FORMER president Rupiah Banda says he was mocked by fellow African leaders when he accepted defeat to late president Micheal Sata in the 2011 presidential election because many of them thought he was a fool for accepting the election results when he had the power to force his way into staying in office.
“It still remains a lesson to the young Zambians, what to do when you are confronted with a situation such as mine. A lot of people then and now still think I was a fool to accept. Many leaders in Africa mocked me, they say ‘you were the President, you had all the power, how can you concede easily?’ I said I had already promised the people that the winner will be the winner. It was really very tough . I was President, I was busy, I had to meet chiefs, I had to attend rallies, then run all the ministries, the Parastatals, it was a very tough job. Then suddenly, you are not President anymore. You have lost the election, are you going to sit there and become bitter and say who made me lose these elections? For me, I decided that’s it!” Banda told Loyola TV.
You can almost picture the former president on the phone as he narrates the last few hours of his presidency, talking to the Chief Justice.
“I remember that night when the Chief Justice called me at about 01 AM that ‘things are not looking very good’, I said ‘tell me, what are you saying’, [she said] ‘I think that you have lost the election’. I said ‘well, that is the idea of elections’. I was waiting for the results to come out from Western Province, there were some results still in the Eastern Province from the valleys which had not come out, so my advisors and myself felt like when these come out, we will definitely overcome the leadership of Mr Sata. They called me and said ‘don’t concede, don’t concede yet, we need to demand for a recount’, but I said ‘no, according to the Chair of the Electoral Commission, they said they had calculated everything and it is not possible that I will make it’,” said Banda.
This is a very touching story that is full of lessons. Although Mr Banda is not the best president we have had so far, he is in line to be one of the most respected statesmen of this country for that noble act of accepting defeat, refusing to illegally stay in office – against advice from friends and advisors – and peacefully handing over power to an opposition leader.
Power is sweet, and letting it go within a short a period as three years can be very painful. Given what we see today in this country where, even when both the people and the Constitution have said they don’t want you, someone still wants to stay in power, we can describe Mr Banda as a brave and peace-loving hero in that regard.
President Lungu, like many other African leaders, have a lot to learn from Mr Banda. When you are in State House, you are always insulated from reality. People who surround you are usually the top beneficiaries of your presidency, as such, they always give you the impression that you are the greatest leader in the world. These people who make up the presidency have a tendency of interpreting the people’s cries and songs of joy.
This is why today, President Lungu can’t believe when someone says there is serious resentment of his leadership right across the country. He considers anyone who says so as being sponsored by the opposition. The President gets the confidence to think that way because of what he hears from the people who surround him. A wise President interrogates the motive of anyone who praises his leadership. But a foolish one believes everything that his family says, what his advisors say, what his ministers say and most dangerously, what the intelligence says.
About seven years ago, former president Banda confessed that false intelligence reports cost him the 2011 election. Zambians got to a point where they didn’t want to see Mr Banda’s image anywhere, but he, as President then, didn’t know that because the MMD leadership, the security chiefs, ministers and his children all assured him that everything was okay in all the four corners of the country.
When the revolution came knocking on Mr Banda’s door, he didn’t know what hit him. Those who were telling him, “everything is okay” vanished! He remained alone with his wife. Poor Banda could not hold back his tears. He couldn’t believe the celebrations on the streets and the people’s joy over his defeat. His campaign billboards were instantly destroyed by the same people he thought were in love with his leadership. That is what false intelligence can do to a president who doesn’t have the ability to see when he is being misled.
Last week, when asked how he wanted to be remembered, Mr Banda said he would like this country to remember him as a loving father who chose to respect the will of the Zambian people by accepting defeat and handing over power after a democratic election. We believe all well-meaning Zambians will not have a problem granting the former president his wish. That is exactly how we will remember our Mr Kanitundila, the easy going Head of State.
The question should be posed to President Lungu. How does he want the people of Zambia to remember him? You have an opportunity to respect the will of the People and the Constitution by handing over the mantle of leadership to someone else. What are you going to do with that opportunity? What do you want Zambians to remember you for? What legacy are you creating for your presidency? Mr Banda is rarely in Zambia because he has become a role model of democracy. Don’t you admire that?
Here is what you must ask yourself Mr President. If you lost power today, would people demand for the lifting of your immunity? Would you stand in court and defend your deeds? What if you died today? What would be the symbol of the Edgar Lungu presidency? Would it be the corruption fight, the economic emancipation, the promotion of a free press? What is your legacy Mr Lungu? Remember, it is impossible to recreate one’s legacy through speeches, once you are gone; and one great English lawyer once said: “Today’s dictator can be tomorrow’s defendant.”