Monday, 15 December 2014

Nevers Mumba: the 21st Century Jonah

By Jack Zimba
ON June 1, 2012, Nevers Sekwila Mumba walked to the podium at the Mulungushi International Conference Centre in Lusaka and delivered an epic inaugural speech as MMD president after winning a popular vote.
Flanked by former president 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. He also promised, rhetorically, politics practiced on a platform of integrity and honesty.
“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.
But the “new and hopeful beginning” Mumba heralded never really began. A few months at the helm of the former ruling party, Mumba was fighting for survival against old-timers within the party, who did not approve of his leadership style.
The accusations ranged from charges that Mumba was autocratic, arrogant and lacked the clout to organise the former ruling party that was smarting from a defeat after 20 years since it was founded at Garden House in Lusaka.
Yet on that cold winter morning three years ago, the 55-year-old politician seemed like a messiah who had come to save the defeated MMD from going into political oblivion.
But  Mumba’s political life is one fraught with vicissitudes and his downfall after ascending to the helm of the MMD was almost predictable, almost inevitable. It was just a matter of time.
And the MMD general leadership had only to take one glance at  Mumba’s record in politics to know that he probably was not the right person to lead the former ruling party.
Some critics have rightly pointed out that Mumba can be a major political player in a ruling party and lacks the clout to salvage an opposition party that is fraught with infighting, lack of money and a forceful leader to take it back to power.
Although  Mumba himself insists his political pursuits have the backing of Heaven, it is really hard to believe him going by his dismal performance in past national elections.
Or maybe the ‘man of God’ cursed his own political destiny over a decade ago when he publicly declared he would not seek presidential office because it would be a demotion for him as a preacher.  Mumba has never retracted those words even after jumping on the political bandwagon to Plot One soon after.
Mumba made the famous quotable pronouncements that would work against him many years later in an interview on Frank Talk when Frank Mutubila asked him if he was vying for political office going by his popularity as a tele-evangelist.
In 2001, he ran for president for the first time sponsored by the National Citizens Coalition (NCC), a party he had founded originally registering it as National Christian Coalition before changing it to ‘citizens’ coalition after being challenged that the purported society was in actual sense a political party.
And riding on a slate of integrity and morality, he hoped to change the way politics were being done. He announced at a press club in Ndola that ‘he didn’t want to join Zambian politics, instead he wanted Zambian politics to join him. However, he only managed two per cent of the vote, an embarrassing defeat for a man who claimed God was on his side. And that episode marked the end of the NCC, which merged with the MMD, but it opened a new chapter for  Mumba when he was appointed as vice-president by the late president Levy Mwanawasa, a decision that shocked many.
The decision came when Mwanawasa launched his anti-corruption fight, a crusade that Mumba supported. There were also rumours that the MMD was weak in the Northern Province and Mwanawasa wanted a popular figure from the province to balance ethnic representation in the party.
On October 5, 2004, just as unexpectedly as he had ascended to the number-two job,  Mumba was fired by Mwanawasa for stepping one foot too far after he issued a statement bordering on international relations with the Democratic Republic of the Congo while he  (Mwanawasa) was visiting abroad. Mumba was also perceived to be a power-hungry leader who wanted to rise higher to a political position. Mumba has never admitted any wrongdoing. In 2003, other opposition leaders called him Judas Iscariot after he accepted the vice-presidency when they wanted him as their emissary to State House.
Mumba responded then: “If I stand here with him [Michael Sata], God will tell who Judas Iscariot is.”
It seems Mumba knows how to get to the top politically, but he has not mastered how to stay there.
He is very philosophical about his political downfalls and it is clear he sees them as adversities to strengthen, and not break him. Hailing from a Christian background, this is somehow understandable since the Bible is full of stories of figures who went through trials before making it to the top.
He told me three years ago before he became MMD president:
“The 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 - 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.”
But more than anything else,  Mumba’s story mirrors that of the biblical Jonah, the prophet who was sent by God to go to the sin-ridden city of Nineveh and warn it about God’s impending wrath and judgment. The prophet, full of petty jealousy, decided instead to go to Tarshish. The rest of the narrative is well known from Sunday school.
But unlike Jonah,  Mumba has been thrown overboard not once, not twice, but thrice. Not counting the first one when he voluntarily abandoned his own ship to join the MMD.
There are still many who think Mumba’s real place is behind the pulpit and not the political arena. Well, say that to the clergyman and he usually retorts “They’re not God to decide what I should or should not become.”
Mumba’s decision to join politics in 2001 raised a huge debate in the country about God and politics, especially among evangelicals. And although that debate seems to have been settled now, many still speak of Mumba’s days as an evangelist with certain rue, and do not hide the fact that they loved Nevers the preacher and not Nevers the politician.
Perhaps, it is not too late for Mumba to change course after his latest political debacle and go to Nineveh.

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