The early 1990s
These economic problems, and the lack of obvious material benefits for the majority of Zambians, gradually fomented opposition. Unip's tendency to become authoritarian in its demands for unity also led to unrest. Kaunda's rule was finally challenged successfully by the capitalist movement for multiparty democracy (MMD) led by Frederick Chiluba. This received widespread support during the late 1980s, on a platform of liberalisation and anti-corruption measures.
Kaunda agreed to an election, apparently certain that he would win. In the event, UNIP was resoundingly defeated by the MMD (16% to 84%), and Chiluba became Zambia's second elected president, in November 1991. Kaunda accepted the results, at least on face value. However, he later claimed that the elections were unfair because many of Zambia's older people, whom he regarded as his natural constituency, didn't vote. He continued to head UNIP until 2000, and he still lives in Zambia – which, in itself, is a rare and encouraging co-existence in the volatile world of modern African politics.
When elected, Frederick Chiluba faced enormous economic problems, which he attempted to tackle. He succeeded in liberalising and privatising much of the economy. There is now a freely floating market for the kwacha, and policies to attract inward investment. However, the country's debt has not reduced. In 1995 this stood at US$6.25 billion, and debt service payments were some 40% of the gross national product – equivalent to about US$600/£400 per capita per annum. Zambia owed US$3.1 billion to the World Bank and the IMF alone.
Initially Chiluba gained the confidence of Western donors when he came to power in 1991. However, his reforms were long-term, and much of their success depended on the continued willingness of international donors to help him. Many allege that corruption grew during his time in power.
Certainly the general attitude of Zambians towards visitors changed under Chiluba: Zambia became a more welcoming country than it was under Kaunda's reign. Tourism began to be recognised as a direct and helpful source of jobs and foreign currency, and the climate of suspicion prevailing in Kaunda's Zambia was replaced with a warmer welcome.
The late 1990s
Presidential elections were held in 1996. However, using his enormous majority, Chiluba changed the constitution to include a clause that 'no person born of non-Zambian parents can be president'. Kenneth Kaunda, as is well known, was born of Malawian parents, and so this was a clear move to exclude him from running for the office. It was not the only such move, and caused endless furore.
KK was head of UNIP and so he called for all UNIP candidates to boycott the elections, believing that they could not be fair. In the event, several UNIP candidates split off and stood as independent candidates, but the overall result was another resounding win for Chiluba. (MMD won about 132 of 150 seats.) It's widely thought that he would have won anyhow, even in a fair election, so it seems a pity that he resorted to dubious tactics to achieve the victory.
With poetic justice, it later transpired that Chiluba himself is of illegitimate birth and uncertain national origin. The Post
newspaper claimed to have researched and verified that his own parents were of DRC/Zairean descent, which has led to a long-running persecution of the paper by the government for 'being disrespectful' and 'insulting' the president – all of which are punishable offences in Zambia. (Travellers take note!)
Later, at the end of October 1997 a small group of soldiers briefly took over the state-run radio station. They were led by one 'Captain Solo', who claimed to represent the 'National Redemption Council'. (Neither he nor the council had been heard of before.) He announced that the group had launched 'Operation Born-again' and ousted the MMD government and Chiluba, saying later in the short broadcast that he had seen 'an angel and the message was that the Government had to be overthrown'.
Although this group transpired to have been little more than a few drunken soldiers, Chiluba used the incident as an excuse to institute a state of emergency for five months. He detained more than 70 civilians and soldiers, including opposition leaders and the former President, KK. Some detainees claimed that torture was used during interrogations, allegations which were later substantiated by the government's own human rights commission headed by Supreme Court judge, Lombe Chibesakunda.
A year later the case against many had to be dropped for lack of evidence; some sued the state for wrongful arrest. This clampdown by the state attracted heavy criticism from human rights groups and affected the international donor community's willingness to release funds for debt relief. In December 2003, a further ten soldiers were freed, but the remaining 44 soldiers were convicted and sentenced to death. The current president has, so far, refused to sign the execution orders.
The end of Chiluba's regime
Overall, many regarded President Chiluba's presidency as a disappointment; although, looking at conditions in neighbouring Zaire and Zimbabwe, most agree that the situation in Zambia could have been much worse.
Chiluba continued KK's habit of regularly reshuffling ministers (thus ensuring that none developed their own power base), was slow to take decisions and proved unable to control corruption. In earlier years he repeatedly vowed that he would stand by the constitution, and step down before the 2001 elections. Eventually he did this, but not before trying his best to arrange a third term for himself. Eventually it was only tremendous pressure from the people, and from within the MMD, which forced him to step down in favour of Levy Mwanawasa.
On a positive note, Chiluba avoided any military involvement in the conflict in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – which had already sucked in Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Chad, Uganda and Rwanda – and instead played a high-profile role in brokering various peace talks.