/ 15 July 2021

Will integrity carry the day in Zambia’s 12 August elections? Find out from bishop-turned-politician Trevor Mwamba

Mwamba Gga
Bishop Trevor Mwamba

This Mail & Guardian webinar was hosted by Good Governance Africa (GGA). The speakers were: Chris Maroleng, GGA Director and Bishop Trevor Mwamba, President of UNIP. Chris Maroleng opened the webinar, explained the role of Good Governance Africa, and introduced Bishop Trevor Mwamba, presidential candidate for the upcoming Zambian elections on 12 August. 

Maroleng: Why would a man of the cloth enter into politics?

Mwamba: Theologian Frederick Buechner’s memoir The Sacred Journey explains my own, and how I started off in Botswana. My mother, who feared she was barren, made a pact with God that if her firstborn was a son, his life would be devoted to service, and thus, it was. Another seven children were born, but my parents never forced worship on me. I studied law before I was ordained as a minister at Oxford in the UK. My mother was extremely glad that I became a man of the cloth [Mwamba was Bishop of Botswana from 2005 to 2012].

Chris Maroleng

In a similar way, I was “called” into politics, a decision I have never regretted, as I have met some incredibly interesting people, including great thinkers and entrepreneurs. There is no contradiction in the two fields, I feel.

Politics can be murky: are you ready for that?

My view is that politics is not murky, it is the people within it who make it murky. Truly defined, it is about service. I’ve met some very noble people, such as Nelson Mandela, and Dr Kenneth Kaunda, a man of great integrity. Entering into this profession will be adding value for me. French poet Charles Péguy said: “Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics,” and what he meant by that was that to be engaged in religion reveals God’s ways in all events, and I think to be engaged in politics is like this, it’s to bring in a morality, and service, to uplift the lives of others.

Your critics say you are coming into this venture from an elitist perspective, and you may not be in touch with what’s going on in Zambia, as you have spent many years in other countries; they believe you are entering politics in Zambia for the sake of power.

No, not at all. I could have gone into law and business and made lots of money and had lots of power. The church is where people hurt, it’s where people feel. I’ve worked in villages, taken services under trees, so I have roughed it. I have worked in many countries, which has provided me with experience, and I have a network that I have built up. I worked in banks and built up networks there too. 

UNIP (United National Independence Party) was the party of Kaunda; it was the independence party after colonial rule. It has been seen as a spent force in Zambian politics. Why did you choose to join it?

UNIP is Zambia’s longest-lived party. Kaunda was a pan-Africanist, who supported all liberation movements in Southern Africa, including the ANC, Frelimo and Zanu. Zambia paid a heavy price for that; sanctions were imposed, but it helped to liberate the entire region. Mistakes were made in later years, but this was inevitable. It’s the leadership that draws me to UNIP, as it is based on moral values and putting people at the centre of all its decisions. We want to build on that foundation. 

I want to examine the mistakes that Kaunda made in the name of ideology. What is the ideology of UNIP now?

The ideology of UNIP has always been constant: it’s always been about serving the people. There has always been a socialist element in the ideology, but one must understand that this was in the context of the Cold War.

Do you ascribe to the socialist ideology?

Not at all; take for example the building of the Tazara (Tanzania-Zambia) Railway; for this you need an unaligned approach. Zambia asked the West for assistance, but the US declined, so China was approached, and they agreed, so it has always been a pragmatic approach. This must be built upon to benefit the people of Zambia.


There have been reports about bribes being offered in order to sway the outcome of the elections?

I leave it to the wisdom of the Zambian people to read into who is standing and who is elected. I am a person of integrity; I come in squeaky clean, and will ensure that my policies are too. The Zambian people will benefit from my leadership. There is nothing corrupt in my closet; I am incorruptible. 

Zambia has a lot of debt to pay, and it has been unable to service all its debts. What is your economic policy going to be in the light of this debt, the need for Covid-19 relief, etc?

We need to renegotiate and reschedule our debt; I don’t know how deep this hole is yet. We will deal with this matter with absolute honesty, towards the people of Zambia and our partners, and with absolute transparency. There must be no backroom deals made. Zambia is a very richly resourced country; we can deal with this together, if we get the best minds together. 

What if austerity measures are required by the IMF to address debt?

I think what we need to arrive at is a solution for everybody. If you tighten the belts on the poor, you kill them off. This issue must be addressed by all stakeholders, but whatever measures are necessary, we will take them.

What is the right balance between pragmatism and the moral approach you are talking of?

As the good book says, you must be as wise as a serpent, and as gentle as a dove. Morality is about principles, which guide us to greater service, and as politicians, it’s about making life better for all, and doing the right thing.

The last election was seen as a two-horse race [between the Patriotic Front and the United Party for National Development] — do you honestly think that your party stands a chance in the next election?

Oh, absolutely. UNIP presents an alternative for the Zambian people. In the 21 days of mourning declared after Kaunda’s death, people realised what an amazing leader he was, and how presidents since him have benefitted from what he achieved. UNIP is a new, delicious item on the Zambian menu!

Will the next election (held on 12 August 2021) be held in a free and fair environment; there are concerns about fraud and vote-rigging, as well as Covid-19?

These are not the first elections in Zambia. Things have changed hugely in the political landscape over the years. We wish for peace to prevail in these elections, and for democratic rights to be exercised to their full potential. The media must provide equal coverage for all parties. Any attempts to rig or unbalance the voting process will be dealt with.

What do you think your chances are at the polls, as a party and as a candidate?

We have been in the wilderness for the past 20 years, but have now awoken, and we are fielding new candidates. We expect to win some seats, and I think I stand a very good chance myself; you will be invited to my inauguration! Zambia needs an alternative; as a religious man, I am a shepherd, a unifier, a man of integrity; I have the right skill sets and connections, and immense experience in politics and business. Zambians are looking for a healer to bring the nation together. Miracles do happen.

The LGBTI community has often been the scapegoat for political parties; what are your views on this community?

This is about discrimination. In God’s world, nobody is better than anyone else. Any law that discriminates must be amended. 

Is this view based on Kaunda’s humanism?

It is based on ubuntu, which defines our humanity, and it’s a spiritual belief. We respect each other; diversity in life is a gift from God, it enhances the wonder we have for each other.

Is UNIP fit to govern, and are you?

Totally! I had to contest the UNIP presidency, and soon I will contest the Zambian presidency. I have spent my whole life in positions of leadership, and advised those who make important decisions. I have been influenced by great men, including Kaunda, Mandela and Seretse and Ian Khama. This is a time for a different leadership, not just in Zambia, but for Africa as well. 

The African people have been promised so much by so many leaders; what is different about you?

Integrity, integrity, integrity! I have been a student of leadership for many years, and even wrote a paper on it. I will avoid nepotism at all levels; my approach is also based on meritocracy.  

What is your policy regarding the environment? 

We are stewards of the gift of nature that God has given us. I would appoint a minister to care for the environment; it is a very important aspect of our existence; if we destroy it, we are next in line. 

What are your views on China, and foreign direct investment?

Investors must add value to the Zambian people. I don’t care where investors come from, as long as they uplift the country. There have been some deals made in the past that were not kosher; all deals must take place within the context of the law, and must preserve the environment; they must be done on a win-win basis. 

Your final words?

Vote for UNIP: it stands for transparency, peace, integrity. I will ensure all the institutions of the state perform their job. We will bring in experts from within and without the country to develop a prosperous and better Zambia going forward.