By Sakwiba Sikota
His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani BANDA born on the 19th February 1937, in Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia), will prove to be sui generis.
I will leave details of the children and grandchildren he has left behind to others who will write traditional obituaries. All I will say is that he leaves behind his dear wife THANDIWE who is the mother of his last born twin daughter and son.
I have never written an eulogy but, the passing of Fourth Republican President, Rupiah Bwezani BANDA is sui generis. I first met President Banda when he was a visitor to my parents home as he and my late dad were friends.
In 1975 when my father was chargé d’affaires setting up the opening of the Zambian foreign mission in, Paris, France. Late Rupiah Banda, “the then Zambian foreign minister on one of his many visits to our home decided after dinner to teach us the latest American dance craze; the bump”. He took his time to teach two teenagers (my brother NGOMBALA and I) the dance move. He was no doubt a socialite.
I submit that there are compelling reasons why Late President BANDA should be considered sui generis. There will never be another as his case is singularly distinctive.
Not only was Late President Rupiah Banda the Fourth Republican President of Zambia, but he was also the head of the Namibian Government when he was Chairman of the United Nations Council for Namibia. He therefore at one time or other led two different nations.
I have interacted with all the Zambian Republican Presidents in the Zambian Courts where I have either represented them or acted against them. This has given me a universal view of all the persons who have led our nation.
The manner in which President BANDA conducted himself whilst president and in his retirement, should serve as an example to other African leaders as to how they are to behave and conduct themselves.
One of the challenges we have in Africa is the tendency for those in powers to resist peaceful change of power. President BANDA stepped down as president of Zambia in 2011 following a very close election defeat and is internationally hailed as an icon of African democracy for peacefully handing over the presidency to the opposition. This is something that should be highlighted to all present and future African leaders.
Since leaving office, he was invited by several international organizations and groups to offer advice and support on democracy and good governance.
To a packed house at Boston University on 2nd April 2012, President Rupiah Banda made a strong defense for democracy as the African Presidential Center’s new President-in-Residence. In his opening salvo he said, “For democracy to flourish there must be a continuing stream of individuals of integrity and ideas with promise. There must be room for a new generation of leaders to rise to solve the next generation of problems. If democracy is going to be secure in countries like Zambia, if development is going to take root; old leaders can’t cling to power or attempt to consolidate it at all costs.”
His life is testimony to these words.
He was true to his words.
The manner in which His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda conducted himself after the close 2011 Zambia Presidential Election is a good example of a leader gracefully handing over power. This handover was all the more remarkable when you take into account the highly charged election and the threats which were being made against His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda and his immediate family.
Inspite of the threats made to him, His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda brought down the political temperature by not only quickly conceding defeat, but also went further to agree to publicly physically handover the instruments of power before a highly charged and hostile crowd at the swearing in ceremony of his successor. This selfless act significantly brought down the political temperature.
Some elements were however still desirous of unfairly humiliating His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda by bringing malicious false criminal charges against him. During the trial His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda would travel in and out of the country and never sought to seek asylum anywhere as he felt that democracy required that his innocence be established by the Zambian Courts.
The Zambian Courts found that the charges against His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda had no basis at all and consequently dismissed the case at the very early stage by finding him with no case to answer. The court went as far as saying there was no need to even put President Banda on his defense.
During this wrongful trial His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda showed no bitterness and instead maintained the dignity of the office of former President by attending all national state celebrations and functions clearly showing that he held no animosity towards his false accusers. As one of the lawyers who represented him at his trial I can confirm that throughout the process he kept on emphasizing that his trial would help Zambians have faith in the Judicial system and need to maintain respect of the court processes.
After his acquittal President Banda said in a post-ruling interview with journalists stated that his case should serve as a lesson to all Zambians not to retaliate to hatred with hatred and advised, “Having been a leader of this country, I just want to ask everybody to please take this matter as a lesson to us Zambians that hatred can make you do bad things and, therefore, you do not respond to hatred with hatred…….Zambia should repair the hatred character if the country is to attain any meaningful development.”
He went on to call for love and peace, adding “It is only through love, peace and forgiveness that the country will prosper.” This is consistent with the speech he gave when he left office.
The Zambian High Court subsequently found that the removal of his immunity was wrongly done and re-instated his immunity.
The Fourth Zambian Republican President was sui generis as he not only led Zambia but also because he is the only African leader who superintended two different territories as he was Elected President of Council for Namibia in 1974.
His Excellency Mr. Rupiah Bwezani Banda oversaw the smooth transition of Namibia into a democratic state when he was Chairman of the United Nations Council for Namibia and also Zambian foreign minister. Prior to the delicate and sophisticated diplomatic skills that His Excellency Rupiah Banda exhibited, Namibia was in the midst of a deadly and intense liberation struggle.
The South West Africa People’s Organisation, officially known as SWAPO Party of Namibia, was an independence movement in Namibia that fought against the racist regime supported by the then Apartheid South African government. In 23 years of fighting beginning in 1966 between the SWAPO and the SADF, thousands of fatal casualties were reported.
SWAPO found that President Banda, inspite of the high racial tensions the liberation struggle had created (such as the horror of the Kassinga massacre at a Namibian refugee camp in Angola on May 4, 1978) managed to bring down the tensions to such an extent that we did not witness the flight of the whites as was seen when Southern Rhodesia gained independence and became Zimbabwe.
The manner in which President Banda handled the transition was to serve as an example that Nelson Mandela would emulate when the African National Congress in South Africa took over from the Apartheid white regime.
President Rupiah Banda served as Chairman of the United Nations Institute for Namibia and played a critical role in training, not only the future Namibian civil service but also, future Namibian political leaders such as President Geingob and former Speaker of the National Assembly Chitendero amongst many others. As a result there has been stability and a decent culture of democracy from the governing party in Namibia ever since the country achieved independence in 1990. This culture was planted and nurtured by Late President Banda.
His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda was also, since peacefully handing over power in 2011, active on the International scene in that he was election observer to numerous African elections such as:-
In November 2011 he led the JIMMY CARTER FOUNDATION ELECTION OBSERVER MISSION to The Democratic Republic of the Congo.
In May 2012 he led a ELECTORAL INSTITUTE FOR SUSTAINABLE DEMOCRACY IN AFRICA (EISA) election observer mission to Lesotho
In 2012/2013 he led the JIMMY CARTER FOUNDATION ELECTION OBSERVER MISSION to Kenya.
In 2013 he led the JIMMY CARTER FOUNDATION ELECTION OBSERVER MISSION to Sierra Leone.
President Rupiah Banda was in such high demand that he had to excuse himself from a request by the Commonwealth for him to lead the observer mission to the presidential elections in Ghana as the polls were coming around the same time as the Sierra Leone assignment.
Earlier, the African Union requested President Banda to observe the parliamentary elections in Libya but, due to prior engagements, he could not go.
His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda was in 2011 invited by Boston University in the United States of America to lecture in democracy as the Eighth President-in-Residence at Boston University’s African Presidential Center.
As the Eighth President-in-Residence at Boston University’s African Presidential Center, former President Rupiah Banda followed such notables as former Zambian President Kenneth David Kaunda, former president of Botswana Quett Ketumile Joni Masire, former president of Cape Verde Antonio Monteiro, and Mo Ibrahim prize-winner former president of Botswana Festus Gontebanye Mogae.
This is testimony of the people mentioned in the same breath as President Rupiah Bwezani Banda.
In November 2012 Boston University recognized the important experience he could impart to the upcoming leaders by asking him to give lectures in Ghana as part of the BOSTON UNIVERSITY program.
After the Ghana lectures he went in the same manner to Tanzania to lecture on good governmence and democracy at Mwalimu Nyerere’s Mlimani campus.
In February 2013 he delivered a keynote lecture under the ELECTORAL INSTITUTE FOR SUSTAINABLE DEMOCRACY IN AFRICA (EISA) program
In recognition of his academic and intellectual abilities and prowess as shown in the paragraphs above, His Excellency Mr. Rupiah Bwezani Banda was invited and appointed as Chancellor of Cavendish University.
In 2017 he was appointed as co-chair of the panel of the PANEL OF EMINENT PERSONS PANEL OF THE TRADE AND DEVELOPMENT BANK (FORMERLY PTA BANK UNDER COMESA)
In 2018 he led the mediation mission to Kenya in the aftermath of the post elections violence where his participation was key in leading to the formation of a government of national unity and gave rise to the now famous household name “The March 9th Handshake”. The handshake brought together Uhuru Kenyatta, and Raila Odinga, two national leaders who put their differences aside to serve Kenyans.
I was an election observer in the Kenyan Elections of 2007 that were followed by such widespread violence that our observer mission was escorted to the airport under heavy military escort upon departure. I therefore understand how deep the divisions and ill-will run in Kenyan society prior to “The March 9th Handshake”. This makes the delicate work done by His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda of bringing the then mortal political enemies in Kenya together for the greater interest and good of Kenya really stand out.
Club de Madrid World Leadership Alliance (WLA – Club de Madrid) which aims to bring change for institutional and leadership strengthening, development and the wellbeing of citizens, recognized His Excellency Rupiah Bwezani Banda and in their citation of him said, “As President, Rupiah Banda has dedicated himself to improving Zambia’s economy, ensuring security, stability and prosperity for all Zambians. He has worked especially to improve healthcare and education, to increase agricultural production and to secure and increase the number of jobs in Zambia, particularly for people living in rural areas.”
In addition the Club de Madrid said of His Excellency Rupiah Bwezani Banda, “Zambia’s abiding interest in the liberation of the region meant that its Foreign Minister was among the key figures in the diplomacy and events that eventually led to the emancipation of the region. As such, Banda is known by, and has interacted extensively with, many of the leaders of the region today.
He also served as President of the UN Council on Namibia which was effectively the government of Namibia while the matter of South Africa’s disputed mandate over the territory was resolved.”
The full citation from the Club de Madrid is to be published in my next post.
His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda also managed the unfortunate transition from the loss of a sitting president (Late President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa) through death when he ably oversaw the healing of the country and coming to terms with the loss of a leader. As a result of how he managed the transition there was economic and political stability in spite of the loss. The example he set helped the country to deal with the unfortunate repeat of circumstances when a few years later his successor, His Excellency President Michael Chilufya Sata also died whilst in office.
When President Mwanawasa died I was due to travel the following day to Denver Colorado for ten days on the invitation of the National Democratic Institute to attend the Democratic Party’s convention and adoption of Senator Obama as Democratic Party nominee. I went to see President Banda at Government House and asked him if I should still go ahead. He urged me to go ahead and assured me that the burial would not have taken place and hence I would be back in time. Upon this encouragement I went to Colorado and indeed was back on time.
His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda showed his humility and tolerance when the police had arrested and successfully prosecuted a Ndola man, Darius Mukuka, who had insulted him. All this happened without His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda’s knowledge. I was present when the President read in the newspaper that a man was jailed for having insulted him in a bar. He was furious! Furious, not that he had been insulted in a bar but, because as he asked, “Why should someone be sent to jail for insulting me? If he can’t insult me, who else will he insult?”.
He then exercised his Constitutional power to grant clemency and ordered the Darius Mukuka’s immediate release from jail. He went further and issued a directive to the police that people should never be arrested for such an offense.
I also remember during his presidency that a number of Barotse activists were arrested on a non bailable charge and upon hearing that there were some very elderly and a few juveniles amongst the arrested, His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda exercised his Constitutional power of clemency again and ordered the release of all the elderly and juveniles that had been arrested on those charges.
The role and positive influence of His Excellency President (Chairman UN Council on Namibia) Rupiah Banda has been recognized by organizations such as:-
1. ELECTORAL INSTITUTE FOR SUSTAINABLE DEMOCRACY IN AFRICA (EISA)
2. BOSTON UNIVERSITY
3. JIMMY CARTER FOUNDATION
5. CLUB DE MADRID WORLD LEADERSHIP ALLIANCE
6. THE AFRICAN UNION
7. THE UNITED NATIONS
These are but a sampling of a few reasons why His Excellency President (Chairman UN Council on Namibia) Rupiah Bwezani Banda was able to dissipate the tension that was building up between the Patriotic Front and United Party for National Development supporters after the 11th August 2021 elections. It was looking as if Zambia was headed towards a catastrophe like the American January 6th 2021 Capital Hill mayhem in Washington that rocked the USA.
Behind the scenes President Banda called upon his years of diplomatic skills to spring a beautiful surprise for Zambia, Africa and the world.
On 16th August 2021 then Republican President Edgar Lungu met with President elect Hakainde Hichilema at former president Rupiah Banda’s residence. Presidents LUNGU and Hakainde were taught “the bump” by Fourth Republican President Rupiah Banda.
After tutoring and encouraging his two guests who had been at daggers drawn, President Banda managed to replicate “The March 9th Handshake” of Kenya by engineering the “16th August elbow bump” between outgoing and incoming Presidents Lungu and Hakainde.
I am certainly not mistaken that our Fourth Republican President is akin to no other Zambian President and His Excellency President Rupiah Bwezani Banda will prove to be sui generis.