Africa for the last 50 years has suffered from a case of acute “badleadershipitis”. I struggle to name just 3 African leaders that were good for their countries. I can only think of Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (Mauritius), Seretse Khama (Botswana) and Nelson Mandela (South Africa) who made their respective countries much better than they found them. In a recent rather passionate discussion with several others, we ranked the Zambian presidents from the worst to the least bad. My list is as follows:

1. Kenneth David Kaunda (1964-1991)
2. Michael Chilufya Sata (2011-present)
3. Frederick Titus Jacob Chiluba (1991-2001)
4. Levy Patrick Mwanawasa (2002-2008)
5. Rupiah Bwezani Banda (2008-2011)

My Reasons are:

1. Kaunda was a dictator who quashed all political opposition by introducing one-party rule, jailing intelligent opponents like Simon Kapwepwe and Valentine Musakanya (who was tortured and sentenced to death), nationalizing private companies, censoring the press, turning Zambia into a police state, destroyed the economy (middle income to third world in 20 years), etc.

2. Sata, within just 6 months has probably made more bad decisions in a short space of time than any president before him. eg nationalizing the formerly privatized national telecommunications company Zamtel, wasteful unbudgeted expenditures, de-registration of the largest opposition political party MMD, questionable political appointments like his former receptionist Cynthia Jangulo as ambassador and attempted appointment of former intelligence chief Xavier Chungu as permanent secretary, removal of tax holidays for companies like Pepsi, reversal on the Barotseland Agreement of 1964, dragging of his feet on the Freedom of Information bill, endless cabinet reshuffles, etc, etc.

3. Chiluba implemented some very good policies like liberalization of the economy, free press and privatization of loss-making companies but was unfortunately very corrupt. He had the best opportunity of taking Zambia back to a middle income country but failed despite generally taking us in the right direction on many things.

4. Mwanawasa largely continued with the more pro-Capitalist policies of Chiluba and I liked his decision to reduce government borrowing which reduced interest rates and things slightly improved under him. His fight against corruption was a good policy though it was often misguided and financially wasteful (eg not less than $5million was spent prosecuting Chiluba). His biggest failures were on the economy and the Freedom of Information bill. It seems to me that the improved economic performance from 2006 was largely due to external factors (China, Copper prices, etc).

5. Banda, a very controversial choice. In my opinion, he did more good to improve the Zambian economy than perhaps only Chiluba. He implemented many positive policies like reducing the cost of doing business, creating a good investment climate, privatizing Zamtel and opening up the international gateway, reducing inflation by half, increasing FDI and foreign reserves, etc. Zambia became a lower middle income country under his watch and Life Expectancy reached its highest since 1960. A lot of economic stats are/were at their best in thirty years. His main problem was of course rampant corruption and poor political management (eg his handling of the Barotseland issue was pathetic).

I am still in the middle of an argument with someone who says Mwanawasa was less bad than Banda.