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A Nevers feeling of déjà vu

FORMER president Rupiah Banda (left) at the launch of the PF campaigns in Lusaka recently.

THE past week has seen a flurry of activity on the political field, which marked the beginning of the campaign season for the August 11 polls.
On Saturday August 21, the Patriotic Front and United Party for National Development (UPND) held successful rallies to kick-start their campaigns in Lusaka and Kitwe, respectively.
In-between, in Kabwe, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) held a national convention to choose a new leader. Former Lunte MP, Felix Mutati was unopposed.
But the MMD is now entangled in a power struggle, with both Mr Mutati and Dr Nevers Mumba claiming to be rightful leaders of the former ruling party.
The matter is being contested in court.
Last year, during the presidential election, a similar drama surrounded the former ruling party, where Mr Banda and Dr Mumba were involved in a tussle that was only settled by the courts, but still left the preacher with a lean support and a dismal result in the election.
Mr Banda opted to support the PF candidate, Edgar Lungu, who would later win the election.
Former president Rupiah Banda may in fact have broken etiquette last weekend when he walked into National Heroes Stadium – the venue of the PF rally – and straightway stepped onto the presidential podium, halfway into President Lungu’s speech.
But his message and presence was still welcome both to Mr Lungu and the 80,000 party supporters gathered at the stadium for the launch of the campaigns and party manifesto.
Flashing both PF and MMD symbols, Mr Banda’s message was clear and his presence was greeted with cheers among the PF supporters.
In the 2015 presidential election that brought Mr Lungu to power, Mr Banda was largely seen as the game-changer whose support was sought after by both the PF and UPND.
The former president chose the former and his contribution to the PF victory is undisputable.
It is something President Lungu, himself, readily acknowledges.
“We would not have won without our friends in the MMD,” he once told party supporters in Sinda.
Mr Banda is still seen by many as possessing a lot of influence, especially in Eastern Province, where he hails from.
Whether he is still able to swing the Eastern vote is yet to be seen.
Nevers Mumba, still clutching onto power, on Thursday announced the MMD was going into an alliance with the UPND.
At a press briefing to announce the pact, Dr Mumba, as expected, far outdid his counterpart UPND president Hakainde Hichileman in eloquence and oratory.
“The victory of August starts here,” he proclaimed.
But is there more that the firebrand preacher is bringing to the table than just oratory?
With a party deeply divided, with some senior members whom he expelled from the party already in league with the UPND, perhaps not much.
Besides, Dr Mumba has a chequered and unimpressive political history and his influence may have waned over the years.
And although he has participated in a number of elections as president, his performance has always been dismal. He has never obtained more than 5% of the vote in an election.
On June 1, 2012, Nevers Sekwila Mumba walked to the podium at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka and delivered an epic speech as MMD president after winning a popular vote.
Flanked by Mr Rupiah Banda, who had just announced his retirement from active politics, the charismatic former tele-evangelist announced the dawn of a new era within the former ruling party and on the country’s political scene as a whole.
“Today signifies the rebirth of our party; a new and hopeful beginning,” the gifted orator told a cheering crowd of his supporters spellbound by his eloquence.
He sounded like a man destined for the highest office of the land.
But the “new and hopeful beginning” Mumba heralded never really began. A few months later, he was fighting for survival against the old guard within the party, who did not approve of his leadership style.
And it was clear Mr Banda was always going to remain the de facto leader of the party, calling the shorts and pulling the strings from behind the scenes.
When asked about his fortunes and misfortunes in politics five years ago, Dr Mumba responded:
“You have just described life to me. One day you’re in the valley, the other day you’re on the mountaintop. The two points that are as diverse as the mountain and the valley actually constitute life. In the absence of that you are really not living, either you’re dead or you’re not born yet. I think that my experience of being appointed to high places is part of life and I had the honour and privilege of serving in those roles. I look back and I’m totally grateful to God for those opportunities.
“When the season came to an end and I had to give up those positions – or was forced to give up those positions – the Lord always had something for me to do; to pursue my vision of ‘Zambia shall be saved’. This is a vision that cannot be bound just to one role or one position, it’s my life. Wherever my life is, it represents that vision of Zambia shall be saved. So that is just a description of what life is, valleys and mountains and it only appears to me that I’m hardly in-between. It’s either I’m right on top or at the bottom.”
And despite being strong-willed and possessing a certain tenacity in politics, Dr Mumba always seems to grab the wrong end of the rope.

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