Chiluba, Frederick (Zambia)
Frederick Chiluba, Zambia’s first elected president following the return of multi-party democracy, held office from 1991–2002. Initially welcomed by the West, his tenure became mired in allegations of embezzlement and corruption.
The son of a copper miner, Frederick Jacob Titus Chiluba was born on 30 April 1943 in Kitwe, in what was then Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). After expulsion from secondary school for political activism, Chiluba worked as a sisal cutter, a bus driver, a city councillor and an accounts assistant. He joined the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, eventually becoming its president. In 1981 Chiluba, along with several other opposition figures, was detained by President Kenneth Kaunda for calling a wildcat strike that paralyzed the economy. The detentions were declared unconstitutional by the judiciary and Chiluba was released after 3 months.
In 1990 he co-founded the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMC), a loose coalition of unions, civic and church groups and former government loyalists disillusioned with Kaunda’s autocratic rule. In the first mulit-party elections since 1968, Chiluba won the presidency with 76% of the vote. Initially Chiluba was widely hailed for bringing an end to the country’s one-party rule and was welcomed by the West for halting Kaunda’s 27 years in power.
Once in office, Chiluba sought to rescue the failing economy and usher in a free market system. Import duties were slashed, currency controls abolished and copper mines privatized. However, these policies failed to deliver the hoped-for results and the majority of the population remained in poverty.
A charismatic speaker and born-again Christian, Chiluba originally positioned himself as a defender of civil liberties while deriding Kaunda’s authoritarian approach. However, he adopted increasingly similar tactics against political opponents, jailing journalists and firing colleagues who dared to criticize him. In 1997 he imprisoned Kaunda for allegedly conspiring in a coup against him, before attempting to deport the former president and strip him of his citizenship.
In 1996 Chiluba was elected for a second 5 year term. His subsequent move to amend the constitution to allow for a third term failed to win support and sparked public protests. Consequently, Chiluba reluctantly left office at the end of his term in Jan. 2002. He was replaced by his vice president, Levy Mwanawasa.
Mwanawasa proceeded to lift Chiluba’s immunity from prosecution and targeted the former president in an anti-corruption drive. In Feb. 2003 Chiluba was charged, along with several other former ministers and senior officials, with embezzlement, amid claims he stole public funds to finance his extravagant lifestyle (he was accused of spending over US$500,000 on jewellery and clothing). After 6 years of drawn-out court proceedings, he was acquitted. However, in 2007 a UK civil court found him guilty of theft and money laundering through London and ordered him to repay US$58m.
Following the death of Mwanawasa in 2008, Rupiah Banda, a close friend of Chiluba, became president and the ruling, which Chiluba rejected on the basis of the court lacking jurisdiction, was never enforced. Nevertheless, others close to Chiluba, including his wife, were convicted on related charges. On 18 June 2011 Chiluba died of heart and kidney failure in Lusaka.