IRIN Focus on President Chiluba's legacy

Zambian President Frederick Chiluba, whose 10-year tenure ends at the end of this month, will best be remembered for initiating a radical political and economic reform programme – and then reversing many of its elements towards the end of his rule, political analysts say.

They said rising popular discontent on the back of a slide in general living standards - and a sense of self-preservation - have forced Chiluba to tighten his hold on the country with the recentralisation of local administration, and to reintroduce a level of control over the economy that his freemarket policies had initially sought to abolish.

On winning landslide democratic elections in 1991, after more than two decades of single party rule, Chiluba pledged to make far reaching political and legislative reforms. Among other things, the former trade union leader and born-again Christian promised to trim excessive powers vested in the presidency and to uphold human rights. However, few of the promised reforms were ever effected, critics charge.

"In fact, the only legislative reforms worth talking about that he effected were intended to disadvantage a lot of Zambians. The constitutional amendments of 1996 are a case in point," Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) vice president Nellie Mutti told IRIN.

The constitutional reforms banned second generation Zambians and former presidents who had ruled for two terms from contesting the presidency. The amendments were widely seen as aimed at former president Kenneth Kaunda, whose parents were Malawian, and who ruled the country for 27 years from independence in 1964.

The controversial reforms compelled several opposition parties to boycott the 1996 elections and saw western donors freezing aid to the country.

Chiluba's Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) tried to use the same laws to ban opposition leader Christon Tembo, whose parents were purportedly Malawian, from contesting this year's presidential poll. Tembo, however, successfully filed his electoral nomination papers early this month.

And in what many saw as an undignified attempt to extend his stay in office, Chiluba tried this year to reverse the constitutional clause restricting the presidency to two terms to run for a third term. He, however, withdrew his bid in the face of a well-organised public disobedience campaign led by civil society and opposition groups. In general elections on 27 December, MMD will be led by Levy Mwanawasa.

Mutti said Chiluba's pledge to enhance human rights standards was frustrated by his own sense of self-preservation, which saw him turning a blind eye when state agents abused dissidents. Several prominent politicians were tortured in detention after a failed coup by disgruntled soldiers in 1997, and earlier, during two crackdowns to smash purported opposition plots to render the country ungovernable.

"The abuses of the one party state have persisted under Chiluba. The right of assembly has been seriously compromised by the MMD, and there are still disturbing reports of the torture of suspects," Ngande Mwanajiti, head of the Inter-African Network for Human Rights and Development told IRIN.

"But even more worrying has been the spate of political assassinations," he said. "One does not know whether the government was involved in these, but they happened during Chiluba's rule, so they reflect badly on his human rights performance."

Several government opponents, including Kaunda's son, Wezi, and former ministers Paul Tembo and Ronald Penza, were shot dead in mysterious circumstances in recent years. Kaunda himself and another opposition politician were also shot and wounded by police during an opposition rally in the mid-1990s.

A former member of the Chiluba cabinet charged that Chiluba's political gains ended with his leading the country on the transition back to plural politics.

"His only credit is that he led a team that brought back multiparty politics. That's about it. Then he began to lead the people down the garden path and tried to anoint himself for a third term without their consent. At the same time, Zambia saw the highest level of corruption under him than it has ever seen," said former commerce and trade minister Dipak Patel.

Meanwhile, Chiluba has over the past year slowed down a far-reaching, donor-tailored structural adjustment programme his government initiated to turn around a potentially vibrant economy crippled by over two decades of state control under Kaunda.

The programme has seen some impressive results. Annual inflation now stands at around 17.5 percent, down from around 200 percent when the MMD assumed office 10 years ago. The economy saw a growth rate of 4.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) last year, and the government is aiming at a growth rate of five percent this year. The economy recorded negative growth rates during much of the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the output of copper, on which the country depends for around 80 percent of its foreign receipts, has begun to rise following the privatisation of the loss-making Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM).

However, the impressive figures belie the desperate conditions on the ground. The shrunken frames of many of the country's 10.3 million people, the congested hospital wards and overcrowded graveyards tell a chilling story of the failed side of adjustment, and the inability of the government to alleviate poverty.

A government Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper released two months ago summarised the effects of the adjustment programme. Around 73 percent of the country's people lived in desperate poverty in 1998, up from 69 percent two years earlier.

During the same period, life expectancy dropped from 45.5 years to 40.5 years. And, in an alarming indication that growing numbers of people have been forced out of the modern economy, the percentage of people who lived on "wild foods" only, rose from 10 to 18 percent.

A recent survey prepared for a local NGO, Women for Change, said that: "Government funding to the health sector has declined in real terms. Often, even the small amounts budgeted are not released or are not released on time. Scores of people are turned away from existing health institutions because they do not have the means to meet the basic costs of medicines imposed by the authorities as cost-sharing. Cost-sharing fees have sent many people to early graves."

The report reiterated the concerns of international development agencies like Oxfam over the impact of cost-sharing on education for children from poor familes. "Over 600,000 children of school-age are not in school. Many school children, especially in rural areas, are turned away because there are not enough schools or classrooms," it said.

Economic observers have put the blame for the deteriorating living conditions squarely on the government's reform programme.

"There were about 500,000 jobs in the formal sector in 1991, but 300,000 have been lost during the past 10 years through retrenchments and retirement," Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) vice president Japhet Moonde told IRIN.

Perhaps Chiluba, too, recognises the pain of adjustment. In what is an election year, he has reversed some key elements of the programme, reintroducing some exchange controls to slow down the externalisation of currency. He also deferred the privatisation of the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) and other strategic state-run utilities that critics have demanded stay in public hands.

Recently, he directed millers to push down the price of maize meal, the country's staple cereal, which has doubled in recent months because of a severe maize shortfall.

While some social development groups applaud Chiluba for reversing some aspects of his economic programme, others read a lack of focus in his actions.

Said Patel, who is now a leading opposition politician: "He started off very well on the economic front, but has been consistently inconsistent. He still is being consistently inconsistent. That is his legacy."