Political historian and commentator Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa has hailed late president Levy Mwanawasa as a good foot soldier for justice and freedom, and one of Zambia’s genuine post-independence heroes whose leadership of the country was anchored on the promotion of ethical values and social justice.

Commenting on this week’s series of events organised by the Levy Mwanawasa Foundation to mark the 10th anniversary of the passing of Zambia’s third president, Dr Sishuwa said the initiative would go a long way in contributing to the celebration of nationalists beyond the liberation aristocrats.

“Levy Mwanawasa had his own flaws but he was, on the whole, the best leader we have had since President Kaunda. When Levy was in charge of our country, you could see great enthusiasm among the people, a great sense of joy, hope and, in some sense, celebration. Even the ordinary Zambian or the citizen on the street appeared to be convinced that, with him at the helm, something good was going to happen. This appeared to be the case especially after 2005 since Levy spent much of his first term in office fighting for legitimacy and building a power base for himself within the MMD and in the nation”, he said.

Dr Sishuwa observed that a careful scrutiny of Mwanawasa’s public life demonstrated his commitment to principles.

“A broad review of his public actions shows his loyalty to the values that are crucial to public service, and which as a country and its leadership we no longer prioritise. It reveals a popular individual who in early 1991 declined the invitation to stand for the MMD presidency on account of age and inexperience – thereby putting nation above personal ambition; contrast this with someone who says l have no vision but insists on leading others. He was a republican Vice-President who in 1994 quit his position to express outrage against the scourge of corruption. He is actually the only Republican Vice-President to have resigned in the history of Zambia as Simon Kapwepwe withdrew his resignation from the position,” Dr Sishuwa recalled.

“He was a one-term MP who in 1995 challenged the then incumbent for the leadership of the MMD in an intra-party campaign laced by decency; a person for whom law meant justice and in pursuit of the furtherance of this principle dragged the man who, in the eyes of many, stole the presidency for him to court, thereby placing justice over ties and relationships. Mwanawasa was president who put together a competent team of ministers to help him achieve his clearly-defined vision; a Head of State who easily dismissed ministers accused of corruption at the first appearance of public complaints; and a leader who helped a society build itself, retain genuine respect for the rule of law, and one who inspired confidence in public institutions.”

Dr Sishuwa who is also a political history lecturer at the University of Zambia observed that good leadership in humans is natured through ones upbringing.

“I think that becoming a decent person with a character that is predisposed towards strong ethical values is not something that is achieved in adulthood; it is a deliberate act that the individual has to nurse or nurture throughout their upbringing especially in the formative years of their existence. Levy’s life illustrates this process very clearly,” he stated.

Sishuwa regretted the increasing scarcity of public leaders who have a good understanding of Zambia’s foremost challenges.

“Zambia appears to be experiencing what I would call a famine of effective political leadership today. As a country we were once led by a crop of individuals who exemplified that kind of leadership, one that is based on the possession of ethical values – courage, compassion and love for fellow human beings, moral force of character, integrity, genuine humility, honesty, a predilection for consultation, consensus-building, communication, co-operation, active listening, and the selfless pursuit of the public good, and not the selfish striving for personal gain. It is hardly possible to look at today’s leaders without being struck by the calamity of the absence of this kind of leadership. Levy was part of that rare crop of public leaders who conduct themselves within the context of a value system at whose centre is the obligation to only serve the country, not self. We had this leadership especially under the early years of the Kaunda presidency, when the currency was values, not wealth or accumulation,” said Dr Sishuwa.

“I have been reading some of Kaunda’s works such as Letters to my Children and his thoughts on humanism. I do think that his principles of humanism are relevant in the present context, perhaps more than ever before. I would say that one of his major achievements was building an ideology for nationhood that was underpinned by respect for one another’s humanity, humanism. I think we should reflect on this, and seek to reinforce it, as what I increasingly see is the disheartening erosion of this very principle. Much of the damage in relation to when the value system in the country changed for the worse took place under the presidency of Chiluba. Between 1991 and 2001, corruption thrived, values were placed on the market and personal acquisition of material wealth became entrenched as an important social value and the accepted standard in terms of which a person was judged by society as a success, regardless of how that wealth was acquired. I think that what Levy tried to do between 2002 and 2008 was, in a way, to reverse the rot that had found a home in Zambia throughout the 1990s. As a country we are yet to fully comprehend what we had and then lost in Levy. His star is shining now and is likely to shine even brighter in the years to come as the present and immediate future takes us back to that wasted decade in a more unrestrained and perfected manner.”