An Anglican Bishop flew into Zambia from Germany to be on the ballot in the August 2021 presidential and general elections. As candidate under the United National Independence Party (UNIP), Right Reverend Dr Musonda Trevor Selwyn Mwamba finished 12th in the presidential election that featured 16 other candidates.
The election won by Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND) who defeated incumbent, Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front (PF) was a test for the Christian nation declaration as it featured a prominent Anglican bishop. Bishop Mwamba’s loss may just be proof that the declaration alone is not enough to turn Zambians in to Christians.
In 1991, Zambia’s second President Frederick Chiluba declared Zambia as a Christian nation. By 1996, the term Christian nation had been written into the opening of the proposed Zambian constitution which was later approved by the Movement for Multi-party (MMD) Members of parliament who held the majority in the house.
Bishop Mwamba, 63, describes his political journey as “my political credo” and sees his participation in politics as a calling which continues from his religious role as a bishop. In short, he is a “Bishop of Politics!”
Bishop Mwamba is inspired by Charles Peguy, the French poet and writer’s observation that: “Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.”
For Bishop Mwamba, this intelligently shows the foundation, the starting point of how faith and politics relate. It begins with a spirituality which recognises that people’s engagement in politics is rooted in his/her participation in God’s love, he says.
“At the heart of creation is God’s love overflowing and embracing all of life. And we are invited to participate in transforming power of this love. There lies the ground of our being, centering all our life and actions. We see this revealed in Jesus’ life, as God’s son,” said Bishop Mwamba.
He says his resolve in politics is also inspired by Jesus Christ who demonstrated love for his enemies, his non-violent response to evil, his embrace of the marginalised and his condemnation of religious hypocrites.
“His compassion for the poor, his disregard for boundaries of social exclusion, his advocacy for the economically oppressed, it all flowed from his complete, and mutual participation in God’s love,” said Bishop Mwamba who announced that UNIP, the nation’s oldest political party, is re-branding.
The bishop says, “... the politics of Jesus presented a clear agenda for radical social and economic transformation in his time, as in ours. Jesus’ mysticism ended in politics”.
He observes that all the great men and women who have made a wholesale contribution in life exhibit this nature.
In a statement soon after the presidential results, Bishop Mwamba said “the great nation of Zambia” had spoken, and had delivered victory to his friend, erstwhile rival and President Hakainde and congratulated him on capturing the hope and aspirations of the Zambian people.
He said the mark of a great democracy respects the will of the people and when that will change, it respects the transition of power necessary to deliver on the intentions of all its citizens.
“Dear Hakainde, congratulations on being elected the next President of Zambia elect. God grant you His wisdom to lead His people with righteousness and justice. Please be assured of my support to work together in developing our blessed country in improving the livelihood of our people.”
Bishop Mwamba then said to the losing Mr Lungu: “I have privately written to President Lungu to commiserate with him on his loss, and thank him for his service to the nation during his two terms, I have urged to concede and ensure that above all the constitution of Zambia is protected, and that peace and order is ensured.”
On the eve of the elections, Bishop Mwamba quoted Irish statesman Edmund Burke who once said: “Liberty does not exist in the absence of morality.” Likewise, he said, democracy cannot exist in the absence of morality.”
He says unity, peace and prosperity cannot exist in the absence of morality. He also says morality is the foundation of a good society because it makes people think of their good and the good of others.
Bishop Mwamba who was born in Mansa in Luapula Province further gets lessons from American President Theodore Roosevelt who once said, “to educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society”.
History shows that Bishop Mwamba is not the only clergy who has participated in politics and fight for human rights. The list includes men like Dr Nevers Mumba, anti-apartheid and former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa Desmond Tutu; Makarios III, the Greek Cypriot, and first President of Cyprus and Bishop Abel Muzorewa, former Prime Minister of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia in 1979.
Mr Mumba, a Pentecostal pastor, and a key supporter of Mr Chiluba in 1991 formed the National Christian's Coalition (NCC) in 1996. He claimed the NCC was not a political party, but just an organisation to "act as an independent voice in guiding the president in matters of concern to the church". However, this caused great controversy among Christians, some of whom thought Mumba was in fact harbouring political ambitions to become president himself.
Mr Mumba challenged the integrity of the MMD, the party he now leads, and in doing so caused Mr Chiluba to see the NCC as a threat to his stay in power. Under increasing pressure from within the NCC and increasing alienation by other political groups and churches, Mr Mumba converted the NCC into a political party and stood at the 1996 elections. The NCC however failed to win a seat. Mr Chiluba was returned by 70% of the vote, but only 40% of the registered voters turned out and only 60% of eligible electors had ever been registered.
Is Bishop Mwamba the man to change the political narrative and eventually ascend to the presidency which has eluded all Zambian preacher men who have tried in past?
The Author is a seasoned Zambian Journalist/Historian.