The 'master dribbler' dribbled?

Author:Geloo, Zerina
Position:Around Africa: Zambia

In other parts of the world, former presidents are feted as elder statesmen. Not in Zambia. Kenneth Kaunda was humiliated out of office, and Frederick Chiluba (who did it to Kaunda) has now become a victim himself. Zerina Geloo reports from Lusaka.

Frederick Chiluba once described himself as a "master dribbler" when his political opponents dared challenge his tenure. When his immunity was lifted recently paving the way for his arrest for abuse of office, the nation went into a frenzy, saying the "dribbler had been dribbled."

For a few days, it certainly appeared that Chiluba had met his Waterloo when he lost his bid in the Supreme Court to retain his immunity. The task force on corruption (set up by his successor, President Levy Mwanawasa) immediately swung into high gear and slapped 59 charges on Chiluba. Mwanawasa was vice-president under Chiluba.

The governments of Norway, Britain and USA quickly pledged technical assistance to Mwanawasa's government in recovering any assets stashed overseas by former government officials and their associates.

"The lifting of Chiluba's immunity is an important step in the fight against corruption," the American ambassador in Lusaka, Martin Brennan, told the press. "Because we are so pleased with the response of the government to fight corruption, the US through USAID is prepared to increase funding as it is clear the fight is gaining momentum. There is $250,000 already available."

The task force has started seizing property worth millions of dollars believed to have been acquired through plundered funds by government officials, their spouses and business associates. Top figures of the former era have been arrested and collectively charged with over 100 counts of theft and abuse of office. Chiluba has appeared in court twice but has not taken a plea because his lawyers have asked that the hearing be moved from the magistrate's court to a higher court. They argue that some of the charges border on constitutional matters that only the high court can deal with. A further date has been set for his court appearance.

For the "master dribbler", the adjournment might give him enough time to sway public opinion in his favour. He has already begun to outmanoeuvre the task force and questioned its selective investigative operations. Using a new fortnightly newspaper called The Seer, published by his personal advisor, Chiluba has began to vindicate himself, claiming he has never been given an opportunity to defend...

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