Zambia Reports (Lusaka)

26 August 2013

Zambia: Obituary - a Tribute to By Mwila

When Benjamin Yoram Mwila left public service at the age of 27 to start his own business, most of his peers must have thought he was crazy as it was the in thing then to work for government or indeed any of the companies in which the Zambian government had interests.

Having worked for the Kitwe City Council after concluding a Chartered Secretaries course at the Evelyn Hone College in Lusaka, BY as he had now come to be known, soon found himself at the just established Industrial Development Corporation, INDECO, as company secretary with his boss being non other than Andrew Sardanis.

Indeco, was the holding company of several subsidiaries which included food and grocery stores, manufacturing and general trading. Being at Indeco must have obviously given Mwila great ideas because in 1970 he took a very bold decision to resign his otherwise lucrative job there to get into business.

His first being a grocery shop, Proton Supermarket in Chingola, at the roundabout just as you enter the town once regarded the cleanest in Zambia from Kitwe.

By the mid 70s Mwila had acquired Hume Pipes in Luanshya from Barlow Rand and his acquisition trail had just started. Hume Pipes became his flagship company contributing positively to providing quality steel pipes of various dimensions not only to the mining industry but various local authorities as well.

Concrete Pipes and Products, another Luanshya based company was one of his acquisitions. So yes, some of the concrete pipes installed today in various parts of the country either by local authorities, water and sewerage companies and even those used in road construction may certainly have come from this company.

Perhaps because of his quick acquisition of companies that were in effect competing with state firms and if not surpassing them, Mwila was thought to be a threat to Kenneth Kaunda's one party state especially that he believed in a liberal economy. He was searched and detained on several occasions on all sorts of charges to do with what the authorities then said were linked to economic sabotage.

Using sweeping powers under the state of emergency law in place at the time, Kaunda's regime through a government security agency called the Special Investigation Team on Economy and Trade, SITET, had a constant eye on Mwila, harassing, persecuting and intimidating him at every turn.

It was Mwila's detention in 1988 on allegations of being part of a plot to overthrow Kaunda that probably made him focus on ensuring that Zambia returned to plural politics. At the mercy of Kaunda, Mwila spent a few months in prison and those close to him say that after he was released he said enough was enough of the one party state and something had to be done about it.

This perhaps was the beginning of his political career and may therefore be described as one of the true pioneers of the second struggle for freedom, the liberation from the shackles of the one party state.

Come 1990, the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy was formed and as we all know by now Mwila was not just one of the founder members but the major financier of what later became a political party.

At the first MMD convention in 1991 Mwila was elected the party's National Treasurer and when Frederick Chiluba became Zambia's second president after defeating Kaunda in a landslide he was appointed Minister of Defence and is to this day the longest person to serve in that portfolio.

He was hounded out of the MMD in 2000 for simply showing interest in standing for president in elections due the following year. He formed the Republican Party later to be called the Zambia Republican Party on whose ticket he was one of the eleven presidential candidates in 2001.

To get support from the electorate Mwila traversed the length and breadth of Zambia several times and sometimes going to a place more than two times using his own resources. His party managed to have countrywide presence and was generally well accepted.

At the time of going to the tripartite elections in 2001, Wynter Kabimba was vice president while Sylvia Masebo was general secretary of Mwila's party. Masebo first went to parliament on the ticket of this party. Kabimba, Masebo and many others are said to have betrayed Mwila in one way or the other.

After losing the 2001 elections, Mwila continued providing the necessary checks and balances on Levy Mwanawasa's regime together with other opposition political leaders including the current president Michael Sata.

The Zambia Republican Party later transformed into the National Democratic Focus as a result of a merger with other parties and it is on this party's ticket that Mwila scooped the Nchelenge parliamentary seat in 2006. He re-joined the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy in 2011 and re-contested the Nchelenge seat but lost.

Since then Mwila had been trying to re-focus on his business empire after spending 20 years in politics. Getting back to spearhead his Chibote, ITM and Investment Holdings group of companies, for which he was Chairman and CEO, was not going to be an easy task especially that he was getting back at a time when President Michael Sata who had just become the fifth president of Zambia had personally ordered the cancellation of the Landless Corner to Mumbwa road contract awarded to Wade Adams, one of Mwila's companies.

This did not come as a surprise to Mwila. He fought it through arbitration and was earlier this year awarded damages amounting to billions of tax payers' money but it is not clear whether the Roads Development Agency has paid any ngwee to date.

Companies to Mwila's name include Minestone, Vitretex, Concrete Pipes and Products, Wade.

Adams, Chibote Metals and a United Kingdom based investment and management firm, Beram International.

Born on September 17, 1943 in Kawambwa, Mwila did his early education there before getting over to Chiwala Secondary School in Ndola. He later went to Munali Secondary School for what was then called Form Six.

He passed on to be with the Lord Saturday August 17, 2013 in South Africa after a bout with cancer.

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