and asked me to sign. I was adamant.

“You mean you don’t want change?” she asked.

I could see him, his ferret fiery eyes taunting me. He was a man with ineffable power. His stature and ebony texture were enough to send shivers even in the most stone-hearted. KK, my father used to tell me, was god-sent. Once he described how KK stared down a lion. It was this fatherly praise that set most of us into the adulation frenzy. I speak for countless Zambians who knew KK when he was bursting with charm and energy. When he waved his white handkerchief his worst enemies were the first to wave back, frantically. I was worried the Swazi princess and many like her were viewing the past from a narrow perspective of their own time, and ignoring the historical context and making assumptions about KK based on contemporary fads and theories.

“He has ruled for too long, don’t you think?” she said.

“I know, but I just can’t.”

“People like you should give democracy a chance.” She was relentless. “We need a thousand signatures to register a movement.”

The year was 1986. Venue: Lusaka Agricultural Show grounds. Exact location: Zambia Pork Products stand. The princess headed the marketing department. She was married to our very own Prince Aka.

“Give the old man a rest,” she said.

Her words hit me hard. The old man had just survived a coup attempt, three to be exact.

The tsunami caused by IMF had plunged our country in disarray. The Structural Adjustment was forcing him to cut down government expenditures and consumer expenditures and words like “retrenchment” and “prune” had become synonymous with early retirement of public employees. The skies burned red when he tampered with our staple food. Crowds of stone-throwers clashed with the police as their anger spread across the nation. The old man watched hopelessly as a 25kg bag of mealie-meal became his Waterloo. I, his royalist, saw him fatigued. I endorsed my signature.

Aka and Derrick (Mbita) Chitala were the first to walk the tight-rope at the height of the maelstrom. They were canvassing for signatures and were joined by other youthful reformists, among them;  Bob Sichinga, Katele Kaluba, Edith Nawakwi, Donald Chanda, Enock Kavindele, Levy Mwanawasa, Ronald Penza, Eric Silwamba, Bornface Kawimbe, Mutondo Chindoloma, Dean Mungomba, Chance Kabaghe, Dan Pule, Baldwin Nkumbula, Paul Tembo. Many were provocateurs who in their UNZA days had dodged teargas and torched cars on the Great East Road. In the early 1990s, they emerged as a new generation of agitated revolutionists who were pushing for the dispensation of multi-party politics. They became known as the Young Turks.

The term Young Turks originated from young progressive and modernist university students in Turkey, who in the late 1800s formed a movement against the absolute monarchy of the Ottoman Sultan. They built a rich tradition of dissent that shaped the intellectual, political and artistic life. In 1908, the Young Turks forced the sultan to restore the constitution, and he was removed from power the following year. Thus, the term “Young Turks” had come to signify the young Zambians who were progressive and were seeking a stop to one-party politics. They recruited other individuals who were prepared to sacrifice their lives for change.

For the first time we thought a leader would emerge among them. Some of us even created shadow cabinets. I had Aka as president and the Swazi princess as our first lady. No one had a better feeling for change than the two. I chose him over the militant and belligerent Derrick, who always carried a gallon of paraffin, ready to set the entire country on fire. He became my Minister without Portfolio to keep him away from a box of matches. I had no choice but to put quick-fingered Ronald Penza as Minister of Commerce. He had snatched Rank Xerox from Val Diallo. I was hoping he would snatch Anglo American from Ernest Oppenheimer. The Amazon Nawakwi was my Minister of Finance. The way she had treated KK, she was going to do a Julia Chikamoneka on IMF. I hesitated on Levy because of his relationship with Malian dealer Issa Galedou. When I put Eric Silwamba as Attorney General, my cabinet began to resemble the Mbala Mafia. I tore the paper and began afresh.

The Young Turks were like the Tea Party. They had no central leadership. Their movement comprised a loose affiliation of individuals that determined their own platforms and agendas. Many like Nawakwi and Chindoloma attacked KK relentlessly, often foolishly, sometimes scurrilously. Words like “dictator,” “authoritarian,” were no longer whispered in the dark corners. Each Turk had the desire to become president of our nation. Some speculated that the soft-spoken Aka was not strong enough to stare down KK. Others said Derrick had below zero leadership qualities. Still, others saw Ronald Penza as a bow-tied sharp-witted businessman who dreamt of creating his own empire where we all paid rent to him. Unable to find a leader, the Young Turks turned to aging political luminaries; Robinson Nabulyato, Arthur Wina, John Mwanakatwe, Humphrey Mulemba and Edward Shamwana, and settled for FTJ.

They blew it. They took a path to oblivion and were sucked through a wormhole to extinction. The man they had chosen hijacked their manifesto and left them in the cold. Bob Sichinga became a pariah. Aka, Derrick, and Dean were vanquished in no time. Between 2005 and 2008, Richard Sakala, Donald Chanda, Atan Shansonga, Katele Kalumba, and Peter Machungwa had fallen from grace. And by the time King Cobra was being sworn in, the tottering Young Turks had disintegrated together with their dreams.

HH, Mulupi, Chipimo, Tilyenji, and Mutesa are not Young Turks. They are not planning a revolution. There is no autocratic oligarchy to fight. We are in an era of political pluralism. In our country pluralism has become the guiding principle which calls for the respect of our president Michael Chilufya Sata and permits the peaceful coexistence of different interests and convictions. We are called a peaceful country because we detest factionalism. We allow many competing factions to prevent any one dominating the political system. As a nation we are able to accommodate our differences by engaging in good-faith negotiations.

Each of these energetic opposing leaders is competing for votes from the enfranchised constituents and is determined to succeed the incumbent in 2016 or 2021. We need one of them, or one of you young men and women out there, to win. Imagine for a moment a country managed by HH, Mulupi, Chipimo, Tilyenji, or Mutesa with one of them as his vice president. Of course we can’t see them working in league because of the inherent character of power. They will not bend to consensus building as a mechanism to victory and are likely to fail like the Young Turks of yesteryear. That is the reason we need one more person added to the list; one who is not a replica.

Let us for a moment look in the rear view mirror. In the late 1980s, at the height of the AIDS explosion an ascendancy of Evangelical and Pentecostal ecclesiastics shook the very foundations of the Catholic Church and other time-honored denominations. It was sparked by a German evangelist and founder of “Christ for All Nations” (CfAN) ministry Reinhard Bonnke. During his 1981 “Africa shall be saved” tour Bonnke travelled to Zambia and conducted a series of faith healing rallies called “crusades’ where he invited people to be “born again.” One of Bonnke’s interpreters was the little known, twenty-one-year old Nevers Mumba.

In 1985, at 26, Nevers mastered Bonnke’s panache and launched his own “Zambia shall be saved” ministry. He emerged not only as a television charismatic evangelist, but also as the most influential Pentecostal clergyman. He was so effective that KK and other political leaders turned to him for prayers when the country smoldered. Through dint of determination, charm, grace, and personality Nevers made himself into a revered young leader. I am not in any way endorsing him. He has seen better days.

What I am implying is that in Nevers’s domain and in a non-monarchical political world the capacity for leadership is not inherent. Leaders are not born, but made. Last September we witnessed fortitude at work. King Cobra became our fifth president after ten years of perseverance. Had he been born a leader, he would not have worked as a constable or a railway man. He would not have swept railway platforms in London, or work as a porter at Victoria railway station. With the right skill set, attitude and ambition, he worked his way up through the rough-and-tumble rank-and-file to the presidency. He owes his victory to his tenacity and intense campaigning, and to his ability to capitalize on popular disenchantment over miner’s working conditions. He presented himself as the people’s leader and won. As he sits on the throne, he is determined to serve his two terms and we should give him the mandate if he serves us right. At the end of his term YOU must succeed him.

There is a hidden gem somewhere in our country; a young pan-Africanist Kaunda, a John F. Kennedy, or a Barrack Obama. Keep in mind that Barack Obama went from being a virtual unknown in 2004 to becoming the 44th President of the United States in 2009. He shot to national fame after delivering a stirring keynote speech in support of John Kerry at the 2004 Democratic national convention. On February 10, 2007, he stood before a crowd of Illinoisans gathered in the Springfield, Illinois, town square and declared his intention to run for the presidency of the United States, he did so without fear. Alone, without any political infrastructure, in a country of the Ku Klux Klan, he set off to challenge the greatest political operation in the country.

You too can do it, and the time to start is now. Don’t waste your time in UNIP or the MMD. The latter was created by the Young Turks led by Aka and Derrick and assisted by the Swazi princess. When they failed to tame it, it munched them. FTJ gave it a bad reputation and it became a movement for money dealers. RB crossed swords with the westerners and miners swore never to forget. For now the MMD is on life support and Dr. Kevorkian is on the bedside.

It is time for YOU the young, educated, and charismatic leader and your major opposition party to take us into the new generation. Nancy Gibbs of TIME magazine wrote in the Commemorative issue to mark the victory of Barack Obama: “Some Princes are born in palaces, some are born in mangers. But few are born in the imagination.” You my friend are among the few.  Names…please.



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.






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