By Arthur Simuchoba (Times online)
In an extraordinary move, President Michael Sata has apologised to the government of Angola for what he said was Zambia’s “treachery” through its support of the rebel Unita movement of Dr Jonas Savimbi during the Angolan civil war.
The apology came as Sata received the credentials of the new Angolan ambassador last week and was the first time Zambia had admitted to its part in the Angolan civil war.
Subsequently, Sata sent Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda, to deliver the apology in Luanda.
The apology also brought into renewed focus the unresolved and intriguing question concerning the source of the $1.2-million held in a Government of Zambia bank account in London.
Until his death, former president Frederick Chiluba maintained that it was his “personal” money. The question that has lingered concerned where he received the money, and the answer has not been forthcoming.
The Chiluba government denied any involvement with Unita and relations with Angola were strained. There was talk of an attack from Angola and by some accounts; war was averted only by the entreaties of other regional leaders.
Tensions mounted to breaking point and the Angolan president stayed away from Lusaka. The situation was not helped by a bomb, never properly explained, that went off in the Angolan embassy in Lusaka.
Sata, in his apology, denounced Zambia’s support for Unita as “treacherous” and considered the matter serious enough to engage Kaunda.
“I have sent him as my envoy to personally apologise to the president of Angola,” he said.
Kaunda was reported to have had a 40-minute meeting with President Jose Eduardo do Santos in Luanda.
Questions were asked about the apology in the National Assembly and vice-president Guy Scott said: “There was a certain situation which required cleaning, hence the decision by the government to apologise to Angola.”
Sata was unrelenting in his criticism of Zambia’s conduct, further describing it as having been “greedy and fraudulent”.
He should know, because he was a senior figure in the Chiluba administration for most of that period. As national secretary of the ruling MMD party, he was minister without portfolio, a senior cabinet post, and was in those days a member of the president’s inner circle.
Investigations, part of the anti-corruption drive of the late president Levy Mwanawasa, led to a London account belonging to the Zambia intelligence Service which contained $1.2 million.
Ownership of the money was disputed, but since it was a government account it seemed only logical that it would be government money.
Not so, insisted Chiluba. At first, he claimed the account held some of “his money”. Only later did it emerge that it amounted to $1.2-million.
Ownership of the cash was not resolved until his death, at least not publicly.
What this apology did and which could well have been its real purpose, was to resurrect the issue.
Informed observers have long speculated that the source of the money was in fact Savimbi’s Unita – for “services rendered”.
Suggestions have arisen that the money should be forfeited to the state. But Chiluba, throughout his corruption ordeal, maintained the money was his.
Successive forensic audits proved that not only government deposited money into the account and this forms the the basis of his acquittal on a charge of theft of $500000 from the account.
Ultimately, the money he appeared to have stolen could not be traced back to the government.
Chiluba maintained that he had raised the money from well-wishers who donated funds for building the Frederick Chiluba Institute of Industrial Relations, which was under construction as he prepared to leave office.
But many dismissed this version from the outset. Instead, they believed that the source of that kind of money could only have been Savimbi’s Unita.
They lent credence to the Angolan version that there had been collusion between Unita and at least some individuals in the upper reaches of the Zambian government.
The collusion was not thought to have been driven by either ideology or politics, but purely by greed.
Many believed the Unita currency was rough diamonds and enough of them could easily fetch a million dollars. They remained convinced that this is how the large hard currency amount had been generated.
The money remains in the London bank account and there is considerable speculation that the apology is preliminary to its forfeiture by the state.
But even if not, the apology opened a new vista into the shadowy $1.2-million.