Zambia’s fourth president Rupiah Banda dies at 85.

By Adam Bukenya Updated at 1116 EAT

Former Zambian president Rupiah Banda addresses media representatives in Lusaka on March 15, 2012. FILE PHOTO / AF

What you need to know:

  • Mr Banda had asked Zambians to pray for him the last few days he appeared in public, mostly as he was visited by incumbent President Hichilema

Zambia’s fourth president Rupiah Banda, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2020, died late Friday at his home in the capital Lusaka.
He was 85.
Andrew Banda, his son, told a local radio station that his father passed on after a struggle with the disease for which he underwent chemotherapy before going public with the condition.

President Hakainde Hichilema later officially confirmed his death on national TV and radio late night Friday.
Mr Banda had asked Zambians to pray for him the last few days he appeared in public, mostly as he was visited by incumbent President Hichilema.
And much earlier as he took his vaccine for Covid-19 in his neighbourhood of a leafy suburb of Lilayi south of the capital Lusaka.
He ruled Zambia from 2008 to 2011 before being dislodged from power by late Michael Sata of the Patriotic Front. 

Life in politics 
Born in the then Southern Rhodesia where his parents trekked in search of greener pasture, Banda entered the political fray at a tender age.
RB, as he was fondly called, was one of a generation of young men who participated in Zambia’s anti-colonial struggle. 
He used to tell a story of how colonial masters cornered him as a mail runner for liberation fighters enroute to fetch or deliver mail and he was imprisoned as a result.
After Zambia’s independence from Britain in 1964 a young Banda would land a series of diplomatic posts that took him as far as the US.

Zambia’s first Ambassador to Egypt

When he was 27,founding late president Kenneth Kaunda appointed him Zambia’s first Ambassador to Egypt.
Mr Banda however left the posting the year of the “six-day war” of 1967.
His diplomatic service kept soaring despite that turbulence.At 30 he even got a more challenging role as Zambia’s ambassador to the United States and moved to Washington DC.
He also served in local state jobs among them as the country’s chief for the grain marketing company then called the National Agricultural Marketing Board (NAMBOARD).
In 1974 he became the country’s permanent representative to the UN.

On being recalled ,he served as foreign minister from 1975, a critical period in the history of Southern Africa.Most neighbouring countries were under colonial rule.
At that time, Zambian diplomacy centred on efforts to liberate Southern Africa and Zambia’s role was pivotal in the events and initiatives leading up to resolution.
“With no end in sight to the daunting challenges regarding Angola and Rhodesia,the Zambian president(Kenneth Kaunda) in late May implemented alterations at the highest level of his government.At a May 27 press conference he promoted Rupiah Banda,Zambia’s UN ambassador,to foreign minister,”according to Andy DeRoche in Kenneth Kaunda,the United States and Southern Africa.

The southern African nation’s abiding interest in the liberation of the region meant that its foreign minister was among the key figures in the diplomacy and events that eventually led to the emancipation of the region,according to clubmadrid.org.
That position thrusted Mr Banda in a situation of being familiar with most regional leaders.
He also served as president of the UN Council on Namibia which was effectively the government of Namibia while the matter of South Africa’s disputed mandate over the territory was resolved.

He was also at one point Member of Parliament for Munali in the capital Lusaka as well as senior District Governor for Lusaka, where he was the political and administrative head of the Zambian capital.
After the United National Independence Party-UNIP lost power to MMD in 1991 in a multi-party election,Mr Banda and his ilk mounted opposition to the new party in power but eventually melted into oblivion as the independence outfit lost steam.
Mr Banda went into retirement and settled in his village in Chipata,east of the country near the border with Malawi.
 
But as fate would have it after the 2006 general election he was appointed Vice-President by late Levy Mwanawasa.
He would ascend to Mwanawasa’s presidential responsibilities after the then incumbent suffered a stroke in June 2008 while on assignment in Egypt.
 Acting president 
Following Mwanawasa’s death in August 2008, he became acting President and after three months in a snap election in which he narrowly beat Micheal Sata he became President until the next election in 2011.
A political reader entitled Zambia at Fifty Years says:” Banda’s elevation to the highest position in the nation was “pure luck”.Like Mwanawasa,Banda just happened to have been at the right place at the right time.”

On seeking re-election in September 2011, he was defeated by gruff populist Sata.
But he was widely praised for a smooth transition.
Unlike many other presidents across the African continent who lost an election and refused to go, Banda gracefully stepped aside following the tradition established by Kenneth Kaunda in 1991 when his UNIP lost power to Frederick Chiluba and the MMD.
During his farewell address to the nation, Banda wept.

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