In Zambia, if you’re running for president, best to know, who is your Daddy?
The so-called “parentage” clause is being used as a club by opponents of Zambia’s president Rupiah Banda, who might be considered the luckiest man in African politics. Banda was elevated to the presidency by the death of his predecessor and then won election in 2008 after his leading opponent ran a mistake-filled campaign.
Desperate that Banda may win again, political opponents are asking questions about Banda’s father — and alleging that he was really born in neighboring Malawi and not in present-day Zambia as required by law.
Former Zambian president Kenneth Kuanda was also battered by such allegations, and after he’d served a president too.
The trouble with parentage clause is that they poorly reflect the colonial history of the region. Both Malawi and Zambia were part of Britain’s colonial regime and movement between colonial entities by Africans was normal, if not encouraged by the British. There was a similar mobility in France’s African colonies. So it is not too much to say that many of today’s politicians in Africa have parents who were in the prime of their lives prior to the border-obsessed post-colonial era which ended some 50 years ago. With the advent of nation-states in Africa in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the long experience of easy movement within sub-regions of the African continent was quickly forgotten and national identity took on towering legal and sometimes cultural significance. Ivory Coast is another country where parentage of political leaders has become, unfairly and irrationally, a testing ground for legitimacy.
The corrosive effects of an unthinking nationalism continue to bedevil African politics. Banda may not deserve another term as Zambia’s president but defeating at the polls is a necessary exercize that cannot be avoided by resorting to re-engineering his personal biography, fictitious or not.